Tuesday, 29 April 2014

Hunter Valley Weekend Getaway - Touring the Vineyards with lots of Cheese!

We awake to a huge storm.  There is lightening and black clouds and rain falling by the bucket load....so much so that we had the guttering fall off our villa with a loud crash and bang this morning (so there was alot of water around).

villas at Leisure Inn

the guttering comes crashing down

As part of our stay we were surprised with a breakfast voucher.  So we headed over to reception and the restaurant for a hearty, warming breakfast (we need to line our tummy's before a day of drinking).  Mr C goes with a caramel milkshake and I have a hot chocolate. 

We sit back and take in the dreary scenery, relaxing and chatting.  There are a few ducks waddling around in the rain and we finally see glimpses of clear sky i the distance.  We have hope that the day will clear up. We are looking forward to tasting some more wines.

Mr C goes with the Big Breakfast.  A huge serve of fried eggs, sausage, bacon, grilled tomatoes and mushrooms with hashbrowns and toast.

the big brekky
He digs in heartily so I assume he enjoys it.
I opt for a egg and bacon muffin with a side of hash browns.  The muffins are toasty on the outside and soft and fluffy in the middle.   The fried egg yolk was runny and oozing through the muffin...and although the hash browns are generic they are crispy and hot.  The bacon is crispy and greasy and brings it all home!

egg and bacon muffin with hash browns
We had pre-arranged a small boutique winery tour with James Vineyard Tours.  It's highly recommended to pre-book a tour particularly around a long weekend.  James picked us up at 10.15am and we head out to pick up 7 other guests. It didn't take long before we arrived at our first vineyard, Ernest Hill Wines.
Ernest Hill
We are given a private tasting and chat about the do's and don'ts of tasting wines.  Best practice on how to hold the glass, aeration, sipping and working your way through the ranges of whites to reds. It's a good foundation for the day.  I'm finding my like of verdelho again and realise I'm not a huge fan of Semillon.
We hold back on purchases here, although I do like their stickies...but we do not know what we are goign to like today and make the responsible decision not to over buy (right now).  We can always come back tomorrow.
Our next stop is Constable Estate.  It's a family run boutique vineyard and there is many sculptures dotted around the land including the cow inside (hint: please don't sit on it or try to ride it - it's a piece of art and expensive!)

lefover wine - never!

We are greeted with a glass of Sparkling Cuvee - a blend of semillon and chardonnay. 

bubbles and sparkles
I am liking the wines here and we end up with a few bottles to add to the collection including a bottle of the 2007 Botryitis Semillon and a bottle of the 2013 Matilda Late Harvest Verdelho.  I don't know what it is but when I am wine tastings I always end up liking the sweeter wines and I love dessert stickys (which I don't usually drink often and have quite the collection that I WILL drink soon).  Why am I drawn to them when I am in the Hunter Valley?
The weather is finally clearing and the sun is poking through the clouds.  The girls on the tour are starting to fire up and everyone is getting chatty.
Our next stop is lunch at Blaxlands Inn on Broke Rd. A pub/restaurant offering big comfy lounges that you can sink into, saddles in the rafters and a nice verandah to sit out on and enjoy this lovely area.  We had pre-ordered before arriving to help the kitchen out.

Mr C and I are celebrating our 3 month anniversary (it's more about an inside joke that we have rather than actually 'celebrating' it).  It's a nice way to mark the occassion though with a glass of Blaxlands Estate 2011 Semillon Sauvignon Blanc .  Also, this man sends me photos of his food... he knows me to well already and I think he is a keeper!

We (note 'I' in we) like to share plates so that we can maximise tastings, plus I usually cannot eat a 2 or 3 course meal to myself due to tummy 'issues'. Small plates, tapas and entrees are my friend.
A serve of the salt, pepper and chilli calamari is served with rocket aioli and a bit of rocket garnish.  The calamari is tender but the batter is soggy and only a small hint of chilli but as it is tender and juicy.

One of our fellow diners let me photograph her garlic prawns in a pot.  These looked and semlt absolutely amazing and wish we had gone with this option.

Blaxlands Inn is famous for their deep dish pies.  We chose the beef, red wine and vegetable pie.  It's certainly enough for two people.  A dish full of chunky beef stew (some very tender pieces and some tough and chewy pieces are mixed together) topped with flaky puff pastry.  Hearty, hot and flavoursome, the beef and chuncks of carrots swim in a bath of rich and thick gravy. Just disappointing with the couple of peices of tough beef throughout.

Blaxlands Inn famous deep dish pie
Onwards, the afternoon gets a bit rushed and we are over to Ballabourneen Wines.  This was a fun winery to taste at.  Very lively staff and the wines are pretty good too!  I ended up with a 6 pack of 2013 Moscato Blush (don't know how that happened LOL)... I can so justify anything - particularly when you technically save $52 by buying the case!

Checkout their Pukara Estate offerings too.  I am a huge fan of Pukara Estate and have quite the collection of flavoured olive oils and particularly their balsamic vinegars.  I restocked on a bottle of my favourite fig balsamic vinegar and a bottle of their white balsamic vinegar which is sharp and tangy and has a lovely light note.

Another stop on the trail is the Hunter Valley Chocolate Company. Apart from some fabulous tasting fudge the 'chocolate and wine tasting' was 4 tiny pieces of chocolate (a choc rock, a couple of coffee beans coated in chocolate and a couple of other pieces) and then it was a taste of some random wine you choose.  There were to many people pushing in and I was hoping that someone might have explained the concept of chocolate and wine tastings and how they pair together.  The wine tasting was random and not particulary helpful.  But that is just my opinion.  I would have (and would like to again) come here on my own and spent some more time discovering it.
However, we did give in to a slab of salted caramel fudge, which was creamy and smooth and had great salty caramel flavours ribboned through it.  We end up fighting over the last bites!
fudge and shiraz paste
eat all the fudge
Then there is a quick stop at the Smelly Cheese Shop (at Tempus Two complex) to pick up a few cheeses for the next couple of days.  We over indulged big time!

so many products I want to buy

Our last winery of the day is at Lucy's Run Wine and Olives. Named after their dog, obviously Lucy, the winery grows three varieties of grapes, verdelho, merlot and shiraz.  I find the wines young and light (see I am starting to learn something from these tastings today!)
Lucy's run range
They also grow olives and produce olive oil, dukkah and a range of olives (which unfrotunately they had run out of and none for tasting). The olive oil is first pressed only and thick and yellow with a strong fruity taste.  Perfect for dressings and dipping with the dukkah and bread.

olive oil, dukkah and breads
We are dropped off out our accommodation by 5ish.  It has been a great tour and a great way to see some boutique wineries that otherwise would never had made our radar list.  There are over 150 wineries in the region so getting to all of them could take a very long time.  I highly recommend James and his tour.

Back at base we need some down time so we enjoyed a glass of wine out on our patio - as if we didn't need more wine (now that the sun is out).  We settled in with a cheese plate which consisted of a walnut layered cheese, windsor red (has port through it), Hunterbelle capsicum and basil cheese and a Smelly Shop creamy blue with a side of shiraz paste for the crackers.
We opened the Mistletoe 2009 Hilltips Cabernet and revelled in its smooth velvety lushness.  I wish we bought another bottle of this to bring home. 

This is the life - when are we moving to the Hunter Valley Mr C?

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