Monday, September 5, 2011

A race through Hunter Valley - part 1

After the last month of life seeming like a race of sorts, I admit I felt due for a weekend away when I got an email about Hunter Valley. Not only did it encapsulate the 'weekend away' idea, but it also involved an exciting invitation to an 'Amazing Race' concept to see Australia's oldest wine region in new light.

Hunter Valley vineyards in winter
I've mostly been to the Hunter Valley in winter, and believe it's more than ideal. Think log fires, red wine and hearty fare - what more perfect way to end a day's full of wine tasting.

But, as the new-look tourism campaign and weekend were to show, there's a lot more going on in the Hunter Valley in winter than just wine and bald vines.

Seasoned butter stick at The Mill Restaurant, Tuscany Wine Estate Resort, Pokolbin
We started the weekend and proceedings for the 'Amazing Hunter Valley Race' with dinner on Friday night at new-ish The Mill Restaurant at Tuscany Wine Estate Resort where the Binnorie Dairy cheese factory also resides.

Here, we met our fellow team mates and competitors (among others) wine and canapes, as well as notable local industry people, such as winemaker David Hook of his eponymous wine label and Ian Burgess of Moorebank Wines.

To start the meal we had creamy sticks of butter that were rolled in a medley cracked black pepper, salt flakes and other delightful, dukkah-like crunchy bits that made bread and butter that much more special.

Amuse bouche - carrot with a sweet pea foam
The palate hardly needed amusement after sparkling wine, canapes and chatting to new and old faces; nonetheless, the shooter of carrot soup with a pale green pea foam was a positive sign of things to come.

The carrot soup was unexpectedly garden sweet and a tad creamy, while the foam was more whimsy than anything of substance.

Tequila prawns, tomato concasse, basil and lemon zest with garlic butter
I haven't had the best past experiences with tequila in my life, but these prawns heralded change. Four varying-sized, tail-on prawns featured with diced tomato, microherbs, lots of lemon zest and garlic butter.

The combination of firmly textured prawns, soft tomato and smooth butter sauce was impeccable while the tequila was mostly unnoticeable. Each bite of prawn was savoured slowly and now that I think of it, I should have requested a recipe.

Beef filet mignon, pomme puree, pickled mushrooms, seasonal baby vegetables
with borderlaise sauce
The main was a safe play on meat and veg, but executed extremely well. A thick cut filet mignon was the star, cuicily medium-rare in the centre and so impossibly tender that teeth were barely required.

The delightful surprise was the pickled enoki mushrooms which maintained their texture but cut nicely through the creamy potato puree and rich sauce. The bright baby carrot and asparagus were also cooked to perfection. Ticks all round.

Amid all this eating, there was plenty of wine going around - at least three or four different labels per course. Standout was a David Hook shiraz with the mains while a ginseng-infused moscato with entrees was definitely a first.

Semifreddo chocolate with orange strawberry coulis
It was time for dessert when the several bottles of dessert wines and liqueurs hit the table, followed by chocolate semifreddo. The very consistent chocolate whiskers and balls filled with cream added great texture, while the citrus addition to the strawberry coulis was inspired.

The ice cream was butterscotch, I think; tasting delightfully similar to the crunchy bits you get in hokey pokey ice cream. It was a winning combination with the biscuit crumbs, but just a little too sweet together with the creamy semifreddo.

So, tummies full and teams met, we were to embark on a massive day on Saturday, kind of literally racing through the Hunter Valley - but only after a good restful nights' sleep after all that wine.

Our twin room at the Mercure Resort Hunter Valley Gardens

Our twin room at the Mercure Resort Hunter Valley Gardens
Keep an eye out for more posts on the 'Amazing Hunter Valley Race', to come shortly.

Food, booze and shoes and guest attended the 'Amazing Hunter Valley Race' famil and stayed at the Mercure Resort Hunter Valley Gardens courtesy of Hunter Valley Wine Country Tourism and the fabulous girls at Agent99 PR.

Mill Restaurant on Urbanspoon


lifeafterfive* said...

This looks like so much fun! What a brilliant idea.. looking forward to part 2 :)

sugarpuffi said...

wow id be content with that pretty butter stick!

Adrian (Food Rehab) said...

What a boozy filled adventure! Very fitting. I still remember seeing all the tweets that day!

Dumpling Girl said...

Sounds like the start of a lovely weekend adventure.

Nic@diningwithastud said...

Wow! If you're going to do an amazing race, I cant think of a better place :)

john@heneedsfood said...

It was such a fun weekend, wasn't it? I'm so stealing that seasoned butter idea for my next dinner party and those prawns, gosh, they were wonderful.

Lorraine @ Not Quite Nigella said...

Oh we were supposed to go on this but we couldn't. Good to see what we missed out on. Christie and I were going to team up together!

Tina said...

Hi lifeafterfive* - Definitely a superb idea :)

Hi sugarpuffi - The whole thing?! ;)

Hi Adrian - Yes, there were quite a few tweets - not all boozy ;)

Hi Dumpling Girl - Was such good fun; posts following soon!

Hi Nic - Well, just behind a worldwide one, right? ;)

Hi John - The prawns were definitely my fave of the night :)

Hi Lorraine - Oh, shame. Lots more to come :)

Corinne @ Gourmantic said...

I can't get over this stick of butter! It has Homer Simpson written all over it! ;)

Look forward to the next installment!

mademoiselle délicieuse said...

Strangely I've only ever been to the Hunter Valley during winter as well!

And now why do most people's experiences with tequila tend to not evoke happy memories? =p

Tina said...

Hi Corinne - Homer would have wrapped it in bacon and eaten it as a canape ;)

Hi mademoiselle délicieuse - Wine and winter do seem to go together awfully well :)

Billy @ A Table For Two said...

much fun! I am still contemplating how am i going to blog about this event?! Hmmm.....

Hunter Valley Winery said...

Wow - I can't believe the detail you go into for each part of the meal - personally I wonder if I would still find the time to enjoy it - does this ever happen to you?

Anyway, lovely, in depth posting.


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