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I spent the weekend off in Australia wine tasting in the Hunter Valley with friends. My friends wanted to prove to me how good Australian wine could be—not that I ever argued it wasn't good, mind you—but they know I love California wines and took it upon themselves to show me what happens down under. Bless 'em ;-)

Bimbadgen Estate

We spent both Saturday and Sunday out there, staying the night at an adorable 1840's convict-built "sandstone magistrate's house" B&B called Mulla Villa. And we managed to sample wines at seven wineries, including…

Bimbadgen, Scarborough, Tallavera, Undercliff, Millbrook Estate, Pooles Rock and Audrey Wilkinson. I enjoyed mostly Shirazs, as well as a few Chardonnays, and also discovered one absolutely delicious Tawny (port) wine from Tallavera.

The weekend started with a 2+ hour drive from Sydney, then lunch at "Hunter Cellars". We didn't actually taste there as it's all a bit too commercial, however they had restaurants (several of them), so it made a good first stop. The first tasting however was at Bimbadgen Estate, pictured above. Being the first stop, we were just getting our lips wet, but enjoyed it nonetheless.

Second up was Scarborough, which was a wholy different experience. At Bimbadgen, you saddled up to a bar, perused a long menu, and sampled whatever you liked. Personally, I appreciate a bit more hand-holding than that, and Scarborough delivered. We were presented with a placemat 'map' that identified everything being poured. One of the best comparisons there was between (if memory serves) a 2002, 2004 and 2007 Chardonnay. This photo shows the progression in age (and cost!).

Three vintages of Scarborough Chardonnay

Scarborough Vineyard

Third and final for Saturday was Tallavera Grove, which was actually an accident. We had a specific winery we were looking for but couldn't find (it was much farther than expected but we did find it on Sunday), so we dropped into Tallavera moments before closing—but they still took very good care of us. This was where I found the Tawny (seen being poured below), along with another Shiraz that we drank that night at dinner.

Pouring Tawny (Port) at Tallavera Grove

Tallavera Grove

From there we made our way to the Bed & Breakfast; the Mulla Villa. We were the only guests, taking two of their four rooms. It's a beautiful property, with a fantastic living and dining room, great big fireplace, and cozy sink-as-you-sit couches. It was absolutely frigid outside, so the roaring fire was a welcome treat. The hostess prepared a marvelous meal of slow-roasted beef as well as pork with cracklin' (fried and salted skin… oh my), which we washed down with the spoils of the days hunt for good wine. I couldn't imagine a better place to rest from a hard day of exploring the Hunter Valley.

The living room at Mulla Villa

The morning proved just as cold as the night before, and my friend and I braved the cold to make some photos, at least until the hot coffee was ready! Breakfast was enormous, with toast and jam and eggs and bacon and juice and coffee and fruit and cereal.

Morning mist at Mulla Villa

We headed into the nearest town, Wollombi, for a bit of exploring before heading off to the first vineyard. The commemorative plaque explains the origin of the settlement, which speaks for itself.

'Early White Settlement' sign at Wollombi

This was clearly the town for all the local bikers to come for an early morning pint, as you can clearly see here!

A biker haven at Wollombi

The first winery on Sunday was Undercliff. I kept looking for the cliff… anyway. One of their attractions is that they use their grounds as an art gallery of sort, allowing local artists to place sculptures around their gardens and even in the cellar. It made for a pretty backdrop for the tasting (look up, at the ceiling).

Undercliff Winery

Millbrook Estate was the one we were looking for the night before. It's a unique vineyard in that it's on a hill of mostly volcanic rock, enabling them to grow the grapes differently—as well as grow other items—than their competitors. We sampled a lemon liqeuor, not completley unlike the Italian Limoncello, but which I honestly didn't care for. They did a very good Chardonnay however, and the grounds were quite beautiful.

Millbrook Estate

Pooles Rock is where we stopped for a very long lunch in their very chic, modern dining room. As we dined the pouring rains came and went, so we timed that just perfectly. After lunch of course we sampled their wines as well, and came home with another Shiraz.

Pooles Rock vineyard

Audrey Wilkinson (who was a man, by the way!) was our last winery before heading back to Sydney. A larger cellar but at the top of a great hill with fantastic views, it was a perfect way to end the evening. We sampled a few wines including a very good Chardonnay, which took the honor spot of the last place in my wine carrier for the flight home.

Audrey Wilkinson vineyard

Bottles of Malbec at Audrey Wilkinson vineyard

The weekend was fabulous; a wonderful way to spend two days with friends in a new country. For anyone with a weekend around Sydney to spare and an appreciate for wine, I recommend making the trip to Hunter Valley.

Here's Wollombi, the town in the middle of it all.

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