Travel through beautiful countryside, rolling fields and Australian bush land to discover the best of Hunter Valley wines

During a recent trip to Sydney, I had the opportunity to visit Hunter Valley, Australia's oldest and best-known wine region. Less than a two- hour drive from Sydney, through scenic highways, is the small town of Cessnock.

As you leave Cessnock, you are greeted by beautiful valleys and vineyards. The Brokenback Ranges are a spectacular backdrop to more than 140 wineries and cellar doors that offer tastings of some of their exclusive wines, most of which are not sold in shops across Australia. I visited eight of them. Being autumn, the weather was glorious, ranging between 5 degrees C in the night to 20 degrees C in the day with bright sunshine and clear blue skies.

The major white variety is the Chardonnay, which is now the most popular variety in Hunter Valley, producing rich and generous whites, often well oaked, with caramel and peach fruit flavours.

The Hunter Valley's forte, the Semillon, a Bordeaux variety, is famous for its unique style of crisp citrus flavours, and is internationally recognised for its quality, often with no oak maturation and a lower alcohol level.

Hunter's third-most popular variety is surprisingly the Verdelho, a grape variety from Portugal. As a straight varietal wine, it has, in recent years, become synonymous with the Hunter Valley, producing an attractive tropical fruit flavour.

The Sauvignon Blanc produced here is not as highly aromatic as in the cooler areas.

Traminer, an Italian variety, is highly perfumed. This light wine is best matched with Oriental cuisine.

Viognier, another new variety to Hunter, produces wines with a sweet, fine aroma of dried apricot.

Going to the reds, Shiraz, which has a strong affinity with Hunter Valley, produces a distinctive wine, rich and well-coloured with characters of leather, spice and pepper, followed by intense fruit flavours and soft tannins. The fruit flavours are softer, but show strong cherry and raspberry characters with good oak treatment. Shiraz is also the number one blending variety in the Hunter region, predominantly with Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir and Merlot.

Hunter's Cabernet Sauvignon shows an intense crushed berry character with black currant and tannins.

Merlot, a Bordeaux variety, is Hunter's third-most significant red variety, though new. The wines are generous, soft and full of flavour, well-coloured with a recognisable perfume.

Hunter's Pinot Noirs are often pale and variable. The wines have a strong flavour of strawberry with a touch of sweetness, and are best consumed in their first five or six years.

Apart from these varieties, there are small quantities of Cabernet Franc, Ruby Cabernet, Sangiovese, Petit Verdot, Barbera, Malbec, Tempranillo, Nebbiolo, Durif, Petite Sirah and Tannat, all produced in limited quantities and available only at the cellar doors.

Keywords: Hunter Valleywine