Updated on June 12th, 2020
“We tried 4 types of grapes but for each one we had a taste of 3 different wines, differing in the age of the vine the grapes were taken from & including cellar-matured older vintages which are not offered to the public in general.”
Hunter Valley, New South Wales & Margaret River, South Australia
Because Australia makes good wine & I am always keen to sample it (but I must point out I am no expert, I like learning & I definitely like drinking!)
What do you need to know?
Hunter Valley, NSW
I was looking for a day trip to do with my friend who lives in Sydney & we thought wine tasting in the Hunter Valley ticked our boxes. There were a lot of options for different companies, some overnight, some felt very backpacker orientated, some only picked up in the Hunter Valley itself, but we needed one which would pick us up in Sydney & bring us home again in a day.
We opted to go with Richard from Wine Country Tours as the whole day sounded very non-commercial (the tours being conducted by Richard himself, as opposed to a sales employee), the day was focussed purely on wine & we felt we would get a real education.
Richard has over 40 years’ experience in the wine trade & I can definitely say that I learnt more on this tour than any of the other times I have been wine tasting (quite often!)
There were lots of pick up options – from accommodation in Sydney CBD at 7.30am or if you are staying in the Hunter Valley itself at 10am. We were lucky enough that he even offered to pick us up from my friend’s house in North Sydney (Seaforth) at 8am. Be prepared for a long day as drop off after the tour is 5.30pm if you’re in the Hunter Valley or 7.30pm in Sydney. Plenty of time to sleep off all the wine on the 190km minibus ride home!
It turned out there were only the 2 of us in the minibus until we got to the first stop when we were joined by a couple who had driven themselves.
Once we arrived in the Hunter Valley, we started with sampling some delicious home-made scones with jam, cream & tea on the terrace at The Guesthouse which was a lovely way to begin the day (although I was pretty keen on getting stuck into the wine!).
We then headed to our first vineyard – Tyrrells which is a very old, traditional, family-owned business. The visit started with the vines, followed by Richard giving us a private tour of the working wine cellar & thorough explanation of the winemaking process. Then we were treated to a private tasting, carried out in the original old house owned by the family.
The tasting was also different from the usual. We tried 4 types of grapes but for each one we had a taste of 3 different wines, differing in the age of the vine the grapes were taken from (Shiraz from ancient vines planted in the 1800’s) & including cellar-matured older vintages (very long ageing dry Semillons) which are not offered to the public in general. In each instance, we went from “the wine you would serve all your friends at a party”, through “the wine you would only share with someone very special”, to “the wine that you keep & only have to yourself as a big celebration” – described by Richard as a “vertical flight”. This to me was the most interesting part, along with a thorough explanation of how you taste wine, clear your palate etc.
“Overall this part of the tour felt unique, with our own private tasting, in a very special room at a very old vineyard. A priceless experience.”
The rest of the afternoon was more in keeping with other tours I have done. We had lunch at Muse Kitchen in the Keith Tulloch Winery with a glass of wine to go with our 3 delicious 3-course lunch.
Our final stop again gave us a unique experience – sampling some ‘cool climate’ wines from high altitude vineyards in the Snowy Mountains (Sancerre style Sauvignon Blanc, Alsatian style Pinot Gris, Chablis-style Chardonnay, Burgoyne style Pinot Noir & Cote de Rhone style Shiraz – if you want the specifics!).
Overall the day was a very personal & educational tour & I’d recommend Richard to anyone who wants a unique experience & an education along with their wine.
The cost for the full day tour is AUS$180 per person from Sydney or AUS$115 if you are being picked up in the Hunter Valley itself. The cost includes the tour, morning tea & all wines but does NOT include lunch.
Margaret River, South Australia
“When I arrived in the Margaret River it was part of a 2 week solo road trip around the SW corner of Australia, starting & finishing in Perth. I was keen to join a group for wine tasting & had very different priorities for this trip. I wanted to have plenty of other people on the tour, I wanted to visit several different vineyards, I wanted to drink wine & I was not in the mood for an education!”
My starting point was the Tourist Information Centre in town & to be honest, the choice was overwhelming. I looked at a wall full of different leaflets all offering a variation on a theme, then I asked one of the assistants & was still none the wiser. What I was hoping for was a day purely focussed on wine but I found out that all tours include an element of other visits to local food producers. So, I went for the one that caught my eye the most & felt like it catered for my needs – Wine For Dudes.
The pick up was from my accommodation at 10.45am & I was dropped off there again by 5.15pm. This time there were about 10 of us on the tour, all like-minded people there to drink & enjoy wine. Throughout the day we visited 4 wineries, a couple of gourmet food producers (chocolate & olive oil for me but they can also take in cheese, venison, coffee or nougat options) & a micro-brewery.
I had decided before the day that I was going to use it as an opportunity to buy my supply of wine for my road trip – 1 bottle of a different grape from each winery, either the one they class as their flagship or the one I preferred but it always had to be a different variety (at the time I was predominantly a white wine drinker). By the 3rd winery, it’s fair to say I had plenty of people keen to join me on my road trip!
Throughout the day we visited the following wineries (& I bought the associated wines):
Rivendell Winery Estate (Verdelho) – a family run winery surrounded by beautifully manicured gardens in Yallingup.
All 3 others were in Wilyabrup Valley
Hay Shed Hill (Chardonnay) – privately owned, where we stayed for lunch & also allowed us to sample the combination of chocolate with wine.
Juniper Estate (Semillon Sauvignon Blanc) – one of the oldest vineyards in the region (established 1973).
Amelia Park (Cabernet Merlot) – a multi-award-winning winery classed within the top 5% in Australia. When I visited, they had just opened a beautiful, modern cellar door experience with huge windows overlooking the vines.
As mentioned, for lunch we stayed at Hay Shed Hill & experimented with blending our own wine to have with the pizzas we enjoyed. At the end of the day, we also took in a micro-brewery where I tried a full 5 sample paddle of delicious craft beers.
“Needless to say, by the end of the day, my bag was heavily laden with bottles & I was heavily laden with alcohol. So much so that although we had arranged to catch up for dinner I fell straight asleep when I got back to my B & B so ended up having dinner by myself in town!”
The day couldn’t have been more different than my Hunter Valley experience in that it was approached as a day to just drink & enjoy wine (& a lot of it too!) but I must say that I got exactly what I was looking for on both tours & I would thoroughly recommend either.
The cost of the Wine For Dudes Wine, Food & Beer Tour is AUS$105 per person, including pick up & drop off from your accommodation.
Where next time?
In the Hunter Valley, I would like to stay overnight at a winery & make the most of the location. For Margaret River, I would stay longer. I chose to be here specifically to taste some of the wine & then move on, without realising how much else the area has to offer in terms of outdoor activities.
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