Sydney & Hunter Valley

Written by on February 21, 2013 in Australia & Oceania, General

I met up with Ton and Elaine at the Town Hall station and we hopped on a bus to their place in Balmain, a super-cute neighborhood just over the Anzac Bridge. We caught up over a bottle of sparkling Shiraz and they took me to “Our Place”, their favorite restaurant, where we had a great table in a quaint courtyard.  I had a Portuguese espetada, which was absolutely delicious and one of the best meals I’ve had in a long time. We finished just in time to head to the local pub to watch the Federer v Murray match. Murray was just too tough.

We had brunch at another cute spot in Balmain which had amazing coffee and yummy acai smoothies.  For over $10, they’d better be good!

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By noon we were on a bus headed into Sydney to check out the live music stages set up near the Rocks as part of the Australia Day celebration.  On our way, we saw a sign for free photos with a kangaroo.  Since I hadn’t seen any Australian “wildlife” yet, I figured why not?  We headed downstairs and got our free pictures taken with not one, but two kangaroos!  Hahaha.

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It was a beautiful day with a nice breeze which kept the temperature and humidity manageable.

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We plopped down on the grass for several songs by Tin Sparrow, a cool local funk/folk band, before wandering through the Rocks in search of lunch.

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We spent the afternoon bar and band hopping, while I snapped several pics of the iconic Opera House and Harbour Bridge.

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We were all still a little sluggish from the night before, so called it an afternoon and took the 5p ferry back to Balmain, which provided the best views of the day.

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The next morning, we packed the car with a picnic and overnight bag and were off to Hunter Valley for a couple days of wine tasting.  It was an unusually rainy day, but I didn’t mind as I actually think rain is good wine tasting weather.

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It did spoil some of the views on the scenic drive up, but was otherwise ok and probably kept other winos away.  After a couple hours on the road, we took a coffee break at a quaint cafe in a town called Wollombi, and hit the road again fully caffeinated.

Hunter is a bit different from Napa and Sonoma in that most of the wineries are free and let you taste anything they have open. So, rather than paying $10-20 for a pre-picked list of 4 or 5 wines that may or may not be that winery’s best wines, you have full reign to taste everything.  I suppose free tastings is how it used to be in Napa before it got so popular.  Free tastings = big bonus for me as I didn’t have to drive 🙂

We stopped off at 6 wineries today. Tallavera Grove was our first and  most scenic, overlooking rolling hills covered in vines. They also had a really nice Shiraz that I would have bought if I didn’t have to get on a plane in 2 days.

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Hunter is also well known for its white Semillon, so I made sure to start my tastings everywhere with a glass. Our second stop was at Briar Ridge, which didn’t have the greatest wines, but was in a nice setting and a cute an affordable restaurant which made a good lunch stop.

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Peterson’s was next, and also Ton and Elaine’s favorite. They do a couple red sparkling wines (a Malbec and a Barbera) which T&E love, as well as a couple of really nice bottles of Shiraz.  We managed to taste at three other wineries that afternoon, none with wines worth mentioning aside from Tempus Two, which was in a very large industrial looking facility with large grassy grounds that apparently holds summer concerts, similar to Mondavi or the Saratoga Mountain Winery. I found out we missed Elvis Costello by a week. Bummer. Anyway, the wines weren’t great, but the grounds and label were nice and I could see why it was so popular.

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We finally decided to head to our hotel so our designated driver could join the festivities. Another bottle of wine, and a quick nap for me, and we were ready to head out for dinner. We talked the bartender at the pub into turning on the men’s final and settled in with a delicious pizza and summer lager to watch the first half of the match. We retired to our room to watch Djoko raise his game while Murray’s body got the best of him in the last two sets. Wow-what a tournament!! It was nice to watch in real time and have it finish at a normal 1130pm as I remember staying up til 5am with Chris in my ski house for the epic Nadal v Djokovic marathon match last year.

We slept in a little and woke up to another gloomy and even wetter rainy day. We decided to skip breakfast and just grab a coffee before hitting the road. Elaine and Ton know me too well, as they stopped off at Peterson’s champagne house for one last tasting before heading back to Sydney. This winery had made a dozen different types of sparkling wine, which was fantastic! Sparking Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Merlot, Cab Sav, Blanc de Blanc, Rose…you name the wine, they had a sparkling version of it.  Awesome way to start the day!  They even had a super cute souvenir shop that I would have raided if anything would fit in my backpack!  I did like and wholeheartedly agree with their logo and mantra “Life’s flat without bubbles“. Love it!

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The drive back to Sydney seemed to take forever. Seems like the pouring rain and fog probably caused many others to end their 3 day weekend early too and the highway was jammed. Exhausted once back at their place, we all decided to relax and have a chilled out movie night for our last night together.

It was so great to catch up with Ton and Elaine in Melbourne and again in Sydney. There were part of my very close-knit group of friends when we were all expats in Amsterdam in 2000-2001 and I miss them a lot! Thanks for everything! I had a blast and can’t wait to show you around San Francisco one day.

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