Look forward to toasting the opening up of transtasman travel in these NSW wine regions, writes Nina Karnikowski
New South Wales has some internationally reputed wine regions that get most of the attention. But look beyond the likes of the Hunter Valley and you'll find lesser-known regions that are quietly becoming some of Australia's best destinations for wine travel. Whether you're a casual wine drinker or a seasoned sommelier, here are 10 alternative regions to vineyard-hop between during your next NSW holiday. It'll be the perfect way to toast the transtasman bubble opening up.
Since the first vines were planted on the volcanic slopes of Mt Canobolas in the 1980s, Orange has been slowly building its reputation. Today, the region is internationally recognised for its elegant cool-climate wines including pinot noir, chardonnay, sauvignon blanc, shiraz and tempranillo.
You'll find some of the best cellar doors at Bloodwood, Printhie Wines, Philip Shaw, Heifer Station Wines and Nashdale Lane, which also offers luxury glamping. Surrounded by lush farmland, Orange's gourmet culture is also flourishing. Grab a drink at Arthouse Bar then head next door to The Schoolhouse Restaurant; check out the area's hatted restaurants, Lolli Redini and Charred Kitchen & Bar; or head outside town to Millthorpe for lunch at Tonic, set inside a late-1800s former department store.
World-class wine, historic streets and cosy bars and restaurants, picturesque Mudgee combines heritage and happening.
Must-visit vineyards include Robert Stein, Di Lusso, Logan (their glass-walled tasting room is one of the state's prettiest) or Martins Hill and Lowe and Thistle Hill for organic options.
Book in at Butcher Shop Cafe, set in an ex-butcher's shop, for breakfast; Eltons Eating + Drinking for dinner; and Roth's, possibly Australia's best wine bar, for a nightcap.
Had enough eating and drinking? Check out Mudgee's newly opened Fairview Art Space, hike in the Wollemi National Park, and visit Rylstone with its charming heritage sandstone buildings filled with cafes and boutiques.
Drive 90 minutes southwest of Sydney and you'll find scenery as stunning as the pinot noir, pinot gris, cabernet sauvignon and shiraz this region is known for. In between tastings at popular vineyards including Tertini and family-run Artemis near Mittagong, and Joadja Estate and Centennial Vineyards near Berrima, you can explore the region's historic towns.
Poke through charming boutiques and antique stores (Dirty Janes in Bowral is unmissable), and eat local at cosy country pubs. For a more gourmet meal, try Birch, set in the old Moss Vale post office, Onesta Cucina in Bowral for traditional Italian, or hatted Eschalot in Berrima.
The tranquil countryside surrounding Canberra is home to 140 vineyards and more than 30 cellar doors, most within half an hour's drive of the capital. Visit Clonakilla and Helm Wines in the region's wine capital, Murrumbateman; family-run Mallaluka Wines; Shaw Wines with its striking new cellar door and Olleyville wood-fired restaurant; and certified biodynamic Lark Hill Winery and restaurant near historic Bungendore. Pick up some of this region's wonderful local produce as you go, including stonefruit, olives and Perigord truffles.
A warm-climate region stretching from Kiama in the north to Milton in the south, and west to Kangaroo Valley, Shoalhaven rolls through verdant valleys and overlooks some of the state's most stunning beaches.
Best known for the French red chambourcin, with its plummy fruit aromas, Shoalhaven is home to 16 cellar doors including the renowned Cambewarra and Coolangatta Estates. Enjoy freshly shucked oysters and local seafood while sipping the region's crisp chardonnays, then plunge into the ocean at one of the broad sandy beaches, or take a bushwalk through the area's nature reserves. Visit next Queen's Birthday Weekend for the Shoalhaven Coast Winter Wine Festival.
The town of Young, around which the Hilltops wine region is based, has long been known as Australia's cherry capital. Luckily, the same gravelly soils and high altitude that produces deliciously sweet cherries is also great for cool-climate grapes, and Hilltops is quickly emerging as one of Australia's most exciting viticulture regions.
Go vineyard-hopping at Freeman Vineyards, Grove Estate Wines, and Ballinaclash Orchard and Cellar Door (visit during cherry season November to December to pick fruit after your tasting). Short on time? The Hilltops Regional Wine Centre has the region's biggest range of Hilltop wines, plus jams, chutneys, and cherry wines and liquors.
Centred on the town of Griffith on the state's southwest plains, the warm and fertile Riverina region is the largest wine-producing region in New South Wales.
Aside from being renowned for its botrytis semillon dessert wines and excellent shiraz and chardonnay, Riverina also has a strong food scene thanks to its large Italian-Australian population.
Cellar doors to visit include Calabria Family Wines, set in a beautiful Tuscan-style building, De Bortoli (their botrytis semillon is one of Australia's most internationally acclaimed wines), McWilliam's, Mino & Co, and Yarran Wines, where you can sit on the terrace with a board full of local produce while looking out on to the countryside.
The youngest wine region in New South Wales, high-altitude New England is now home to 40 vineyards growing excellent chardonnay, sauvignon blanc, riesling and shiraz. Winemakers in this less-traversed region enjoy pushing boundaries, exploring alternative varieties and minimal-intervention winemaking.
Enjoy tastings at Petersons Armidale (stay for a local produce-focused lunch at weekends), Thunder Ridge Wines and Merilba Estate Wines, and leave time to explore the World Heritage-listed wilderness and small villages surrounding Armidale.
If you're into cabernet sauvignon, shiraz or chardonnay, head to the emerging Cowra wine region in the scenic Lachlan Valley, now home to more than 40 vineyards. Hop between cellar doors such as Kalari Wines by the Lachlan River, family-owned biodynamic Wallington Wines, and Rosnay organic vineyard, where you can also stay in the original converted farmhouse.
Grab a late lunch at the historic Albion Hotel in Grenfell, an old gold mining town, and book a sunrise hot-air balloon flight over the area's rolling hills and vineyards.
The second-largest grape-growing region in Australia which straddles both NSW and Victoria, the Murray Darling has only recently seen an influx of small wineries, but they're already renowned for making interesting, innovative wines.
Lying along the Murray River, this area is known for its soft and fruity chardonnay, and increasingly for emerging varieties including sangiovese and vermentino. Pop into St Anne's Winery in Moama, or Trentham Estate's cosy cellar door for a tasting and gourmet platter. Take a paddle-steamer along the Murray between winery visits, or consider hiring a houseboat for the weekend to make the most of the river.
SYDNEY WINE BARS
As you dip in and out of these regions, you'll likely start and end your journey in Sydney. Here are five of the best wine bars to check out while you're in town.
A vintage, moody design aesthetic, excellent European-style food and wines to match, Ode could be in Paris but is just a 10-minute walk from Bondi Beach.
Poly: This minimalist Surry Hills wine bar has an ever-evolving menu, and serves biodynamic, organic and natural wines from around the world.
Where's Nick: Ask the skilled sommeliers at this cosy Marrickville wine bar to pour you whatever's exciting them. It'll be natural and minimal-intervention, and perfect with a meat or cheese board.
10 William St: An intimate Paddington hole-in-the-wall that's a guaranteed good time, and serves the best house-made pasta in Sydney.
Dear Sainte Eloise: Snack on mussels on toast and choose from more than 300 wines from around the globe at this buzzing Potts Point wine bar.
CHECKLIST: NEW SOUTH WALES
Australian borders are currently closed to New Zealand passport-holders but a transtasman bubble is being investigated by both Australia's and New Zealand's governments. In the meantime, go to sydney.com/nz for more information, ideas and inspiration.