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Sunday, October 12, 2008

Hunter Valley vineyards and cheese tasting

Very few things bring a smile to my face first thing in the morning. I don't like mornings. Introduce the promise of a hot cooked buffet breakfast however, and somehow I can manage to get out of bed with a decided spring in my step!

Our final day of our Hunter Valley mini-break concluded with an itinerary packed with wine and cheese. We had a champagne tasting at 9am, and we needed to line our stomachs. It was this precautionary measure that gave me plenty of justification for two trips to the buffet breakfast table at our hotel, the Travelodge Newcastle.

Bircher muesli and fruit salad

Pink Blush sparkling rose

Champagne at 9am is certainly one way to start your Sunday. We made our way to Peterson's Champagne House for a journey through sparkling whites (including an interesting Blanc de Blanc made with white grapes, not red), sparkling roses (the Pink Blush is one of their biggest sellers, primarily to women), sparkling reds and a 2006 Botrytis Semillon. A platter of cheese and crackers offered some palate cleansing sustenance.

Mango ganache penguin chocolates

Next door, the Hunter Valley Chocolate Company offered a diabetic coma of handmade chocolates, sweets, boiled lollies, marshmallows and even an X-rated corner devoted to suggestive pasta, lollypops and after dinner mints.

Soft marshmallows coated with chocolate and peanuts

We continued on to the Golden Grape next, not so much a provider of Hunter Valley wines but more a specialist in liquers and spirits including butterscotch schnapps, a Golden Tango Cream of coconut, caramel and brandy, and a fiery chilli schnapps called Dragon's Breath. A few of us were quite enamoured with a trumpet-shaped bottle containing toffee liquer. "It's toffee! And it's in the shape of a trumpet!" said one fan with breathy admiration (he bought a bottle).

Gourmet barbecue lunch

We'd primarily agreed to visit the Golden Grape because it provided what it called a gourmet barbecue lunch. By the end of it, we weren't quite convinced that a chicken skewer, sausage, beef rissole and a salad constituted "gourmet" ranking, but perhaps the delicate placement of the snowpea sprouts atop the tomatoes warranted this upgrade in title. Or perhaps we're just overly fussy and pedantic city folk. I wasn't sure that a barbecue was involved at any stage either.

Chocolate cake and apple slices

But lunch did come with dessert. It may have tasted like Sara Lee chocolate cake but I did appreciate the addition of fresh cream and strawberry.

Hunter Valley cheeses in production

After lunch it was onto McGuigan's where we really did note the difference in tasting hosts between all three vineyards. Whilst Peterson's exhibited youthful enthusiasm and charm, the Golden Grape lacked any kind of energy or passion. At McGuigan's it was clear we were in the hands of an experienced professional, the kind of person who lives and breathes wine and wants to share it with you.

Next door to McGuigan's is the Hunter Valley Cheese Company. I've yet to hear their daily cheese talk (11am daily), but the glass windowed cheese cool room is always worth a stickybeak.

We ended our weekend with a final hurrah of cheese tasting. Wooden paddles were laden with cheeses and a laminated sheet of paper provided descriptions of each one. Instructed to start at one end with the marinated fromage blanc (a big hit with many), we were left to our own devices otherwise. No talk, no walk-through, no questions answered.

Instead we sat in the afternoon sun, chatting away and slowly nibbling on cheese. There are worse ways to finish a weekend.

Riley's marinated fromage blanc

Brokenback black vintage cheddar
and Hunter Gold washed rind

Tomme de chevre goat cheese
and Milawa blue

We used Ezi Drive Coaches who not only provided a luxury coach for travel from Sydney, but also organised and booked all our tours and accommodation.

Ezi Drive Coaches and Mini Buses
Freecall 1800 444 700

Travelodge Newcastle Hotel
15 Steel Street, Newcastle NSW
Tel: +61 (02) 4926 3777

Peterson's Champagne House
Corner of Broke Road and Wine Country Drive, Pokolbin, Hunter Valley NSW
Tel: +61 (02) 4998 7881

Hunter Valley Chocolate Company
Corner of Broke Road and Wine Country Drive, Pokolbin, Hunter Valley NSW
(in the stone cottage behind Peterson's Champagne House)
Tel: +61 (02) 4998 7301

Factory and showroom at 820 Lovedale Road, Lovedale, Hunter Valley NSW

Golden Grape Estate
310 Oakey Creek Rd, Pokolbin, Hunter Valley NSW
Tel: +61 (02) 4998 7588

McGuigan Cellars
Corner Broke and McDonalds Roads, Pokolbin, Hunter Valley
Open seven days for tastings and sales 9.30am-5pm
Tours at 12pm weekdays, 11am and 12pm weekends
Tel: +61 (02) 4998 7402

Hunter Valley Cheese Factory Shop
McGuigans Complex, McDonalds Road (corner Broke Road)
Pokolbin, Hunter Valley
Open seven days 9am-5.30pm
Cheese talk at 11am daily
Tel: +61 (02) 4998 7744

Related GrabYourFork posts:
Hunter Valley 2008/1: Maitland Gaol tour

Hunter Valley 2008/2: Morpeth Pie Man and Morpeth Sourdough
Hunter Valley 2008/3: Dinner at the Newcastle Travelodge Hotel
Hunter Valley 2008/4: Vineyards and cheese tasting

Hunter Valley 2007/1: Cessnock
Hunter Valley 2007/2: Vineyards, cheeseshops and an olive centre
Hunter Valley 2007/3: Lunch at Harrigan's Irish Pub
Hunter Valley 2007/4: A vineyard, cheeseshop and beer brewery
Hunter Valley 2007/5: Dinner at Chez Pok
6 comments - Add some comment love

posted by Helen (Grab Your Fork) on 10/12/2008 01:25:00 am


  • At 10/12/2008 2:25 am, Blogger Simon Leong said…

    all those cheeses look soooooo good!
    S :-)

  • At 10/12/2008 7:29 am, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Wow, what a gorgeous day... especially with the pink champagne start! That's right up my alley ;)

  • At 10/12/2008 11:34 am, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Oohh the breakfast looks like heaven since I just woke up haha :D and that cow cheese knife is awesome!

  • At 10/13/2008 1:16 am, Blogger Helen (Grab Your Fork) said…

    Hi Simon - The cheeses were great. It was the perfect way to finish our weekend! I do love a good cheese, esp blue!

    Hi Christie - It was a fantastic weekend. It's not often I have champagne at 9am, but that's probably why it tasted so good!

    Hi ffichiban - I do love a cooked buffet breakfast. So many choices! And the cow cheese knife was very cute (if a little battered!).

  • At 10/13/2008 4:37 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Those penguin chocolates are gorgeous! Do you know if you can get Hunter Valley Chocolates anywhere apart from their actual shop?

  • At 10/13/2008 9:54 pm, Blogger Helen (Grab Your Fork) said…

    Hi hunnyb - I'm not sure, but perhaps if you give their showroom a ring they will be able to tell you if there are any Sydney stockists?


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