The whites of Pokolbin and how to drink wine in the Hunter Valley

Many Australians turn their nose up at the Hunter Valley. They claim the wine is average and the Hunter Valley is just for tourists. Well, those type of Aussies are stuck in a bad time warp. They still harp on about “how great” New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc is.

Some of the most delicious, summer white wines come from the Pokolbin region of the Hunter Valley. Think of light Semillons, fruity Chardonnays and Verdelhos, and irresistible bubblies! The Hunter Valley is one of the hottest wine-growing regions in Australia. Summers are humid and temperatures average 28-30°C, creating the perfect conditions for flavoursome wines.

Wine Tasting Etiquette

There are a lot of old people hanging about the Hunter Valley. The younger generations are afraid to go wine tasting because they are uncertain of the proper etiquette to follow. Well, it is not as hard as it looks and if you follow the below basic steps people will believe you are a wine connoisseur!

  1. Swirl the wine in the glass vigorously. The more it swishes the better!
  2. Lift your glass of freshly-swirled wine in the air and examine the colour with a furrowed brow
  3. Put your nose inside the wine glass and smell the wine, then remark loudly “I get berries”
  4. Take a slow sip
  5. Repeat steps 1-4 until the glass is empty

In the Hunter Valley, many of the premium wine vineyards will charge between $5-10 per person for wine tasting and you will get to sample between 6-8 different wines. If you end up buying any bottles wine, the tasting charge will be refunded.

For the lesser-known brands, wine tasting is free. However this can actually become a really awkward experience. More polite people (like myself) may feel pressured into buying wine even though they don’t enjoy drinking it, just because the tasting was free.

Wine Vineyards in Pokolbin

I love wine tasting in Pokolbin, which is a region of the Hunter Valley. Here are a few of my top recommendations.

Brokenwood

Established in 1970, Brokenwood is consistently listed as a five star winery. It is also my personal favourite. I paid $10 for wine tasting and went home with several bottles of their 2018 Semillion. The Brokenwood Semillion is very special because the grapes are picked slightly later than usual, for this variety, which ensures a softer finish. The palate is lemony without being tart and is perfect for drinking with cold seafood, chicken-dishes or just on its own. Brokenwood also produce a late ‘Late Picked’ Semillon, where the grapes are picked when over-ripe. This wine is just too fruity and sweet for my liking.

I also enjoyed tasting the Brokenwood Chardonnay. Whilst a little oaky, the wine has a pleasant honeydew melon flavour. It would taste really good with a mushroom risotto or pork chop dinner but is too heavy to drink on its own.

The most famous Brokenwood wine is the Cricket Pitch Semillon Sauvignon Blanc, named after the fact the English were planning to play cricket where the vineyard is located today. It is an iconic Aussie white wine.

Must drink: the signature Semillon, without a doubt!
Not worth the calories: The Rosato ‘Nebbiolo’ is nothing to write home about

Peterson House

At Peterson House the resounding mantra is “Life is flat without bubbles” and I couldn’t agree more. I love fizzy wine and the Hunter make some pretty good stuff. At Peterson House, they have a cosy fireplace you can snuggle next to in the winter as well as a chocolate shop and restaurant. It’s a great place to visit for a lunchtime excursion.

I paid $5 for tasting at Peterson House. The absolute highlight was their Prosecco, which is not as sweet as Italian Prosecco and has a pleasant citrus aftertaste so it is easier to get drunk on. The Blanc de Blanc Reserve was a lot more dry but still drinkable.  I also didn’t mind the Illusion Rose, which is a pink bubbly wine with only a slight blush.

Peterson also make a range of dark bubbly wines, which aren’t really my cup of tea, as well as a Botrytis Semillon dessert wine.

Must drink: Prosecco
Not worth the calories: Malbec Petit Verdot Shiraz will give you flashbacks of drinking cheap red wine in China Town

Sobels Wines

Sobels was the first cellar door I chanced upon in the Hunter Valley because it is located next to the crappy Handmade in the Hunter Markets that I was browsing. The interior is cosy with a round bar and a grey-haired chap pouring wines. Wine tasting is free here and the wine is reasonably priced, averaging $20 a bottle. The sommelier let us in on a little secret – that all of the vineyards in Australia buy and sell grapes! So Hunter Valley sells its warm climate grapes to the Yarra Valley and simultaneously buys cool climate grapes from the southern states.

The wine was okay but not great. The TW Brut had good effervescence but it was too sweet and produced a sulphuric aftertaste. The Semillon was a light and easy drink with tart lemon finish. It would pair well with fish. The Verdelho, which is one of their best sellers, was excessively fruity. The colour was a rich urine-like yellow and tasted syrupy-sweet.

The Pinot Gris is another big seller here and they buy the grapes from Victoria. The Pinot Gris has a very fragrant air to it and reminds me of drinking cheap perfume.

Must drink: Semillon
Not worth the calories: Pinot Gris

Pepper Tree Wines

Average people who act posh love going to Pepper Tree Wines. It has to do with the fact that Pepper Tree Wines is situated right next door to a classy restaurant. There are many pepper trees growing around the estate too and boy, do they stink like hell! I made the mistake of rubbing some leaves in my hand and the smell stayed with me for days.

In fairness, the wines here are good. Tasting is free and the guys behind the bar are too relaxed to pressure you into buying any bottles of wine. I really savoured the Pepper Tree Chardonnay. It was buttery, rich perfection and would make a great accompaniment to a steak dinner. The Verdelho was good, as far as Verdelho’s go, and struck the right balance between fruity and tasteful. Surprisingly, the Pepper Tree Semillon failed to hit the mark.

Pepper Tree have a wide range of red wines but I’m not really big on reds. Everyone raves about the Shiraz here.

Must drink: Chardonnay but drink it with food
Not worth the calories: Semillon

I hope the advice on vineyards is helpful. Remember, the whole point of drinking wine is to enjoy yourself so don’t get too hung up on the brand names and tasting etiquette, and just have some fun!

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