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  • Quentin Von Essen

Winners are Grinners!

Restaurants and Wineries Winning Top Awards

It’s no secret that the Hunter is home to some of the most creative and edgy restaurants making their presence felt on the national and regional culinary stage, with the much-celebrated hatted trio of Muse Restaurant, Muse Kitchen and Bistro Molines leading the way.


Hot on their heels are a mix of both new and established venues that include Circa 1876, Hunters Quarter, Nanna Kerr’s, Baume, EXP. Restaurant, RidgeView Restaurant, Esca Bimbadgen, The Cellar Restaurant and The Verandah Restaurant - to mention a few, and they are all taking dining excitement to the next level.

The Hunter’s reputation as a wine and food region is unsurpassed, a fact that has been embraced by Australian and international visitors alike, and there is nothing hotter right now than some of our award-winning restaurants and wines.

At the recent Restaurants & Catering Industry Association Australia (R&CA) awards, more than 335 local restaurants, cafes and catering businesses gathered to celebrate the achievements of their peers who were judged over 67 categories, with the winners announced at the Awards for Excellence ceremony held in Sydney last month. Seven Hunter restaurants received awards at this prominent event, five of which are in the Hunter Valley Pokolbin area with the remaining two restaurants based in Newcastle.

The R&CA Awards for Excellence is a nationally recognised, independently judged awards program that recognises exceptional service and culinary talent in restaurants, cafes, takeaway and catering businesses across Australia. The Awards for Excellence is the only program in Australia where the judging criteria are determined by consumers who rank what is important to them in the dining experience.

Having received rave reviews since opening its doors and kitchen a year ago, Baumé at Ben Ean, Lindeman's estate, was awarded Best New Regional Restaurant at the prestigious award ceremony – providing more credence to the fact that some of Australia's best eating out this year has been beyond the metro limits, in regional restaurants offering incredible experiences unique to their surrounds.

Baumé has been nothing if not busy since industry stalwarts Colin Peterson and Brian McGuigan purchased the re-named Ben Ean, Lindeman's estate in 2017 with the view to preserving its place in the region’s winemaking history and create an exciting new future for the historic venue. Another restaurant cementing its culinary reputation in the region, Circa 1876 at Pokolbin has added two further gongs to its cache after being crowned 2018 NSW Regional Restaurant of the Year and Regional Contemporary Australian Restaurant (formal). During the past three years, Circa 1876 executive chef Trent Barrett and his team have won NSW Best Regional Restaurant (fine dining) twice and was named Best Restaurant Caterer (weddings) for three consecutive years in the R&CIAA awards.

Also, this year The Convent boutique hotel property which includes Circa 1876, has taken out the 2018 Regional Superior Hotel of the Year at the Tourism Accommodation Australia Awards for Excellence and was a finalist in the same category at the Australian Hotels Association for Excellence. Barrett thanked his team of chefs and wait staff for contributing to the success of the iconic venue and said the sustainable use of seasonal produce grown in the onsite vegetable garden, helped set the restaurant apart. "It’s a great honour and very rewarding to play a part in such an iconic and historical property located in an amazing food and wine region," he said.

Another Pokolbin based restaurant, Esca, Bimbadgen was awarded Best NSW Regional Restaurant in a Winery and Best NSW Regional Tourism Restaurant.

Other awards went to Il Cacciatore Restaurant which won Best Regional Italian Restaurant and Crowne Plaza Hunter Valley which took home Best NSW Regional Caterer of the Year.

And the results keep coming.

For well over 100 years, the Hunter Valley has been recognised internationally for the quality and distinct regional characteristics of its premium wines as well as the superb skills of the winemakers creating them. The region has also been home to countless legends of the industry that include Karl Stockhausen, Hans Mollenhauer and Maurice O’Shea - the man credited as being the father of Australian table wine. There are also those winemakers whose enduring legacies helped shape the reputation of the region – winemakers such as Len Evans, Max Lake and the late Murray Tyrrell, and those who continue to make their mark on the industry today such as Ian Scarborough, Jay Tulloch, John Drayton, Chris Barnes, Phil Ryan, Brian McGuigan, Neil McGuigan, Kevin Sobels and Bruce Tyrrell.

But following in the footsteps of these giants is a growing list of innovative and highly talented winemakers who are injecting new life and flavours into the market and helping shape the future of the industry in the Hunter Valley and winning countless awards.

One such winemaker is Bryan Currie - senior winemaker at Dalwood Estate, Sweetwater Estate and Hungerford Hill and also Winemaker of the Year finalist, who once again wowed judges picking up nine medals at regional wine shows in September.

The Riverina Winemakers Association hosted a series of wine show awards at a single gala event in Griffith in September, including the Tumbarumba Wine Show, Australian Italian Varieties and the Australian Sweet Wine Challenge, to name a few.

Currie won three gold, two silver and four bronze medals for wines predominantly from his first vintage in the Hunter (2017). But what makes one of those wins particularly sweet for the accomplished winemaker was that it also offered a link to a past career highlight. “Winning the Australian Italian Varieties Wine gold medal for the Hungerford Hill 2017 Fiano was a great moment for me,” Currie said. In 2006, Currie worked directly with the same grape variety in Southern Italy, during his time living in one of the country’s most famous wine-growing regions in the hills above Naples. “I love the grape (Fiano), it creates wine that suits our lifestyle. It matches well with oysters or pasta and basically does what a Semillon or Riesling can do, but with more flavour.”

The recent medal haul adds to a host of accolades including a gold medal win in the Australian National Single Vineyard Wine Show for the Hungerford Hill 2017 Epic Hunter Valley Shiraz. Not to mention a recent nod to his career accomplishments with a nomination for the prestigious Winemaker of the Year title – the winner to be announced at a gala ceremony in November.

The New South Wales Wine Awards

The NSW Wine Awards were created in 1996 to build awareness of the quality of wines produced in NSW.

Since inception, the Awards have become an indicator of the growth and diversity of the NSW wine industry and the potential of new regions within New South Wales. Unlike traditional wine shows, the judges of the New South Wales Wine Awards taste wines of similar style regardless of the size of the producer, allowing large and small wineries to compete against each other.

At the recent annual NSW Wine Awards held in the Southern Highlands between 11th and 13th September, the vigorous judging process, saw 16 expert judges from across Australia taste a record number of nearly 900 wines over three days, resulting in 402 medal winning wines, of which 51 were gold medal winners.

Of the gold medal winning wines, 27 of them were from the Hunter Valley - raising anticipation of who will be awarded one of the top Trophies at the Awards Presentation on 19 October at Government House in Sydney.

Chair of Judges Dave Brookes confirmed, “The medal results shine a light on the state’s diversity of wine styles and the quality of a pleasing run of excellent vintages. Current release Rieslings from Canberra and Mudgee were a highlight as were the Shiraz releases from a number of regions, from classic medium-weight Hunter Valley to funky-edged whole-bunch wines. Chardonnay continues to be on a roll with pristine and elegant wines on display from the Hunter Valley and Orange.” The medal ceremony saw Bryan Currie walk away four gold medals - a gold for the Hungerford Hill 2017 Epic Shiraz Sauvignon and three gold for the Sweetwater Estate 2014 Shiraz, 2017 Shiraz and 2017 Shiraz Cabernet.

For Tamburlaine Organic Wines, the results were just as outstanding winning six gold medals awarded to 6 reds amongst its total medal tally. The six varietals with gold medals included Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Malbec.


"These awards are an exposé of the best NSW has to offer, and top medals for our wines from both our Hunter and Orange vineyards is an endorsement to our focus on organic viticulture over the past fifteen years." – Tamburlaine Managing Director, Mark



The 160 years old Tyrrell's family wine company also have reason to celebrate - winning five gold medals for their 2013 and 2014 Vat 1 Semillon, 2013 Belford Semillon, 2015 Vat 47 Chardonnay and 2017 Belford Chardonnay.

Brokenwood Wines took home two gold medals with their Brokenwood Wines 2018 Semillon and 2013 Stanleigh Park Semillon.

First Creek Wines also took home two gold with the 2018 Winemakers Reserve Semillon and 2017 Single Vineyard Murphys Semillon as did Mount Pleasant Wines for their 2017 High Paddock Shiraz and 2017 Old Paddock & Old Hill Shiraz – a wine steeped in heritage.

Other noteworthy gold medal winners were Thomas Wines for their 2013 Cellar Reserve Braemore Semillon and Silkman Wines for the 2017 Reserve Chardonnay.

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