A writer sharing travels, experiences, a love of festivals & events. Life is a journey and I hope to inspire others. Visit my blog at https://www.travelwithirenke.blogspot.com
Published March 22nd 2020
Party in a glass
Food and wine are divine and even more so when paired correctly as I found out when undertaking a Taste 'n' Graze Tour with iHop in the Hunter Valley. Operated by a husband and wife team, this full-day experience was a wonderful learning opportunity with an abundance of variety for our taste buds at 4 different venues.
After being picked up from the Visitor Centre in Pokolbin, we were off to our first winery the beautiful Calais Estate in Rothbury. This picturesque vineyard has its cellar door set in a lovely colonial-style, sandstone building with timber bridging beams and it was here we were led to enjoy not just a few wines but 11 in total. Both white and red wines were paired with cheeses and condiments and our host had plenty of knowledge to impart on us, along with an interesting story on some lorikeets drunk on the fountain and in the vineyard after consuming Cabernet grapes.
The wines consumed Sparkling whites Ver Blanc and Methode Traditionelle, a couple of Semillons, Verdelho, Sauvignon Blanc and Cuvee Chardonnay, followed by the reds Chambourcin, Merlot, Shiraz and Petit Verdot.
The cheeses a goat's feta cheese, a creamy brie and a vintage cheddar were all delicious.
The handmade jelly condiments apple, fig with caramel and Shiraz brought some sweetness and I could see myself not just pairing these with wine, cheese and crackers but with pancakes and crumpets too. Very versatile, so I settled on purchasing the Shiraz jelly to take home.
The pairings of the above, as well as what wines go with what main dishes, are extensive and too long to list here. There's lots of aromas, flavours and undertones so it's best you do the tour for yourself to get a full picture of what goes into the winemaking process and how to pair your favourite meals with wine. Calais Estate have a good variety of wines that match with many types of food, whether it be seafood, lamb, chicken and pizza, bland or spicy.
After our tastings, it was into Come What May the homeware and gift shop where you can purchase not only wine but many unique handmade items, from jewellery to soft toys and goods for the pantry.
Outside and upstairs is a sweeping veranda, perfect for taking in the views across the Valley to the Brokenback Ranges. On leaving, kangaroos were spotted, adding further to the experience.
Calais Estate was a great start to the day.
My head was abuzz from the alcohol and there was more to come, although, this second stop with lunch at Wandin in Lovedale soaked up much of the buzz. The chefs' tasting plate of scallops, duck, lamb and pork belly saw matchings with reds and whites. Beautifully presented, all went down well as we sat on the terrace of the cafe enjoying the breeze and the views.
Tasting portions created with seasonal local produce
The Orange Semillon Blanc was downed with the scallops, Cabernet Shiraz blend Tempranillo with the duck, Reserve Tempranillo with the lamb and Orange Chardonnay with the pork. Lots of different flavours danced around the palate, from citrus bursts to dark plum delight.
But that's not all. With lunch consumed, it was then to the huge luxurious restaurant and bar to taste some dessert wines Wandin Rosι, HV Off-Dry Semillon and NV Pink Moscato. My sweet tooth was happy, with the winner for me (and my take home) being the Moscato (a party in a glass).
Set back from the main road, this winery has it all with Vineyard Villas to stay in, a separate Cellar Door, a herb garden, large ponds and kangaroos, in addition to the degustation delights in the cafe (with some pretty art) and restaurant areas.
This was another great winery experience, exuding country charm.
Being a small group, part-owner and driver Kristy was happy to indulge customers with special requests and this led us to an unscheduled stop for cheese at Binnorie Dairy in Lovedale. Specialising in soft cow and goat cheeses, some taste testing was had here.
Other products sold include jams and sauces, breads and smallgoods and there's a comfortable dining area with a menu that includes soup, bruschetta, various platters of antipasto and cheese, quiche, cannelloni and salad, and tiramisu and ricotta cheesecake. If you need a coffee hit, they've got that too.
If you're there in the early afternoon, you can catch the cheesemakers at work through a viewing window.
Back on the wine trail, it was off to Pokolbin and Mount Pleasant Wines. Dating back to the late 1800s, this winery went on to make some of Australia's greatest wines in the 1900s, of which the Elizabeth Semillon is just one, and it has continued to excel in this century with the Maurice O'Shea Shiraz and many others.
It's a huge vineyard with a lovely estate, indoor and outdoor seating, and great views. Here we came to the Artisan Cheese Room's Cheese Bar for a pairing of tapas with a choice of wine, whiskey or craft beer. My brother chose wine and I decided on the craft beer. I've never tried it before and I wanted to see what all the fuss is about as it is very trendy and popular in Sydney. I wasn't disappointed.
The wines tasted were the 2017 Pierre's Pinot Noir Chardonnay, 2017 Mount Henry Shiraz Pinot and 2019 Isabelle Rose, whilst the craft beers tasted were Four Pillars Hefeweizen, Coopers Dark and Nomad Berry Sour IPA.
The accompaniments consisted of smoked salmon, crθme fraiche & oatcake; fig & buffalo blue cheese wrapped in prosciutto; and a seasonal berry & custard tartlet.
Three distinct profile flavours matched with savoury & dessert tapas
My brother quite enjoyed the Isabelle Rose wine with the berry & custard tartlet, whilst my favourite pairing was the same tartlet but with the Nomad Berry Sour IPA craft beer. It was peachy in colour and taste. I don't normally drink beer but I was impressed with this one. Very nice, I recommend you try it.
The cheese room has a selection of fine cheeses for purchase from both Australian and International producers and with a fountain of knowledge here you can experience a 'Cheese Flight' matched with cocktails should you not wine or beer. They also can create the perfect hamper for a picnic or to take home.
Yet another interesting winery, Mount Pleasant Wines enhanced our affair with the Hunter Valley.
Our last cellar door at Tulloch Wines in Pokolbin was not least by any means. This family-owned business has well over a hundred years under its belt, crafting wine and experiences that go beyond the bottle.
We arrived for a nice surprise chocolate pairings with wine and delish they were. It didn't take us chocolate lovers long to down 5 wines each matched with a different chocolate from Donarch, makers of the finest Belgian chocolate where passion equates with quality and a strive for perfection.
We enjoyed an orange flavoured dark chocolate square with Tulloch NV Vineyard Selection Cuvee, a white choc macadamia heart with Tulloch 2019 Cellar Door Late Picked Verdelho, a mountain pepper dark chocolate with Tulloch 2018 Pokolbin Dry Red Shiraz, a milk chocolate raspberry heart with Tulloch NV Limited Release 88 Red and a coffee-flavoured dark chocolate with Tulloch NV Limited Release Creme de Vin.
My favourite wine here was the Verdelho. Being late picked means it is sweeter and I couldn't go past purchasing it. My brother, on the other hand, is now a changed man. He doesn't normally like red wine but has been converted. He was surprised at how much the chocolate changed the taste of red wine for him.
Tullochs also have other pairing experiences, including a mystery wine tour, where you get a private seated tasting with a selection of 6 wines and a cheese and charcuterie board. A dedicated wine professional will assist and a tasting mat will give you clues to help you solve the mystery of what wines you are tasting. Sounds like fun.
Our tastings here were certainly a great finale.
But that's not all
After Tullochs, we headed to a couple more stops in Pokolbin. The first being the vineyard of Audrey Wilkinson but not for wine but for the magnificent views atop a foothill of the Brokenback Mountain Ranges.
Last stop was to Lindeman's, again not for wine but this time for chocolate purchases. This was another unscheduled stop and request from some customers in which Kristy was happy to oblige.
A bit about iHop
Several years ago, Sydney-based couple Tim and Kristy visited the Hunter Valley and decided to stay. Their love of the area has since transcended into a great deal of knowledge of the Hunter Valley wine industry and the many offerings available. This Taste 'n' Graze tour is an example of that knowledge with a great selection of hand-picked wineries that made our day a memorable one, for all the right reasons. With such a variety of pairings, from cheese and condiments to lunch, tapas and chocolates, I found it to be a well thought out tour full of value for its cost of $169 per person and duration of 5hrs (including local transfers & commentary).
iHop Hunter Valley have a range of tours to suit all budgets and tastes, with mini-coaches as well as 40-seaters and an on-board cooler box for your purchases. There's a Beyond the Vines Half Day tour, a Wine & Cheese Lovers Twilight Dinner Tour and a Taste of the Hunter after Dark tour. Alternatively, explore the region your own way with iHop's Hop On Hop Off Bus Tours that have different looping areas taking in up to 16 wineries.
Give them a go on your next visit to the Valley, you'll be pleasantly surprised as we were.