As the shadows grow longer across the landscape at day’s end, I stand in what’s referred to as the ‘Bird’s Nest’, otherwise known as the epicentre of the Mudgee wine region. Peering around at the mountains that surround me, Mount Buckaroo lit up with an orange glow, it’s easy to understand how the nest came to be.
Located 268 kilometres north-west of Sydney, the name Mudgee is derived from the Wiradjuri people who used the word ‘Moothi’, meaning ‘nest in the hills’.
What makes the region ideal for producing quality wines is the diurnal shift, enabling cool nights to put the brakes on ripening, as well as maintaining good acidity and developing aromatic and fruit characteristics.
Many people don’t realise the rich history of the Mudgee wine region, which sits 590 metres above sea level. The first vines in the district were planted way back in 1858 by those who swarmed the town in the gold rush era. Since then, Mudgee has grown to become New South Wales’ third largest wine-producing region, with more than 35 cellar doors and more than 40 varieties in its mostly volcanic earth and sandy loam soils. Of all wines tasted, shiraz was a consistent performer from a vast array of producers.
With an array of attractions on offer year round, the town explodes with pride during September to showcase Mudgee Wine and Food Month as more than 15,000 people converge to embrace a vast array of local produce.
Stay a little longer into October, and art lovers descend on Rosby’s not-for-profit Sculptures in the Garden event. Sip on a glass as you traverse the wonderful grounds filled with more than 300 exhibits, along with throngs of native birds passing through, adding to the vista and visual interest.
One of the most consistent and best producers in the region is Huntington Estate. With a diverse range of wines to suit every consumer, from sparkling whites to fortified and everything in between, kick back with the strawberries and cream delight of the pinot noir rosé 2023 or the energetic and juicy nouveau 2023 that sees the marriage of pinot noir, shiraz and grenache.
Winemaker Tim Stevens is on a journey with grenache and his Special Reserve 2022 is flirtatious and vibrant. Winning! But cabernet is one of his loves – the Special Reserve 2018 features voluminous black fruits alongside generous and robust tannins ensuring this will live comfortably beyond a decade.
Be sure to drop into Slow Fox for a most relaxing experience. Sunday lunches with live music – have your lazy afternoons and sunsets sorted, all matched with a very tidy rosé or the chardonnay 2022. Building a reputation for malbec, grab one for the road to enjoy with pizza night.
Mudgee is not typically known as a riesling hot spot but head to Robert Stein Winery and you’d think you were sipping on something from the Clare Valley. Wonderfully quartz driven, the refreshing purity of these rieslings, from their 1976 plantings, is simply outstanding.
The Reserve 2022 possesses superb energy with a mineral-like core and the Estate Riesling 2023 is aromatically stunning. If some residual sugar is your thing, the half dry 2022 (15g/L) is perfect for Thai food. An outstanding trio without question, but if you need a red bathe in the delight of their new release Blü Hen Montepulciano 2022. Black Forest cake in a glass, this excellent drink is supple and silky.
Robert Stein is also a brilliant lunch destination. With a paddock to plate focus and a full kitchen with a rolling menu, be sure to grab a truffle salami for the road – it’s divine!
Heslop Wines offer a personalised experience at their tiny cellar door. With an incredible range of wines on offer, diversity is the beacon that shines. Think vermentino, white frontignac and sangiovese to mention a few, but the Mr Rascal 2022 Bush Botanical is the star. It’s a vermouth infused with Australian botanicals that screams aperitivo hour. Pour over ice with tonic and you have a handy refreshment.
Love a small producer? A name to seek out is Lisa Bray. Having been awarded Mudgee’s Winemaker of the Year for the past two years, her LMB label captures the district in thrilling style. Her savoury and crunchy rosé 2023 and generous dark fruit and chocolate laden shiraz 2019 are humbly priced for the sheer quality in the glass.
A cellar door with an incredible vista and contemporary appeal is First Ridge. Perched on the side of a hill overlooking the vineyards, the re-purposed shipping containers provide a unique tasting experience.
Italian varieties are the focus and these wines are well made and incredibly approachable. Check out the fresh and vibrant vermentino 2022 and the dark berry basket and chocolate driven montepulciano 2022, but the Marco is a head turner. The 2021 is the first release and this blend of barbera and sangiovese is rich and generous with ribbons of spice – delicious.
Head a little further up the road and drop into Skimstone’s rustic cellar door. Quite the find, winemaker Jean Francois is exceptionally passionate about his work. The textural and stone fruit-driven chardonnay 2021 was a standout along with the crunchy white cherry and raspberry highlights of the rosé 2023. The barbera 2021 had me thinking of duck ragu and the cabernet merlot 2021 is a much-needed cuddle for a cold night.
But if a cleansing ale is what you seek after a day skipping around wineries, make a beeline to the slick and uber cute Small Batch Brewery and hop farm. Cleverly designed, these well-made brews with eye-catching labels make it an ideal location to slide into a comfortable chair as the day comes to a close. Very much a local favourite with eight tap beers on rotation, be sure to reach into the fridge for some takeaways. I’ll have a pilsner, thank you very much.
Steve Leszczynski is a wine writer, author, wine dinner host and MC. Apart from writing for his website qwinereviews.com, Steve co-authored a book, Grenache – Barossa Grown. He contributes to Halliday Wine Companion magazine, Vinomofo, Wine Business Magazine and Grapegrower & Winemaker magazine.