From smokehouses to kitchen gardens, innovative restaurants to world-class wineries, Australia's Hunter Valley, in New South Wales, is a gastronomic paradise.
Looking back on the trip I made to Australia with chef Jonathan Waxman of Manhattan's Barbuto, etc., late last year — late spring in the southern hemisphere — I find myself thinking about the felicitous interweaving of restaurants and wineries in Hunter Valley, the most celebrated wine region in New South Wales.
Most wine regions have good food in the vicinity (though strangely enough — and hard though this is to believe today — until the 1970s the culinary pickings in Napa and Sonoma were very slim indeed). What we liked about Hunter Valley, though, was the seamless integration of food and wine: Most of the restaurants we went to were either physically attached to wineries or adjacent to them, and while their wine lists certainly acknowledged other wine regions, in Australia and beyond, the restaurants without exception offered major support to local vintners.
We also liked the fact that so much of the food that ends up on local tables is actually grown or raised in the valley, from figs and tomatoes to chicken and beef, and that all the support systems seem to be in place — not just wineries, but microbreweries, distilleries, cheese producers, and smokehouses (like the one at Lovedale, whose range and quality of products impressed us).
The only drawback to visiting Hunter Valley for Americans is that it's a long trek to Sydney (though not a long one from Sydney to the valley). But there's so much good to eat and drink once you get there that we'd say it's worth it.