Bacchus Down Under - The New Indian Express

Bacchus Down Under

Published: 16th March 2014 06:00 AM

Last Updated: 16th March 2014 02:13 PM

Just say shiraz. Australia has been for sometime now the expanding frontier of winemaking, with vitners, sommeliers and wine-lovers flocking to its innumerable wineries to enjoy the bounties of the grape. Hunter Valley in the New South Wales region on the eastern coast of Australia is probably the most famous of its wine-growing regions. Its proximity from Sydney—a drive of just an hour and a half away—ensures that it features on the tourist trail of all discerning visitors to the harbour city. Most of them make day trips from Sydney to the Hunter Valley. Hunter Valley Boutique Wine Tours ( organises private or small group day trips that include winery visits and wine appreciation sessions. If you, however, choose to spend a few days in the wine country Down Under and discover its versatile offerings, you will realise that there is so much more to the Hunter Valley than just wine. While Dryden’s passion, “Bacchus ever fair and young”, continues to be its primary focus, the place has emerged as one of Australia’s premier epicurean and luxury destinations.  A slew of exclusive gourmet stores, dairies, olive groves, ice-cream shops and quaint boutique hotels contribute to the charms of this relatively unexplored destination. Whatever be your travel passion, Hunters Valley abounds with options.

Of Smelly Cheese and Gourmet Gelato

The Hunter Valley Smelly Cheese Shop is situated in the middle of a breathtakingly lush vineyard, overlooking the stunning Tempus Two winery complex. Over the years, this gourmet shop has attained somewhat of a cult status in the valley. As its name suggests, the shop showcases hundreds of varieties of cheese, not all of which are smelly. Most of the gourmet cheese offerings here come from artisanal dairies and cheese-makers across Australia. Serious connossieurs of fine foods can sit on the deck of the shop in the midst of the vineyards, and order a gourmet cheese and antipasti platter, with cured meat, olives and, of course, a variety of cheeses. But it doesn’t end at cheddar. The Smelly Cheese Shop has its own Hunter Valley Gelato Company, where dozens of varieties of handmade artisanal gelato are prepared on site and offered to visitors; think flavours like cinnamon sugar, strawberries and champagne, Bailey’s Irish cream and an ice-cream made with Australia’s famous Anzac biscuits.

Those passionate about gastronomy can experience a variety of olive oil and vinegar tasting sessions. A word of warning—the Smelly Cheese Shop is certainly not meant for the frugal gourmet.

Cheese with a Twist

The Binnorie Dairy is a small cheese producer situated at the heart of the Hunter Valley. This dairy shop specialises in soft gourmet cheese, made with locally sourced milk, which are  most often enhanced with spices, herbs or marinades. Binnorie’s cheese has won awards across the globe and is served in some of the leading gastronomic restaurants in Sydney. The signature of this dairy is a silky feta, marinated in a blend of canola and olive oil. Binnorie also offers a Middle East-inspired labna cheese, which is soaked in olive oil and tempered with herbs, chilli and garlic. Finally, cheese amateurs would love the fromage frais, a soft cream cheese flavoured with fresh herbs and garlic. Time your visit to coincide with a guided feta-tasting

session held at the dairy.

Beer Tasting in Wine Country

In a picturesque corner of the Hunter Valley stands the iconic Bluetongue Brewery, a boutique beermaker offering a range of specially-crafted beers. Though the brewery is part of the Hunter Valley Resort—which has a wine school, an impressive tasting room and wine theatre—it offers visitors the possibility of ordering a ‘tasting paddle’. The paddle-shaped platter has six tasting portions of the different brews available here. Be sure to try the Black Ale, Original Pilsner, Light, Pale Ale, Premium Lager and ginger-flavoured beer. The adjoining gourmet restaurant offers a choice of finger foods best suited to a beer-tasting session.

Hot Air Ballooning Over Wine Country

A hot air balloon ride over the Hunter Valley is a spectacular way to get a different perspective of the wine country, quite literally. It is a literal upper, gliding over rolling vineyards, farm estates and wineries. Balloon Aloft Hunter Valley offers one-and-a-half-hour hot air balloon flights, which take off around sunrise when the wind is most favourable. Your pilot will point out to you the different wine estates as you float over them and at that hour of the morning, huge mobs of kangaroos gleefully hop across vineyards as your balloon follows them. The flight ends with suitable camaraderie—post-flight pack-up of the balloon for which every passenger has to help roll up the deflated balloon and fit it into a small basket. After all the hard work, Balloon Aloft drives the group to the nearby Peterson House Winery for a gourmet champagne breakfast.

The Olive Groves

Since time immemorial, olives have been closely associated with wine culture because they both flourish in more or less the same climatic and soil conditions. Today, a few wineries in the Hunter Valley grow their own Australian olives. Tintilla Estate is a quaint, family run winery and olive grove, which has a special olive tasting area attached to its cellar door. Besides Tintilla’s famous whole olives, you can even purchase Hunter Regional olive oil, considered among the finest in Australia. Tintilla also specialises in an exquisite olive tapenade, which is a heavenly mix of Tintilla olives, Dijon mustard, garlic, capers and lemon to be used as a gourmet dip or on canapés. On a completely unrelated note, Tintilla’s famous ‘verjus’ wine-based salad dressing is a must-try.

A Slice of the Australian Life

There’s no better place to experience good, old-fashioned Australian hospitality in the Hunter Valley than at the climactically picturesque Peppers Guesthouse. Nestled blissfully in a verdant patch of the valley, the guesthouse showcases the discreet, understated luxury of the Australian countryside. Guestrooms overlooking the woods (mobs of kangaroos walking around the property are a common sight); an old British colonial reading room replete with dark rich tapestries and hardbound books, as well as a gourmet restaurant (Chez Pok, a French restaurant considered to be one of the best in the valley) are just a few of the incredible indulgences you can look forward to at Peppers.

Happy Hunting.

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