Plan a long weekend in the Hunter Valley with our guide to where to eat, drink, stay and play in Pokolbin.
Before the tastings turn your day into a blur, fill up on breakfast at the Deck Café, located on the grounds of the Gartelmanns Wines estate. Take a seat on the wooden deck and enjoy their house-made fluffy pancakes with rhubarb compote and honey vanilla yoghurt; wash it down with a big cup of Piazza d'Oro coffee.
Emerson Rodriguez is plating up all kinds of impressive, out-of-the-box dishes at Emersons Café and Restaurant, located at Adina Vineyards. If you're feeling indulgent, try the eight-course degustation menu with matching wines ($140pp) and savour dishes like a miso-cured Atlantic salmon with pickled cucumber, soy jelly, seaweed-dusted puffed rice and fresh horseradish cream. Dessert is the real star here, though – we're still daydreaming about our smashed lemon meringue pie with lemon curd, lemon sorbet, curd mess and limoncello liquor jelly. It's on the regular menu, too, so you have no excuse to pass it up.
Dinners at Circa 1876 are a failsafe way to enjoy a charming evening in rustic surrounds. Hit the main dining area – where the mood is set right by a gorgeous clutch of chandeliers, low lighting and a mess of candles on the fireplace mantel – or tuck in to the Taittinger Lounge or one of two intimate dining rooms if you're with a group. The menu is chockablock with the classics – think beef tenderloin, a roulade of duck breast and jamón or a parcel of ocean trout and kingfish – and there are heaps of grassier options for the vegos. We recommend the black pepper-blistered green beans with crisp eschallot or organic polenta-crusted potato croquettes when ordering sides.
But you’re here for the wine, right? One of the best deals you’ll find in the area comes courtesy Hungerford Hill, which hosts an ‘Epic Tasting Experience’ for curious oenophiles – we say go the Ultimate level, which costs $60 per person and gets you eight wines (including the limited-edition 2013 Barossa Valley shiraz, sold only at the cellar door) paired with six tasting dishes prepared at the award-winning Muse Restaurant on site.
Nick and Rebecca Diamond are your gracious hosts at the Carriages Boutique Hotel, which boasts two buildings – a gorgeous eight-unit country house and a two-unit cottage boasting spacious, well-appointed rooms. They'll pour you a complimentary glass of their award-winning wine at check-in, where you'll likely receive an excited greeting from their friendly border collie Wellington. Many of the rooms boast open fireplaces; order a takeaway pizza from Il Cacciatore (609 Mcdonalds Rd, Pokolbin 2320; 02 4998 7639) down the road – we recommend the pumpkin, zucchini, caramelised onion, gorgonzola and parsley pie – and uncork a bottle from the mini bar for a warm night in. And if you want a lie-in, you're in luck: you don't have to bother with breakfast plans because by 8am the following morning, they'll deliver a basket of freshly baked goodies, yoghurts, muesli and juice to your door. Start your day right by enjoying the spread (and some killer views of the morning mist) on the verandah out the front of your room.
Before heading to the cellar doors, do yourself a favour and book in for a local vineyard tour – on a Segway! Adam Wiseman runs them from the Hunter Valley Resort, and they're a good way to get some local history, as well as a lesson on how to navigate the historical Great North Road convict bush trail on a Segway. The 90-minute trek covers 5.2 kilometres and takes you over gently undulating slopes and to the back of the McGuigan vineyards, where Wiseman will talk you through the tricks of harvesting and you'll get ace views of the nearby Brokenback range.
Then head next door to the Hunter Valley Cheese Company. Nothing fancy here, just rows and rows of cheeses, spreads, crackers and gourmet ingredients you’ll want to purchase for your next dinner party back home. They do a ‘cheese talk’ at 11am each day to walk you through their on-site cheese-making process; be sure to book in for a cheese tasting, too. For just $7.50 per person, you’ll get a board with six different types of cheeses, crackers and breads and a sheet to mark down tasting notes. No wine is served, but if you’ve got a bottle from next door, they’ll happily cork it for you to enjoy with your fromage.
And don't forget...
Take the scenic route back to Sydney so you can drop by Wollombi Tavern, home to an infamous little concoction known as Dr Jurd’s Jungle Juice. But be careful: this potent potable – a tasty port wine mash-up you can drink straight or with a variety of mixers – can knock you to the floor, so be sure you have a designated driver (or don’t order more than one). Grab a burger and some wedges from the kitchen and sit out front to enjoy the passing parade of tourists, locals and the odd country dog on a leash.
Time Out visited the Hunter Valley as a guest of the Hunter Valley Wine and Tourism Association (HVWTA).