Hunter Valley Wineries: Cellar Etiquette, Top Drops and How To Taste Them

Sarah Limacher

Wine Expert

I’m lucky enough to spend a bit of time in the Hunter and it’s a fave spot of mine. The Hunter Valley is one of Australia’s most famous but also one of its most important wine producing regions, its home to some of our most famous producers (think Tyrrells where Australia’s first commercial release chardonnay was produced, Brokenwood and Lakes Folly which produces one of the finest examples of Cabernet) .

Historically it played a pivotal role in the shaping and success of the entire Australian wine industry and most importantly now days is a wonderful place to spend the weekend and enjoy some of this countries top drops and famous Hunter hospitality. Why not even make a romantic trip of it this Easter long weekend, or a fun getaway with the girls!


Wines of note:

World class Semillon: Fresh, crunchy and lively in its youth and complex, layered and stunningly textural as it ages.

Sexy Shiraz: Elegance is what I look for in Hunter Shiraz, the best examples steer away from high alcohols and oak influence, they are medium bodied, pretty and savoury wines.

Chardonnay: Always a favourite, classic and delicious

There are a number of wine makers moving away from the traditional hunter varietals so keep and eye out for these, Mike De Iuliis from De Iuliis wines is having some great success using Touriga as a blending component in his Shiraz, Gwyn Olsen from Briar ridge is experimenting with Vermentino in some of her blends and a number of producers are paying respect to the old Hunter Valley ‘Burgundies’ and using Pinot Noir with exciting results, Mount Pleasants Mothervine is a great example and Ballabourneen are producing a fun and juicy Gamay Noir which is fantastic served slightly chilled after a long day wine tasting.

Cellar Door Etiquette

There are so many fantastic cellar doors in the hunter valley, I feel it’s great to plan ahead and organise your day for maximum enjoyment. I normally recommend no more than three or four cellar door visits and its always great to throw in a spot of lunch somewhere, Muse kitchen is one of my favourites.

Unfortunately I see too many poorly behaved women in cellar doors after a few too many wines, especially on hens trips. If you are a large group of say 10 or more make sure you call ahead so the cellar door can provide your group with the best service possible especially on busy periods like weekends or public holidays and leave any ahem penis paraphanalia in the car before you head in and keep shrieking to a minimum. PACE YOURSELF, be respectful of the cellar door teams and you will have a great time, its not a free for all even though most wineries will let you taste for free and some ask for a small and very agreeable pre payment to taste

Ask questions and advice from the cellar door teams, they are there to help and best showcase their wines to you. It’s always polite to buy a bottle of something at each cellar door and if you really like something maybe a case or two! Ask if they can provide delivery to your home or office to save you lugging it around and the wines getting hot in the boot of your car.

A few other things:

– Don’t pour your own wines to taste – be patient and let the cellar door teams do what they do best and that is provide you with a great experience which is often organised in a specific order to give you the best possible tasting experience.

– Drink plenty of water and eat throughout the day. Organise and delegate a sober or professional driver to drive you around.

– Be open to trying new things, its all about experiencing new things, who knows you might find something new you love!

– Say thank you and be appreciative even if you didn’t particularly enjoy the wines.

My favourite wineries and cellar doors to visit and must try wines:

Tyrrells: The iconic Vat 1 Semillon is a must and Stevens Single Vineyard Shiraz

Briar Ridge: Single vineyard Dairy Hill Semillon and The ‘HRB’ Single vineyard Shiraz Pinot Noir

Small Winemakers Centre: Taste through a host of great wines under the one roof, in particular Andrew Thomas’ Braemore Semillon and Kiss Shiraz, Andrew Margans delicious Barbera and Keith Tullochs Chardonnays

Krinklewood: Francesca Biodynamic Rose and Basket Press Shiraz, also the Lucia Dessert Wine for the sticky lovers     

Piggs Peake: Let Steve take you through one of the most entertaining cellar doors in the Hunter! Check out the Wolfie Zinfandel and the lush suckling pig dessert shiraz.

De Iuliis: Without a doubt Mike produces some exceptional wines but I adore the LDR Vineyard Shiraz Touriga Blend and the Steven Vineyard Shiraz

Audrey Wilkinson: One of the most beautiful cellar doors in the Hunter, the Semillon is top notch

Harkham Winery: Richie Harkham makes handpicked and natural wines with so much love and care, The Azizas Chardonnay and Azizas Rose are my picks along with the old vine Shiraz

Brokenwood: Famous for the ILR Semillon,the stunning and highly awarded Graveyard Shiraz and the lesser known but equallyas impressive Mistress Shiraz

Lakes Folly: The Chardonnay and Cabernet are among the most collected wines in Australia so call ahead to see if they have any available – you gotta be quick!

Scarborough: The Scarboroughs have 2 great cellar doors and put on a wonderful tasting experience, my go to wines are the White Label Semillon and for a great value for money Chardonnay you cant go past the Blue Label Chardonnay

Mount Pleasant: With Jim Chatto at the helm this iconic winery is well worth visiting . Lovedale Semillon, Mount Henry Shiraz / Pinot Noir and Leontine Chardonnay, plus don’t forget the Maurice O’Shea Shiraz

Image Source: Flickr


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