This required falling out of bed at an ungodly hour for a weekend and heading into Central Station. On arrival though I got a pleasant surprise that warmed my heart a little; the Historical Society were having an event complete with steam trains, boogie woogie singers and more fur than I've seen in an aeon.
Our birthday girl had ordered our own 21 seat bus so in piled all the odd fellows that constitute her friends and we were away on a road trip!
Snacking started on the way of course with choc dipped strawberries and chocolate cherry fudge from the kitchen of Elisa.
Screeching and gossiping and makeup application continued all the way to Cessnock with myself looking curiously out the window at every opportunity, being from up North I've never seen this part of Australia and all the places that everyone else seems to think of as familiar.
Firstly we stopped at Audrey Wilkinson winery.
We may like our alternative cultures but we sure do like our food and wine; I personally think this picture sums up our day and in fact possibly our group of friends to a tea.
Being in a tour group affords informative talks, a little less personal than the one on one guides I'm used to but interesting to see how they deal with it. The tour guide gives a run down of the juicing, fermenting and storage processes and then begins to explain the tasting process to those unfamiliar.
To be honest I don't have much nice to say about the Wilkinson label. Hunter Valley wine isn't my favourite to start with being of a sort of limp and weak taste and the varieties that grow here aren't my favourite.
The somewhat "funky" labels give away the sort of market they're going for here which is mid priced upmarket pub counters and funky neighbourhood restaurants in Sydney. I am entirely offended that they've decided that Gewürztraminer is too hard to spell and have just called it "Traminer." On the other hand the Moscato goes down extremely well with the non wine people in the tour and should be taken note when trying to introduce others to wine. Also I am a little interested that they have a Malbec blend even if the resulting wine was quite average.
Next we're off to First Creek Winery which I'm told is a blender rather than a grower and while I'm sure it takes away from the authenticity of the tour I feel somewhat satisfied that most of their fruit in fact doesn't come from the Hunter at all. Mostly they ship in from Canberra and Tasmania.
Again we're given another speech and some tastings; they're very open to us trying different varieties and I am keen to get onto the Pinot and Verdelho.
The surprise winner for me though was the Semillon dessert wine, and I end up walking away with 2 of these plus 6 of their Sauvignon Semillon and 6 late release Verdelho in preparation for the BBQ season.
Oak barrels at First Creek
I feel compelled to make a note here on the topic of dessert wines since they seem to be quite common in the Hunter what with the explosion of Semillon and I heard words bandied about but not understood for much of the day. Botrytis is not a label or a name for a wine but a method of making dessert wines. To get the additional sweetness in dessert wines water must be removed to allow the syrupy thick sweet after dinner wines. This is done in Australia primarily in two ways; Ice Methods and Botrytis. In the former liquid is cooled and the pure water which freezes first is removed to leave a more concentrated juice behind. In the latter the fruit is left on the vine long after it has ripened, this attracts a damp and beneficial fungus called Botrytis cinerea which leeches water from the fruit leaving more solids and a stickier fruitier juice used for dessert wines such as those used for Noble or Tokaj.
Lunch and more to come later...