IT'S amazing what you remember after a day on the plonk.
While in the Hunter Valley's Pokolbin area recently on a GoDo.com.au and travel.com.au holiday, I drank in the knowledge of viticulturalists, cellar door managers and wine buffs alike on a tour with Bradley Garrett's Hunter Valley Vine Link.
Even after imbibing at several wineries, I managed to come away with gems of quaffing advice, the good oil on specific drops, and fascinating insights into the wine-making process.
Here are a few tips:
Use crystal ones as they roughen the texture of the wine and release the flavour.
Those with a large surface area are best (even though competition glasses are smaller).
Pour wine to a max of 30% of the glass.
Hungerford Hill cellar door sales and executive presenter Craig Lovett says aroma is 80% of the taste and the aroma stays when you don't fill it too much.
Ying and yang
Balance also applies to food and wine. If you eat hot and spicy food, buy a sweet wine.
Are good palate cleansers.
Hunter Valley harvest
The Australia Day weekend marked the start of the Hunter Valley harvest, which sees pinot, semillon, chardonnay and verdelho picked first.
The reds are picked from the second or third week in February and the harvest continues through to the third week in March.
Many Hunter wineries bring grapes from all over Australia so they can produce more types of wine than from those grapes that only grow locally.
This also helps when the region has difficult growing seasons: it can still use quality fruit from an area that has fared better.
The best time to taste wine
About 10am, when the palate is freshest.
Cellar door manager John Earl says, "We don't grow grapes. Our winemaking is our resume."
And the quality of that resume can be seen in the fact First Creek's Liz Jackson was 2011 winemaker of the year in the Hunter.
This winemaking service creates drops for 30 companies from 1000 tonnes of grapes a year. Its biggest client is Tulloch Wines.
It also produces about 13 million bottles for 130 companies and has a small boutique label.
Semillon is the wine of the valley, and John says of the 2011 First Creek Semillon, "If you don't like this one, you probably don't like semillon."
The crisp citrus flavours with a clean, steely finish are especially good with seafood.
First Creek winemaking service makes Australia's largest-selling verdelho - a hot-climate variety for Tulloch ideal with spicy Asian food.
As for shiraz, John says that at $45 a bottle, the 2011 Winemakers Reserve Shiraz will get better with age and keep for 20 years.
"That shiraz was perfect when it was picked. It's $45 but will go to $60."
But his favourite everyday shiraz is the 2010 (medium to full-bodied with aromas of spice, blackberries and fine integrated tannins) at $25.
"That was a good year, a great wine, beautiful flavour," he says.
"A good example of Hunter Valley shiraz where the year wasn't too wet."
The 2009 Chardonnay is the signature drop and considered to be one of the best in Australia.
Usher Tinkler is a third-generation winemaker with French connections that come in handy for everything from wine barrels to wine production.
He has a selection of his own French wines in the fine wine section of Dan Murphys.
Our presenter Drew says dusty, earthy tones in shiraz is a Hunter Valley trait.
He classes the 2007 Poole's Rock Shiraz we taste as a classic HV shiraz from 120-year-old vines, the oldest on the estate.
Drew says pinots need a really cool climate to grow and Poole's Rock gets its grapes from Tasmania's Tamar Valley.
The fruit is transported over three to four days. Some natural fruit displacement/crushing happens en route to the Hunter but is then crushed on the premises.
The Cockfighter's Ghost Premium Reserve Pinot Noir is $25 but as Brad Garrett says, "You'd be happy to pay $50 for it."
Light, summery, soft and elegant, it can be chilled.