After the success of our Christmas in the Hunter Valley in 2013, we decided to replicate the experience by heading to Mudgee, another wine region in NSW. As for last year, we elected to undertake a road trip, this time heading inland to follow the rolling hills of the beautiful New England Highway. Two days after leaving Brisbane we arrived at our rustic cottage, enclosed on three sides by bush, with the privacy and quiet we craved, and evening shows put on by a family of kangaroos and a pair of goanna.
Mudgee wine region isn’t nearly as well known as the Hunter, yet it is only 180 km to the west. The biggest difference that we could see is that the Hunter is far more developed as a tourist destination whereas Mudgee retains the feeling of a quaint country town. Mudgee specialises in full-bodied reds, particularly shiraz and cabernet sauvignon, although it also produces excellent chardonnay and riesling. The region is situated close to the Great Dividing Range and the higher altitude creates a cool climate and longer growing season that intensifies the grape flavours. Looking at the vines, we could see that the grapes had much more ripening to do than the vines we saw at the same time of the year in the Hunter.
Mudgee had been a last minute decision for us and we didn’t know anything about the area. In an effort to ensure that we didn’t miss out on the stars of the show, I asked Conrad from the fantastic blog, The Wine Wankers, for his best Mudgee wine tips. Conrad kindly obliged and suggested: Botobola, Bunnamagoo, Burnbrae, Di Lusso, Huntington, Logan, Lowe, Thistle Hill and Vinefera. Since wine tasting and driving don’t really go together, as for last year, we elected to do a wine tour. We were the only passengers on the last tour of the year for Mudgee Wine & Country Tours and our affable tour guide, Terry, happily adjusted his schedule to include some of the wineries on Conrad’s list.
We started at Bunnamagoo Estate Wines, where the star of the show was their 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon. At Oatley Wines we couldn’t resist buying their deliciously fragrant and very affordable Craigmoor bubbly – Christmas Day quaffing was sorted. Our next stop, Huntington Estate Wines, was probably my favourite experience. I found it so romantic that this winery produces wines in a traditional style that are tasty young, but ideally benefit from long cellaring to gradually deepen the flavours. We fell for their amazing 2009 Shiraz, which can be cellared until 2025 (we’ve committed to stashing ours away for a minimum of five years – good luck to us!). The last stop before lunch was the micro-winery, Short Sheep, where we got a tour of the facilities and enjoyed their Rosé and preservative-free Shiraz.
By 2pm, ravenous for sustenance, we demolished a Ploughman’s style-lunch surrounded by the organic kitchen garden at Lowe Wines. Winemaker David Lowe is best known for producing stunning Zinfandel and his 2003 Lowe Reserve Zinfandel won the 2005 trophy for best in the world at the London International Wine Challenge. We got to taste the gorgeous 2010 Zinfandel, nicknamed by our attendant as “the wine that makes your wife forgive you”. It was indeed wonderful, but at $75 a bottle, we settled for draining our glasses to the very last ruby-red drop while sheltering from a summer squall that briefly swept through.
After lunch we went to Robert Stein Winery where I most enjoyed their unusual combination of Semillon Riesling. Our final stop was the atmospheric cellar at Pieter van Gent winery (in the photo above), where we laughed with the cheeky kiwi girl behind the counter, matched exquisite chocolates with dessert wines and came away, staggering a little, with a bottle of Botrytis Durif.
A tour is a great way to get a crash course in the wines of a particular region but by the time we got home I needed a cup of tea and a lie down. Even so, the next day we rallied and took ourselves to the organic winery, Thistle Hill, which was close to where we were staying. Thistle Hill was established as chemical-free from its beginning in 1975, which sets it apart from most organic wineries which have converted from conventional farming methods. At Thistle Hill we especially enjoyed their 2012 preservative free Shiraz and 2011 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon…and then we decided we were wine’d-out.
The following day was Christmas Eve, and we decided to do a kayaking tour at Dunn’s Swamp in the nearby Wollemi National Park, part of the northern Blue Mountains. Our early morning drive out to the Swamp took us through some achingly beautiful rural landscapes, including Windamere Lake (above) and the rugged sandstone rock formations close to the Park.
The lush, green Cudgegong River, was perfectly still and clear as we paddled out to the dam, built in the 1920s and now one of the oldest operational dams in the country. Cindy from Southern Cross Kayaking gave us a wonderful experience rich in knowledge of the area and its history. At the dam itself a couple of park rangers showed up, and with good-natured Christmas cheer, invited us down to watch them opening the pipes to flush out the water. Back onshore, a late lunch was had at in Rylstone, before we returned to Mudgee to shop for for supplies for Christmas Day.
Christmas Day dawned clear and bright and after a breakfast of Corn Fritters and eggs we settled into a lazy day of reading novels and nibbling treats. The next day we reluctantly packed up and drove north to Armidale, feeling well stocked up with wine, and more importantly, truly chilled out for the first time in months.