An exerpt from a recent article in Traveller. Read the entire article by Rob McFarland online here.
THE WINE PLAYGROUND ... TELL ME MORE Wine House Hunter Valley is an innovative tasting hub where you can sample more than 40 wines from 20 different wineries.
WHY WE LOVE IT Given the region's bewildering number of cellar doors, the ability to try a variety of wines under one roof can save you a lot of time and effort. Once you've figured out what you like, the centre's knowledgeable staff can recommend specific wineries to visit. We particularly like the Icon Wine Journey package, where you can use a pre-charged tasting card to self-serve premium offerings such as De Iuliis' gold medal-winning 2017 shiraz.
DON'T MISS The Cocoa Nib Chocolate and Wine Tasting experience, which pairs four delicious handmade Cocoa Nib chocolates with four premium Hunter wines.
Perhaps it's the region's proximity to Sydney (two hours on a good day) that encourages this sense of familiarity. Or maybe it's the blurry memories of boozy bus tours in our youth.
Whatever the reason, it's easy to overlook the Hunter's impressive credentials. These include the fact that not only is it Australia's oldest wine region (the first vines were planted in the early 1820s) but it also has the highest number of cellar doors (more than 150).
Despite producing less than half a per cent of the country's wine, its flagship varietals are world-renowned. British wine writer Jancis Robinson famously described Hunter semillon as "Australia's unique gift to the wine world".
Bright and citrusy when first picked, it ages graciously in the bottle, developing mellow honey and brioche characteristics. Hunter shiraz also has a trademark style, medium bodied with a fruity sweetness. And let's not forget chardonnay, the region's most ubiquitous varietal, which comes in a range of styles, from clean, crisp peachy numbers to rich, buttery and oak-infused.
While the Hunter is best known for these seminal grapes, a new breed of maverick winemakers is experimenting with lesser-known vines and innovative techniques.
One area in which the Hunter has consistently over-delivered is as a culinary destination. Restaurants such as Muse, Bistro Molines, Margan and Restaurant Botanica are worth the drive from Sydney alone. All four are enthusiastic supporters of regional produce and three were awarded 2020 Good Food Guide hats.
While food and wine are the Hunter's most championed drawcards, the region also boasts distilleries, breweries, health retreats, family attractions and activities from horse-riding and hot air ballooning to bushwalking and golf. It's a reminder not only of the destination's broad appeal, but also that it's constantly evolving.
So, if the Hunter is somewhere you feel you've "been there, done that", here is a selection of innovative offerings (and not all confined to wine), recently tried and tasted by Traveller, that may well entice you back.
Vintage 2021 stands in stark contrast to vintage 2020. In late 2019 and early 2020 2020 many parts of the Hunter Valley were on fire and we were in our fourth year of drought. Now we are surrounded by lush green paddocks, full dams and fat livestock!
The four-year drought in the Hunter began to break in March 2020 but it has taken huge amounts of follow up rain to finally get the groundwater levels back up. Many growers reported that that even by Christmas the soils were still dry not far below the soil surface, a measure of just how thirsty and parched the land was.
By early January there was some anxiety that the rain would not stop. Incessant rain brings unwanted mildew and botrytis, but in the second week of January the skies cleared and near perfect conditions for the beginning of the white grape harvest followed.
Now that vintage is all but wrapped around the Valley we can report (with a huge sigh of relief) that our winemakers are a happy bunch. The whites were pretty much all tucked away in the winery by the end of January with some rave reviews of the quality of Chardonnay by Liz Silkman, David Hook and Gwyn Olsen (Peppertree). There was also some excitement over new varieties by Ian & Suzanne Little bringing in their first Pecorino and Albarino grapes and Keith Tulloch is over the moon with his single vineyard Semillon.
There was strange lull between the whites and the reds with a lot of nervous checking of the weather radar. Most winemakers start the reds not long after all the whites are picked but this year they just weren’t ready. Winemakers do a lot of walking in the vineyards tasting the grapes, assessing flavour and ripeness as well as the condition of the fruit. Samples are taken back to the winery for analysis of sugar, acid and colour. A lot of factors determine the decision to pick and by mid-February it all started to come together for the reds. Beautiful flavours in the reds, more reminiscent of the elegance of say 2011 and 2013 than the recent block bluster drought years of 2017 to 2019. The general consensus is the Hunter Valley has pulled a rabbit out of the hat and it’s wearing a very smart bow-tie!
Essentially it is a self-serve wine dispensing machine which sounds a little unromantic until you have experienced it – then you will definitely want one in your house too!
We were the first cellar door in the Hunter Valley to introduce the Enomatic system when we installed three 8-bottle machines in 2009. Featuring revolutionary technology in gas preservation, these beautiful Italian machines allow wines to be preserved for up to three weeks. The system operates using argon gas, which seals the bottle to stop any oxidation, so that the flavour and characteristics of wine remain intact.
The Enomatic system allows you to taste at your own leisure and taste whichever wines suit your palate. We have two Enomatic wine machines in our Icon Lounge, featuring 16 premium wines and representing over a dozen different winemakers. We rotate the wines in the line up regularly and our aim is to cover divergent styles from the best Hunter Valley winemakers to show you the very best of our region.
The option of three different pour sizes allows for great flexibility:
- 30 mL Taste: For those who would like to try a number of the wines in the range.
- 75 mL Half Glass: A little bit more of the wine to enjoy
- 150 mL Glass: For when you find the wine you really love and want to sit back and savour.
Wine House was the prefect venue for a milestone birthday lunch for 21 people. The chef and staff were generous with their time in the planning, and the execution was outstanding. The food was beautiful and suitably celebratory, the wines were quality, and the cake, made, decorated and personalised by the chef, was stunning. Everyone was very, very happy. Thanks a million to all involved.
As a couple of girls who live locally and visit the Hunter Valley regularly there aren’t too many places we haven’t tried. Neither of us had ever been to The Small Winemakers Centre & the rebranding as Winehouse caught our eye. The cellar door we had been to on the stop before recommended we call in & ask for Neil, and having loved their cellar door we took their advice. Neil definitely was the icing on the cake of our visit. After trying a few wines he got a feel of our tastes and offered us some wines that he thought would suit our tastes that weren’t on the list. He was absolutely on the mark and after hearing we were headed somewhere else for lunch he convinced us to stay there instead for some share plates. We headed off into the lounge for a bite to eat while Neil packed up our purchases and we were equally impressed with the food. A must visit stop on your hunter valley journey, Wine House ticks all the boxes. Thanks especially to Neil who made our experience top notch!
Megan & Lindsay