View from Talga Estates
After flying in to Sydney and spending a part of a day there, we agreed that we were a bit tired of cities. We don’t love crowds and traffic, though Sydney is a wonderful waterfront city. We enjoyed our one day there and headed out to the Hunter Valley late that afternoon. I had booked a last minute stay at a 5 start hotel in Rothbury, in the Hunter Valley.
I had researched 5 star accommodations as I was not thrilled with our hotel in Sydney the night before and was hoping our residence for our last nights in Australia would be memorable for my family. I thought about booking at Chateau Echlan, but it was nearly $1400 Aus for two nights, and we would have to stay in two separate rooms to fit our family of five. I also looked at the Crowne Plaza in hunter valley, but again, we would have needed to stay separately. I found Talga Estates and the reviews seemed really good. The pictures looked like it was someone’s house, but the price and location were right and the reviews were good, so I went ahead and booked it.
The drive out to the Hunter Valley was only 2.25-2.45 hours, depending on traffic. The traffic was tough in Sydney and the suburbs, but once we were outside the city on the M1, the trip went very quickly. We arrived at Talga Estates and weren’t sure if this was the correct address. The views were stunning and the home is right in the midst of several wineries. In fact, we learned the following day, that the vines we could see were for a top vineyard in the area.
It turns out that the owners were Australian, but had lived in Napa for a while, and just loved this area. They were terrific! The room was a two room villa, and it was connected to their home. It felt very private and was huge. The kids room was set up with two double beds and a roll away cot and their own private en suite bathroom. They loved it! Our room was a second master, with king bed a half wall and then a shower/ sink and separate bathroom. The living room was huge along with the kitchen and we were supplied with bacon, eggs, loaf of bread, milk and orange juice for breakfast. The villa was very clean and everything was thought of. It was perfect for us!
We decided to head out to dinner, and as happens for me sometimes, we lucked out. On the drive to the restaurant, we saw so many kangaroos there were too many to count. There was a 6 ft one hopping across the road (we were very careful driving) and then families just hanging out in the shade of trees. It was so cool! We headed to Amanda’s on the Edge. My quick research had showed that it had great reviews and was fairly close to where we were staying. We didn’t have a reservation so we just decided to wing it and give it a try.
When we arrived it was packed. The restaurant seemed to be full of happy, laughing people, so bright and cheery. It overlooked a vineyard, with rows and rows of vines. We were greeted by Alex. She informed us that we probably should have had a reservation but she would see what she could do. She came back moments later to inform us that she would seat us. It seemed she had a reservation that never showed up and she had called them several times with no answer. We took our seats to a beautiful view and an amazing menu and wine list.
Alex proceeded to take GREAT care of us. She brought the kids everything they could want. She let us know the kitchen would be slow since they had just sat a big party. I asked her for a wine recommendation, but didn’t love the wine, so she brought over 4 additional wines for me to taste. I was really surprised, as my favorite was not the shiraz the region is known for, but it was the Cabernet Sauvignon. It was wonderful! The meal turned out to be exceptional, the deserts great and the wine and service fabulous. I highly recommend this experience.
The next morning we agreed with the kids to split the day and do a few cellar doors and things for them as well. We headed out to Tyrrell’s Cellar Door. They are a pioneer in the Hunter Valley and have won extensive medals. I was truly shocked when I arrived at their tasting room and was presented with a restaurant sized list of the wines we could try. They had no tasting fee and we could have tried all of them if we wanted. Unfortunately, I was driving so Keith and I split the wine and we only tried the best of the lot. Our pourer was fantastic. At first we had a new guy, and I felt badly, but I shared that I was in the business and was a wine student, so that I could get someone knowledgeable. The person helping us had great energy.
Great selection of Tyrrell’s Wines
She poured us 9 year old Semillon. She poured different vineyards, same years, head to head. The 2014 vintages are outstanding. The Semillon was absolutely outstanding. There was a 2008 for around $65 Aus, which would be about $48 US, but I was worried about how it would travel. I still regret not buying it as you can only get it at the Cellar Door (their winery tasting room). If I ever return, this would be a place I would return to as I enjoyed so many of their wines.
Leaving Tyrrell’s we headed to Andrew Thomas Estate. I had read about him and thought this was one we shouldn’t miss. His estate is on a hill on a main road in a horse shaped little shopping center overlooking vineyards. The cheese shop there is noteable.
We went in and tasted with Matty. She knew a great deal about the wines and we had fun tasting through the menu as she shared stories about “Thoma”, a nickname for Andrew Thomas. It seems he just bought his favorite vineyard right down the street. He can see it from this shop and he has produced several good wines from this site. She shared with us that his philosophy is that you should not have to pay an arm and a leg for good wines. He has a red and a white called “two of a kind” that are really solid wines. I bought the red. I really liked a lot of his wines. I was sad to see he was sold out of Kiss and Elemay, as both sounded wonderful. The one that really cracked me up was the “lips and asssholes” wine. That’s the Elemay wine. The story goes that he through together the ends of several barrels and let them age. When he went back to them, for some unknown reason as can happen with winemaking, the end product was exceptional. He couldn’t call the wine “lips and assholes” so he called it Elemay. Too funny! That story is actually on the label. Of the 150 + wineries in the Hunter Valley, we are glad we stopped here. There were many recommended to me, but there was no way to hit them all, so we picked a few standouts.
Following this winery, we went to the restaurant in the plaza with great views and a nice café list of foods. The service was very good and Mr. W enjoyed his glass of wine. I was driving, so no more wine for me.
We headed out on the kids adventure next. Off to the wildlife preserve for a few hours. The Hunter Valley Zoo is down the street, 15 minutes or so. It was a great stop. The kids loved the meerkats and the koalas, I loved the big white lions and Mr. M loved the kangaroos. It may have been over 100 degrees and they sprinkled us with water as we walked around, which was lovely. There was something there for everyone.
Wildlife Center and a gorgeous white lion, macaw cage
We started to head back home to get ready for dinner, but on the way I insisted on one more cellar door. Tulloch and Audrey Wikinson were in the same place as Ben Ean. I was very mixed. Audrey Wilkinson was recommended to me for the outstanding views and the wine, Tulloch for the exceptional wine and Ben Ean had just been sold and then purchased/ partnered with Treasure Wine Cellars, the owners of Lindemans and Penfolds. I was intrigued, simply because on my only visit to Australia I thought I should taste Penfolds, but was unable to go up to Southern Australia, so I chose Lindemans/ Ben Ean/ Penfolds.
Everything in Australia seems to close at 5pm, so we were cutting it close. We were greeted with a huge selection of wine (not as big as Tyrrells, but big) and patrons have to choose a section to taste from, each different. There were the basic for $5, the sweet wines, the moderate wines and then the big, bolds for $15. I chose the bigs, but we experimented with some of the moderates as well. There was a sparkling pinot noir, several semillons, but we focused on the shiraz and blends. We tasted Ben Ean vineyards, Coonawarra, a blend from McLarenVale and Hunter, Lisa McGuigan wines and three Savannah wines. The Lindemans and the Penfolds were underwhelming. The pourer and I discussed how the exported Lindemans are not their best and how their local wines tended to be outstanding and medaled, but never make it to export. I wasn’t impressed with the two higher level Penfolds he served as well. I had read about the Lisa McGuigan wines, so I had high hopes, but found they weren’t for me as well.
It turns out that Lisa’s dad owns McGuigan Estate in the Hunter Valley, which has produced numerous highly recognized wines. Lisa decided to try something different by finding wines she likes and bottling them under he name. I found her palate to be a little sweeter than mine and a little less tannic than I like, a little more fruit driven. I love the idea and the bottle designs are great, but I didn’t love the three wines of hers that I did try.
Next the owner and family arrived to close down for the night. The daughter came to assist us, and luckily it was just in time because we were just about to try the three Savannah wines of her namesake. These are three wines that she worked along with the winemaker on and they were pretty good. The grapes of two of them were grown out in Mudgee, a very hot region, with a consistent water source, about two hours northwest of the Hunter Valley. I enjoyed her Shiraz especially, but decided to buy the Lindeman local Shiraz instead, as a strong example of what they are known for there. It was great to have the time with Savannah as she has great energy and is highly knowledgeable about wine.
This is Savannah and we are tasting her wines! Very fun!
We then left Lindemans for dinner at St. Clements Estate. This is a winery that was less than a mile from where we were lodging, and I am so thankful that we decided to wait for the later reservation. This restaurant was founded by an Italian man whom bought the land in the 1960’s to bring a taste of Italy to the Hunter Valley. The food was absolutely exquisite. I had the Gnocci with Gorgonzola sauce. I ate it so thoroughly that I forgot to take a picture of it. My daughter had the chicken which was phenominal, my other two the margarita pizzas and my husband had the spicy veal pasta, which was also outstanding. Okay, I know, wine blog, not food blog… I asked the waitress for assistance since we were too late for tasting and had to order by the glass. We decided on four that Mr. M and I would split. I had read about the Pinot Grigio, but didn’t quite believe that they would have a good one in the Hunter Valley, so I ordered the Chardonnay as well.
I have to tell you, the Pinot Grigio was absolutely outstanding!!! I enjoyed it with the herb sourdough bread and my salad and it was one of the best wines I had tasted through my whole trip. I had to buy a bottle. It was only $24 Aus, so in the states it was about $18 and worth every penny. This is one I can’t wait to drink, share and I wish I could have brought back a case. The Chardonnay was okay. We also tried the Shiraz, Nebbiolo blend which my husband preferred, but I really enjoyed their Shiraz with my rich, cream gorgonzola sauce. We finished with a glass of their sparkling wine and some spectacular deserts (esp the Taramisu, which my entire family devoured in 2 minutes). This place had a great ambiance, fantastic food, kid friendly and outstanding wines. Yum!!!
Recommended wineries we didn’t have time to visit:
Audrey Wilkinson (for the views) – this is a must do, we just ran out of time
David Hook (for the views and shops) – Eponymous
Ivanhoe (for the cheese)
Lakes folly – cab/ chardonnay
McWilliams – Opom shiraz, rosehill shiraz, mount pleasant
Pepper Woods – coffee
Scarborough –kids and giant checkers – cheese
Silkman – Shiraz
De lullis – Chardonnay and Simillon (james halliday)