3 days off. I had 3 days off. My girl had 2.5 days off. On the spur of the moment, we booked a shitty hostel in the Hunter, drove up and wasted a weekend away. Along the way, my boss decides to call and check if I can come in to do an extra despite the fact that I already did. I tell him I’m 2.5 hrs north at this point and my room’s waiting.

We didn’t really do all that much. It’s the getting out of Sydney that is great, a mini holiday when we never get the chance to. That’s why the Hunter is so popular, mainly because it’s just 2 hours away from the big city.

Actually, I read somewhere, I think Jancis Robinson’s Wine Atlas Of The World, that the Hunter sucks balls for winemaking. The only reason why it exists is because it’s near Sydney. Consider it’s absurd sub tropical climate for starters. Still, I suppose this is why it makes it quintessentially Australian, they’ve somehow managed to make the Hunter something. Through sheer luck and stubborn stupidity. Aussies would call this gumption or heart. I call it dumbness.

After an hour wasted with missed exits (I must be blind I swear!), we manage to find the shitty hostel, which isn’t so shitty except for the fact that days later my boss would tell me he paid less than double what I did for a family sized room. Anyway, ensuite bath is enough to accomodate the lady so it’ll make do.

Like I said before, we came to chill and do nothing but drive around bumpy roads under the influence. We only hit up a handful of wineries and basically I made a list of all the ones worth visiting. Visits to 3 of these I will recount.

Now when you say Hunter wine, you really either mean Semillon or Shiraz. There’s really nothing else with some exceptions but yeah, Semillon and Shiraz really. That’s it. Everywhere you go, you just wanna drink Semillon or Shiraz. The rest is filler as far as the Hunter goes, although a few wineries have other vineyards all over Australia.

I suppose there a few massively famous wines. For Semillon, there’s Tyrell’s Vat 1. Undisputedly, tt’s the best example of exactly what Hunter Semillon is; a strange concoction that somehow makes something palatable despite the conflicting climate and once in a while turns into something actually quite good. I didn’t get to try the Vat 1. They kept it away from me. But I was mostly impressed by how Tyrell’s run things. This must be my 3rd trip here and as always, they’re just professional. A wine glass for each wine, not shy about the portions and they even gave me some Vat 47 Chardonnay, normally not for tasting, to try. The Vat 47 for 2008 is super soft, which is kinda their trademark for a Chardy. There is scant acid in this but the other complaint I had was it lacked depth and flavour for what’s supposed to be one of their flagships. I also scoffed down some shitty Lost Block and Old winery whites which were bleargh. However, I bought a bottle, the ’06 HVD Semillon. I think you can call it a bang for buck cheaper version of the Vat 1. Young Hunter Semillons are like shitty versions of Sauv Blanc, all acid and not much else. Old Hunter Semillons like my now 5 year old HVD have an about face, lose much of the acidity and take on biscuit/toast flavors. Something unique to the Hunter Valley and unique in the wine world. If you have to go to one big winery in the Hunter, go to Tyrell’s and drink some semi. Keep them talking and ask them how stuff differs. Start at the bottom end (cheap) which is actually the top of the list and they’ll probably let you try some of their good stuff if you look like you’re keen.

Now for the ugly side. There’s another massively famous wine in the Hunter and it’s a red. I’d say Brokenwood’s Graveyard Shiraz would take that title. The cellar door itself is quaint and small but Brokenwood’s operations are pretty big. The Graveyard goes for anywhere from $80 to $120 depending on the vintage and when I went there, there was this Singaporean couple asking about shipping some stuff over or whatever. I can tell my own kind when I hear it speak. Anyway, I wasn’t really interested in the whites so I jumped to the reds. Their Shiraz and Pinot was alright but the stuff they let you try is just whatever. The guy that took us on at first was alright but he got distracted by my comrade and had to get this lady from the back office to help out. I suppose she was annoyed she had to work or something but her attitude was broken. Since we had none of the rapport I’d built up earlier with the dude, I thought we’d try some white instead so we could see the difference between Tyrell’s Semi and Brokenwood’s offerings. No new glass though, we were asked to chuck the wine out and wash the glass with water and then reminded that we should start with whites. So I don’t know much at all about their whites and wanted to try this and that but she was like “the list goes like this, bigger flavor as you go down blah blah blah or you’ll spoil the palate, wash the glass out again please”. Snooty as fuck and everything that’s bad about wine. Seriously, educate me please if I require it but you don’t have to be a prick. By the way, Tyrell’s Semi is better.

Now’s there’s plenty of wineries besides just these two. There’s Mount Pleasant which make an awesomely cheap bottle of Semi, the Elizabeth. De Bortoli makes Australia’s most famous dessert wine, the Noble One. There’s also Margan, Ballabourneen and De Iuliis and plenty more wineries that make good to decent stuff. The one I liked the most though was the smallest.

Lake’s Folly is actually pretty well known and rabidly popular. They regularly sell out based on a mailing list without people even tasting the stuff. A few bottles make it into shops for resale. They only make 2 wines, a white and a red and they’re not even Semillon and Shiraz. Instead, they make a Cabernet and a Chardonnay. They are one of the OG boutique wineries and even though they’re not under the same owners who started the place, they’re still run the exact same way. No quality compromises and overproduction. The building that houses the cellar door is really cool and when we arrive a white dog greets us warmly and we waste 5 minutes taking photo with it. We then go inside the building where much to his displeasure, the guy in charge informs us unfortunately that he’s only got about 20mls left of the ’10 Chardonnay for tasting. Like literally, it’s last drops until the next vintage. Now, I don’t know if he’s holding out or faking it but I doubt it and he keeps apologising profusely. I’m cool either way. 10mls is good for a taste. They have like zero single bottles of Chardonnay left. They don’t even have the 12 bottles for sale. They only had magnums. Anyway, the Chardonnay is lovely. It’s sweetish for me and easy on the palate, very delicious but I only had a mouthful to savour. Peachy too is all I remember. I would have bought a bottle right off. Instead, I’ll make do with the ’09 Cabernet and I take a bottle home with this little bag made out of the same stuff as reusable shopping bags but printed with my favourite wine logo in the world. I really like their logo, which is just a graphic of the building in which I stood. I think it just captures the smallness but goodness of the place. The Cabernet was soft in tannins and tasted like it held back a lot, which makes sense because this is the 3rd most sought after wine in Australia after Penfolds Grange and Penfolds Bin 389, according to wine ark anyway. Supposed to cellar for ages. Not bad for $60.

After blowing some money on wine, we blow some more on the coolest place for din dins, Maccas. Mostly because I didn’t want to go to a swanky hatted place for a $70-$100 3 course and most of the menus didn’t really appeal. However, if you do want to hit up a swanky hatted restaurant in the Hunter, you could try Muse or Bistro Molines. Muse if you want something modern and Molines if you want something classic. Actually I really wanted to eat at Molines but they were closed when we went so Maccas was the next best thing. Hahaha. I kid, it’s just that for dinnertime on a Tuesday, there’s not that many options but for me, Maccas was a short jaunt from where I stayed.

Post big mac, we tried to drive to this dessert place, Sabor, which looked ok but ended being terrible because they were closed despite their opening hours saying otherwise and we had to drive down the darkest road ever. After the scary drive, we chose to go the Hunter Valley Gardens, where they had this X’mas light display and it was like a carnivally festival thing with shitty hotdogs, gozleme, the world’s most expensive churros and stuff like that. My favourite thing was this stupid reindeer hat we bought for $10. I wore it for the next 2 days even after I got back to Sydney.

For breakfast though, we went to a nice little place, Cafe Enzo, which is somehow in every single Sydney food blog and in every single one, I see the same prawn pasta and shit. We end up asking for the scones we kept seeing which turned out really good, light, fluffy and tasty with homemade jam and fresh whipped cream. I got the Benedict which I think came with a Hollandaise made without butter but don’t let that detract from the review, it’s good and I liked the honey cured bacon they used, sliced really thin sitting atop some spinach and nice crusty ciabatta. Actually really good food, like the kind of stuff I had on holiday in my teens good. Their scones were about as good as the ones my family went bonkers over when I was 14 and had to milk a cow on a farm and whipped myself in the neck with the horsewhip and saw a horse poop in front of my eyes. Horrid horrid nightmares.

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