Monday, 28 April 2014

Hunter Valley Weekend Getaway - Welcome to the Vineyards

Seeing that Easter and ANZAC Day fell in the same week  I took an extra day leave and headed up headed north for a weekend retreat in the Hunter Valley.

Road Trip!

We were on the road early and made great time up the M1 (formerly the F3) and hit Cessnock at around 10 o'clock.  In need of sustenance (and to prepare our tums for an afternoon of wine tasting) we found Mama's cafe for some brunch.

No need to eat breakfast, we went straight to the lunch time offerings even though it was so early in the day.  Mr C had the beef lasagna (he has been craving this for a couple of weeks now) and I opted for the special of the day which was chicken schnitzel covered in a creamy prawn sauce.  Both dishes are served with salad and chips.  Order and pay inside and they will bring it out to you if you are sitting road side.  This gave us a chance to people watch on the main street of Cessnock - it was interesting!

Mr C washed his meal down with an Iced Choc too.

I had to have a small sip or two.

beef lasagna and chicken schnitty with creamy prawn sauce
I was VERY happy with my schnitty and prawn sauce.  A huge slab of crumbed moist chicken topped with a creamy (think hollandaise) prawn sauce loaded with shallots.  The side salad was also a good one full of onion, carrot, cucumber, red capsicum, green leaves and beetroot dressed with a honey mustard dressing.  Very decent meals.  The lasagna was $15 and the special was $17.  Good value I reckon.

Bellies full we were ready for some wine tasting!

Driving towards Pokolbin we decided before checking in to our Hotel we would stop at Peterson House first (saving us doubling back later in the day). 

Petersons House
life is flat without bubbles merchandise
It's only 11am and it's already buzzing, so I asked a member of staff if it was possible to do a private members tasting (I forgot to book in advance).  Luckily they were able to accommodate and for the next 2 hours (yes 2 hours) we sat out on the back veranda overlooking the dam and sipping on member only tasting bubbles and sparkles.

Life's Flat Without Bubbles

Half way through we were given  a little light refreshment in the way of a plate of cheese, crackers and house made quince paste.  Delicious paired with a sparkling red or two.  The quince paste is smooth and runnier than I expected but is great smeared on a cracker with a chunk of cheese (which I failed to asked what it was!)

eat all the cheese and quince paste
I have to say I am a big fan of Peterson House sparkling reds.

which drop is your fav?

Our tasting ended with a small warmed glass of Muscat.  A delicious, mellow, smooth fortified wine.  It was velvety smooth and the aroma was wonderful.  Although I'm expecting my first member pack in June we did purchase a few bottles including a 2013 sparkling botryitis and a bottle of that muscat!

ching ching darlings
Next time I am coming here for breakfast.  It looks absolutely delicious.  Even Mr C who is not a bubbles drinker loved it (and I may have converted him on the sparkly reds!)
After a quick check in and freshen up at Leisure Inn at Pokolbin we caught a taxi out to Piggs Peak Estate with the idea of walking down the road back towards Blue Tongue Brewery to meet with friends later in the day.  I have been to the Hunter Valley a few times over the years, but this was the first weekend where I was actually getting to appreciate the wines a little more (aka not a hens weekend or dance weekend which is not wine focused AS SUCH).  When we arrived at our first winery we realised how much distance there actually is in the countryside.  Big mistake....our destination wasn't as close as we first thought and now way am I walking that far carrying wine, so we had to come up with Plan B (which sort of just came our way).
Piggs Peak Winery has a reputation of making unique wines made from old vineyards with a good reputation. 
The wines are described as gutsy reds but I will admit I was not impressed with the wines (but hey, I am also not a wine buff and haven't maybe developed a palate enough to make the judgement)  so who am I to judge? Everyones palate is different.  However we did like the 2012 Boer Doe Cabernet Merlot and purchased a bottle to take home.  One thing that we did note at this winery was the little midge flies.  They are everywhere and a particular problem in the Hunter Valley at this time of year.

here piggy, piggy, piggy


tasting a boer doe that was very good

Now this is where we had to rethink our Plan B.  Walking all the way was going to be an issue and spending $30 in a taxi to get to the winery was expensive, so we thought while we were in the area we should pop next door and try Tintilla Estate (and make that taxi ride worth it!). Not only good wines but olives (grown on the estate) and jam products.  Why not?

It's such a lovely day to walk through the vineyards.

welcome to wine country

Lots of taste testings of punchy, lemony olives and some jams, but for some strange reason I was drawn to the wines.  While tasting I turned around and realised my friends had arrived and were tasting the olives.  They had decided to do a few wineries in the afternoon too before meeting later.  So we all hung out together for the rest of the afternoon.

Just for a friend of ours we really liked this wine and we bought a bottle in her honour.  A good Merlot

wine for our hussy
Going for a little drive along Hermitage Road, Mr A decided to head on down Old North Rd and we came across Travertine Wines.  Looking newly opened we decided to pop in.  The winery has been around for many years, it was just a new cellar door.  Airy, light and a really lovely space it 's going to be fabulous when finished. 

catching up with friends in the vines is a great past time
Lynn was very friendly and loved chatting about the vineyards and their wines.  I am liking what I'm tasting and Travertine prices are fabulous!  We end the tasting with the stickies and fortifieds (again drawn to them when I visit the Hunter Valley). 
We had a wonder sip of the NV Apera which has been matured in oak for 10 years and is derived from red grapes.  It's like I just need a fire place to relax by.

NV Apera
We felt so comfortable and welcomed and Miss J thought it would be okay to help herself - this 2009 Shiraz just happens to be a cracker of a red and also on sale if you buy by the case - let's just say there were 3 cases purchased between us.  Of course we had to taste for ourselves (a few times) for research purposes before purchasing LOL!

Go and check them out and say hi.  Hopefully within the next few weeks they will have completed their building and fitting it out with a fire place and a big central table inside.  You will be able to buy a glass (or bottle) of wine and a cheese plate and sit out on their decking overlooking the vineyards.

Last stop before heading to dinner and (more) drinks was Mistletoe Wines.  Now this was a winery that wasn't on our radar, however Miss J convinced us to visit for their superb reds.  She wasn't wrong!  Some very smooth, tasty wines and we walked away with a bottle of 2009 Hilltops Cabernet.

Our last stop for the evening was Blue Tongue Brewery (part of the Hunter Valley Resort).  Our friends dropped us off before heading back to their hotel to drop the car off and come back.  Mr C and I decided that we should do some more tastings....but with beer this time.  Blue Tongue offer to beer flight tastings.  The first one being a flight of the Blue Tongue range and the other is a featured 'guest brewer' beer flight which is Matilda Bay (at the moment).  Of course we go with the Blue Tongue. 

We are given a tasting sheet and advised to start from light to dark.  I just love the paddles the glasses come in.  Tip/Hint: When you return the paddle after tasting you will get a middie of your favourite beer. (also deters peoples stealing the beer flights!)

Ginger beer to a Black Ale - the palate range of Blue Tongue

So we have from front to back -  Blue Tongue Alcoholic Ginger Beer, Premium Lager, Pale Ale, Premium Light, Original Pilsener, and the Black Ale.

beer flight
Big fan of the ginger beer - it's got a good spicy kick to it.  Not a fan of the Pale Ale.  The Premium Light is a good back up and surprisingly I'm partial to the Black Ale.
I stuck with the ginger beer.  It's very refreshing, spicy and not overly fizzy (and yes it's alcoholic).
We were starving by this time to - it's been a long time since breakfast and cheeses.  Our friends arrive and we take a few minutes pondering the menu of  San Martino Bites Pizza & Pasta, which is the restaurant/cafe on site.  Not only is there pizza and pasta but a small bites and main courses.  However, we are cold and hungry and carb load with the pasta and pizza.
Mr C and I shared the Mussels in Sicilian Tomato Sauce with Fettuccine. 
3 Pigs pizza, which had bacon, ham and pork belly in an Asian honey BBQ sauce.  This was meaty and good but a little on the sweeter side.  I liked it...Mr C not so much.
and a garlic cheese pizza
My friends opted for the creamy chicken mushroom bacon fettuccini.  They agreed that it was all good. 
the dish of the meal
Slow Braised Tuscan Style Lamb shoulder with Potato Gnocchi
Overall the blue Tongue Brewery is a great little place for beer tasting, unwinding and relaxing.  I personally feel it would be better during the day.  It's very quiet at night time in the Hunter Valley.  The food was okay.  However saying that, it had been a long day, we were getting cold and tired and weren't really feeling the it.  Perhaps another chance to revisit another day.

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