What are the unmissable cellar door experiences in the Hunter Valley?
We asked Huon Hooke, one of Australia’s most esteemed wine journalists and judges, to nominate his top Hunter Valley cellar door experiences and provide tips on wine tasting.
What are the Hunter Valley’s must-visit cellar doors, and why?
Tyrrell’s Wines for great wines, the sheer history of the place and the warm way you’re treated. Also the superb hilltop location. Brokenwood for the impressive new visitor centre, and of course great wines. Mount Pleasant, again for great wines and history, plus an amazing setting beneath the beautiful Brokenback Range. Both Thomas Wines and De Iuliis for a modern interpretation of great traditional Hunter styles. Keith Tulloch for a very thoughtful tutored tasting; time your visit for lunch at its restaurant, Muse Kitchen.
How do you get the most out of a cellar door visit?
Spit the wine into the spittoon, don’t swallow, or you’ll lose your ability to discriminate between wines. Ask sensible questions and heed the answers. Visiting cellar doors is a great opportunity to learn. The people who look after you can be of varying knowledge and experience, but usually know their stuff.
What are your best tips for wine tasting?
Trust your own palate and focus on what you enjoy. Don’t be too swayed by others with loud voices and apparent knowledge. At cellar doors, ask the staff about tasting technique and what makes one wine better, or more expensive, than another. You won’t always get the same answers but, if you do this often enough, you’ll soon work out what matters.
Is it free to visit a cellar door?
Sometimes, but many wineries today charge a small fee for tasting. This is perfectly reasonable and is normally refunded if you buy any wine. Some wineries charge only for their most expensive wines, while others are free. Tasting wine should never be treated as an opportunity for a free booze-up!
Should we feel compelled to buy wine once we’ve done a tasting?
No, but if you’ve had a good experience and enjoyed the wines and the service, I think it’s a bit mean not to buy something. Even a jar of jam or a bottle of olive oil will do.
Do you need to book ahead?
To ensure a personal, enjoyable and safe visit, you are strongly encouraged to plan and book ahead for all tastings and experiences. Make sure you arrive on time and adhere to the duration of your booking to allow venues to prepare for visitors. To avoid disappointment, bookings in advance are strongly encouraged – online or via phone.
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