Sydney day 4: Hunter Valley wine tour

Hunter Valley, Australia

No trip to Sydney (or Australia) seems to be complete without at least one wine tour. Hunter Valley is one of the recommended day trips from Sydney and is the nearest place for a good wine tour. This day marked the most number of wines I’ve ever had in 6 hours.

We booked through BookMe but our tour provider was Activity Tours.

First time to pass through the bridge!

Early morning, we met up with our friends in Bondi Junction Station and went to Circular Quay. We had coffee at one of the bridge-facing cafes open at that time before proceeding to Stamford Hotel, our designated pick-up point. Our shuttle driver/tour guide was Jim, a Sydney local. I really had fun listening to him because he was very knowledgeable about Sydney. He described to us how Sydney looked like when he was young, and how he watched it become the city it is today. He also told us about the history of Hunter Valley. I definitely feel that his commentary is one of the highlights of the tour. He was kind and took care of us, and the wineries seemed to really like him. Our shuttle was spacious and we had no problems with the vehicle. I do recommend this tour if you’re looking for an affordable wine tour option.

We had one brief stopover at a gas station for those who wanted to go to the bathroom or grab some breakfast, then we were on our way to our first stop.

Some of the things I learned throughout the trip: Hunter Valley was discovered by soldiers. It is the oldest wine producing region in Australia, but only produces 5% of the total wines produced in the country. Beer used to be a huge thing in the Valley because the people who lived there (tradesmen, skilled men) loved to drink it after a hard day’s work.

Iron Gate Estate

Iron Gate Estate
Outside Iron Gate Estate’s cellar door

In terms of wine, Iron Gate Estate was my favorite of the three wineries we went to. I know you’re not supposed to sip the whole thing but some of the wines were so good, I couldn’t help but drink every drop.

Iron Gate Estate’s awesome tasting guide, Bill

Our tasting guide was Bill, and you can see his passion for the wines from the way he talked. He didn’t pressure us into buying anything (and I wished they had a small bottle of their 2015 Sweet Semillon!), but you’d end up feeling like buying a bottle or two.

Iron Gate only produces 17,000 bottles a year, and they still use cork for almost all their wines. They are only one out of seven wineries in Hunter Valley who grow and make wine on the premises.

We tasted the following wines:

  1. 2016 Milenio – 70% semillon, 30% verdelho. This was my initial favorite.
  2. 2016 Milenio verdelho – smells like butter at first
  3. 2016 Milenio semillon Chardonnay – 50%-50% blend; goes well with seafood or chicken
  4. 2017 oak semillon – aged in oak; best with carbonara. It was too spicy for me.
  5. 2011 shiraz – must be decanted; goes well with roast beef, lasagne, and bolognaise
  6. 2016 cabernet sauvignon – Iron Gate is one of the few growers of this variety; it is strong on the nose but surprisingly soft on the palate. Delicious.
  7. 2015 sweet semillon – not a dessert wine but goes with desserts. It is 10% alcohol. This was my favorite! It was sharp on the nose but has a buttery vanillin taste on the palate and very drinkable.
  8. 2017 sweet shiraz – their signature wine that goes well with spicy and Mexican food, dark chocolate, or pepperoni. He actually gave us brownies to go along with this wine.

After the wine tasting, Bill gave us a tour of where they make wine and walked us through the process. Of the three wineries, they were the only one who gave us a tour of the facilities.

I wanted to buy the sweet semillon 2015 but I didn’t have space in my luggage anymore. They don’t sell anywhere else except in their cellar door but they do ship around the world.


Just a bit tipsy, we all trooped back to the van. Then Jim stopped the van and pointed to the field.

Kangaroos! They were too far away for me to see clearly, but I was still so excited because it was my first time to see them in the flesh. The quality of the picture isn’t very good because I had to use maximum zoom. Jim said they are free to roam around as they don’t destroy the grapes; they only eat leaves.


Our next stop was at Capercaillie, a beautiful cellar door. This time, the wine tasting felt a bit too rushed. I was also more careful not to drop anything because we used Riedel for the tasting, and those are expensive glasses.

Capercaillie is named after a bird in Edinburgh, and they have 45-year-old vines grown on 20,000 acres.

Guided by Tina, the wines we tasted are:

  1. 2016 semillon – goes well with prawns and baramati fish. It can be used for cooking in place of lemon juice.
  2. 2017 Hunter Valley verdelho – what they call “summer in a bottle”; goes well with calamari or greek salad
  3. 2016 gewürztraminer – a drier style that goes well with spicy food
  4. 2017 Hunter Valley Rosé – rosé is my favorite wine, and I really looked forward to this but it was a little too dry. Their rosé has a darker red hue, and goes well with Aussie barbecue, salmon, Spanish tapas/hamon, and prosciutto
  5. 2017 Hunter Valley Sangiovese – goes well with antipasto and for summer drinking
  6. 2015 Hunter Valley shiraz – goes well with lamb, steaks, and beef
  7. A sparkling red wine

We didn’t buy anything but plenty in the group bought some bottles.

By this time, I was pretty full of wine, and ready to eat!

Jim drove us to Hunter Valley Gardens – a beautiful cozy place with several restaurants. Four in our group paid for more food during lunch so they stopped at The Cellar Restaurant. I have no idea if the food tasted well, but it seemed quite pricey because there were few patrons.

The rest in our group, including Jim, proceeded to Oscar’s, which was pretty full. We ended up eating al fresco, which was great because of the cool breeze. I was really excited because our meal included a drink, and I was finally able to drink Coke. You must be thinking – Coke?! But Coke costs AUD 3.50 (glass in restaurants, 600ml in groceries), which is Php 138.87. I couldn’t stomach the price, especially since you can buy Coke in the Philippines for Php 8 (roughly AUD 0.20). No wonder tourists find the Philippines so cheap.

We had time to spare after lunch so we went for a walk, and I persuaded our friends to pose for me because the place was beautiful and the sky looked like a painting.

Honestly, whenever I persuade my family or friends to pose for me in certain places, it’s because I want to have a picture there too. But I’m not photogenic (and my fam don’t take pictures very well – no offense, fam!) so the pictures don’t turn out the way I envision them.

After lunch, we proceeded to the cheese and chocolate tasting. I’ve never seen so many kinds of cheese in my life!

We only tasted 4 kinds of cheese: goats feta, fromage frais, delish blue, and marinated feta. I found a rock solid favorite in their fromage frais with herb & garlic. A small tub costs AUD 8, and I was willing to shell out for it, but they said it needed to be kept refrigerated and they advised me not to buy instead. I was sad, but I also appreciated their honesty instead of just making a sale.

There were also balsamic vinegar for sale, which you can taste for free, but I’m not into vinegar, except for that unforgettably delicious balsamic vinegar from Castello di Verrazzano.

Our friends bought the goat’s cheese, which we ate during New Year’s Eve. For some reason, it tasted better that night than it did during the tasting.

It was just a very quick tasting, lasting maybe less than 10 minutes. Several in our group bought some cheeses, while I wished I could find something like that herb & garlic cheese in Manila.

We trooped to the next store where we tasted Australian chocolates. There were some tasty ganache but at that time, I had several bars of chocolate at home so I didn’t feel like buying anything.

Our palates sufficiently cleansed, it was time for our third and last winery.

Savannah Estate

Of the three cellar doors we went to, Savannah  Estate was the chicest and most picturesque because of all the wood accents.

Savannah Estate’s cellar door was so inviting

Our tasting guide, Lisa, seemed very passionate about the wines and chatted us up a bit about the Philippines, asking which places she should go to for a vacation.

Reserve muscat in a cat glass in Savannah Estate

Some in our group tapped out because they were full of wine, but our foursome was definitely game for the following wines:

  1. Sparkling Brut NV – with 4% chardonnay and 10% sauvignon. It tasted like Cali Shandy, if you remember it
  2. 2013 semillon
  3. Still White Moscato NV
  4. 2015 Petersons rose
  5. Cuvee Brut – a mix of shiraz, cabernet and merlot
  6. 2012 shiraz
  7. Botrytis semillon dessert wine – “heaven in a bottle”, according to Lisa
  8. Reserve muscat – they served this in an interesting cat glass. I’ve never heard of that before! Ate Koku liked it so much she finished my glass too.

We didn’t hang around long after that because we still had a long drive ahead of us. A lot in our group purchased more wine from Savannah, while I headed out to take pictures.

Savannah Estate
This seems like the kind of place for a romantic and balmy afternoon

All in all, we tasted 23 wines throughout the day. We were all sufficiently buzzed so it was a pretty quiet ride home.

The wine tour was a great respite for all the walkathons in our schedule. After three days of walking, I was so glad to be off my feet and drinking wine. We were able to rest enough in time for our next hours-long trek the next day: the Coogee-Bondi beach walk.

Hunter Valley wine tour crew

Day’s cost (in AUD):
Wine tour: $111
Snack: $5.5

Total: $116.50

Our transportation costs ($7.16) were covered by our Opal card. The wine tour already included lunch, and we had free dinner at our friends’ house.

Read the other posts in my Sydney series!

Iron Gate Estate

6 Replies to “Sydney day 4: Hunter Valley wine tour”

  1. Very interesting wine tour experience and value for money. 🙂

  2. You guys will surely enjoy Napa and Sonoma here in California! Consider this my official invitation to take you guys around when you visit here 😊

    1. Wow! Thank you, ate Leah. 🙂 We are thinking of going to the US but not yet sure when and which area. We’ll take this into consideration too! 🙂

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