On a rainy Saturday morning we gathered at one of the several pick up points offered by Zepher Tours to commence the drive to the Hunter Valley. This tour promises to offer a tasting of some of Australia’s best wine, food, cheese, chocolate and distilled spirits – quite a list that I was excited to try.
Our group of around 23 passengers were met by Flinders, a young driver that would be our guide for the day.
In our relatively small group we enjoyed Flinders’ relaxed approach to the tour as he introduced us to Sydney and the itinerary that we would be following. We then sat back to enjoy the music (which he allowed us to have some control with) as he continued the roughly two hour drive to the valley. Unlike other tours that I had taken, there was little commentary during the drive until our arrival at Hunter Valley however there is a comfort stop along the way.
Our first stop was at Mount View Estate where we were greeted by Alison, a guide allocated to carry out cheese and wine tastings with our group only. This immediately encouraged a good bonding experience between the group as we had a private room whilst working our way through the samples available.
Alison explained a bit of background about the wine making process and the types of grape used for the wine. We learnt that a pale white wine is made with young green grapes whilst a darker, almost brown shade will be sweeter due to the more mature grapes that are used.
A similar approach method applies for red wine, the darker the shade of wine, the older the age of the grape that’s used.
Alison also explained that in Australia it’s illegal to add sugar to wine; for this reason the fruit are harvested at the appropriate time to suit the specific type of wine to be made.
When serving white wine, it should be between 8 and 13 degrees Celsius however red wine is usually served at room temperature with the exception of Cerise, a slightly sweet wine that’s chilled to enhance and condense the flavours.
The wine tasting doesn’t include the flagship wines, however examples of Reserve Semillon, Sauvignon Blanc, Verdelho and Chardonnay are available. Interestingly, everything is grown and made on site at the estate. There’s volcanic ash soil that offers a good environment for the grapes to grow.
The tasting then progresses to the Rose Chiraz with strawberry aromas and hints of berry flavours before the red wines that include Reserve Merlot and Pinot Noir.
By 11.30am we’d worked our taste buds through more than our money’s worth of alcohol. I also had a chance to identify my two favourites, the NV Cerise and late harvest White Verdelho that tasted of sweet tropical fruits with a hint of musk.
After sampling the wonderful flavours there is the option to purchase wine as well. There isn’t any pressure to buy however the prices are very reasonable for doing so. Unfortunately for me, my luggage allowance wouldn’t stretch this far, but I now know exactly what to look for in the UK.
The tour then continued to Hunter Distillery for a vodka tasting at the only vodka factory in the southern hemisphere.
We were introduced to our guide Cathy, before beginning to taste a selection of vodkas presented in test tubes. Cathy explained that they are presented in this way to limit the alcohol intake during the sampling. It was certainly an efficient way of tasting such a quantity of vodka, particularly the higher volumes.
Cathy explained that all vodka at Hunter Distillery is made with natural products, no artificial flavours and organic raw sugar.
We tried a sample of apple, vodka, caramel and coffee flavour made in conjunction with Onyx coffee an authentic flavour. These all measured 40% abv.
We also sampled flavours at 20% abv for a sweeter taste and less alcohol. These flavours had a notable sweetness and included tastes of ginger, chocolate mint, butterscotch and the most popular, mango.
After a morning of becoming intoxicated, we were ready for lunch that would be served at Hope Estate.
There are three options provided for lunch but opting for the three course option is recommended. (You’ll appreciate it after consuming such quantities of alcohol!)
On the three course meal option, the starters were tomato with buffalo cheese and crushed olives with bruschetta, roasted lamb and peas for the main course and a sweet coconut milk dessert.
All three options tasted divine and were served to the table in a fine example of silver service catering. It far exceeded my expectations; the food was excellent quality, the service very friendly and efficiency was given a high priority.
With the three-course meal option a further three wine tastings are presented to accompany each course. These wines are made by Hope Estate and reflect the quality that is reminiscent through every touch point of the estate.
After leaving Hope Estate there’s a quick stop at Hunter Valley Cheese Shop where small samples of cheese are available to taste. Again, whilst this is a large store, there isn’t any pressure to make a purchase and visitors can browse in leisure.
Similarly at the nearby Hunter Valley Chocolate Shop there is an option to do a small tasting of dark, milk and white chocolate and truffle. The samples are served as very small portions and the staff here seemed a little less friendly than we’d experienced elsewhere, however our visit was short and this didn’t negatively impact our time there at all.
One aspect of the store that I did like was the sheer novelty of some items like chocolate based sauces and seasoning for use in cooking and chocolate pasta – unimaginable to me before the tour. It’s a true chocolate lovers paradise that’ll exceed any fans expectations.
The final wine tasting took place at Allandale where we were offered a sample range of white, red and dessert wines.
As part of a tour through the barrel store, there’s also a chance to listen to and smell fermented wines in the barrel.
By this stage it was clear that Zepher Tours had provided a fine day of indulgence.
Zepher Tours offered a jam packed visit to Hunter Valley in the humorous company of Flinders. As a young and personable character, he certainly ensured that we made the most of the day whilst following the organised structure to see the highlights of the valley. It didn’t feel formal yet it still ran efficiently and we covered all areas of the itinerary.
As a solo female traveller, this offered a fun way to explore the Hunter Valley is a safe and controlled way. With the high rate of alcohol consumption, it’s easy to see why a tour is the best option to make the most of this experience. In the capable hands of the driver, guests can truly relax in the peace of mind that this tour facilitates.
Have you visited Hunter Valley? Share you experience in the comments below.
Many thanks to Zepher Tours for providing me with the chance to experience Hunter Valley. Book your place on the Hunter Valley tour here.