A fabulous wallop of golden sunshine bathes the early morning curves of the Pacific Highway as we bypass Broken Bay and cross the sprawling Hawkesbury River heading north on a hit and run trip to the Hunter Valley, a two-hour drive from downtown Sydney.

I’m on the razzle with Kathy, my daughter, seeking some calorie-laden contentment with Boutique Wine Tours. “Guess I’m driving you all to drink,” jokes Steve, our one-man guide-chauffeur, addressing his seven bleary-eyed passengers.

I could instead have rented a car; I’ve done it before on a Hunter trip, staying over in one of the hundreds of B&Bs. But wanting a fix of grapes and nostalgia, without the stress of having to drive, and the freedom to swallow as well as slurp, meant being pampered.

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Steve’s sit-down comedy act and spiel of impressive knowledge concerning the wineries of the region keeps us engrossed.

Soon, the higgledy-piggledy roofscape of a town heaves into view through spindly gum trees. This is Cessnock, a former coal mining town and now gateway to the vineyards – and there, on the distant slopes of gently rippling hills, like a well-drilled army, stand serried ranks of knotty and naked, just-pruned vines stretching away across the ridges towards the lip of the Watagan Hills.

Steve is affable, witty, funny, answering questions about what makes the Hunter special, winning more than its share of trophies. He should be cloned. He tells us that wine pioneers arrived in the 1830s, finding the soil and a hot summer climate conducive to semillon and shiraz grapes bedding in like hunky and dory. Today, they yield several world class wines, spawning a million dollar industry, and latterly have turned the Hunter Valley into a vat of liquid gold.

But, we’re here for the wines, not to sample statistics, and Steve has ear-marked some smaller producers of distinction and distinctiveness. Iron Gate Estate on Oakey Creek Road, looks Mediterranean with its Spanish-influenced architecture, ridged tiles, rococo statues, fluted chimneys. Bill, an ex-lifeguard and winery expert, beckons us through the cellar door.

Iron Gate’s wines are made exclusively from grapes grown on location, bucking the trend for Australian wineries to mongrelise their output from parcels of grapes acquired from Orange, Mudgee, Barossa, and other wine producing centres.

“Pure taste of the Hunter,” says Bill, holding up a glass of golden Semillon-Chardonnay. It is smooth yet vaguely astringent. “Increasingly, we’re incorporating Verdehlo into the mix. What do you think?”

Our group is opinionated. Andre from Montreal likes only reds. Topher, a teacher from Sacramento, prefers sweet whites. Topher tosses the samples back like a man whose taste buds are all located in his stomach. Bill approves.

“Just one thing counts when it comes to wine – whether or not you happen to like it.”

He mentions the tendency for the wine trade to opt for pretentiousness, finding “passion fruit notes, hints of pineapple, tinges of melon,” Bill pauses and smiles. “Somehow, nobody ever tastes grapes!”

Driving towards lunch, (pre-selected from a menu handed out at the start of the day), we catch a glimpse, obscured by dapple, of a posse of young kangaroo who seem as interested in us as we are in them. Perhaps they’re wary. For, many years ago on that trip, my first encounter with kangaroo had been on a plate. It tasted beaut as the Aussies say.

At the Garden Village along Broke Road lies Oscar’s Cafe, part of a complex of food temptations, comprising the Honey Hive, the 5-star Cellar Restaurant, a specialist outlet selling olives and liqueurs next door to a coffee bean emporium, and the Hunter Valley Chocolate Company, meltingly close (especially at summer’s height) to Oscars itself.

There, beside the tinkling of fountains and the jabbering of rosella birds, I demolish a generous bacon-loaded piquant caesar salad. Inside the chocolate shop I find Kathy with pouches of fudge already wrapped to bring home as gifts. My nose is twitching, detecting the pungent whiff of cheese.

McGuigan’s counter next door offers sampling-platters of cheeses and charcuterie for 10 dollars (a robust alternative to lunch). I bend and sniff; caesar rumbles in my gut and Kathy hauls me back to the bus. Steve revs the engine. Hey presto we’re off.

The next stop is Constable Estate. Its landscaped gardens, studded with bronze and marble statues, soak up the sunlight. Jen, our server, fetches bottles from under the counter, poring generous measures of sauvingnon blanc and semillon, and punctures all pomposity with her zeal for easy drinking as well as award-winning premium wines.

It’s a story repeated at Savannah Estate, where Cathy, our eager "hostess", discloses that the 2014 vintage was the Hunter’s finest for more than 30 years (go, check your supermarket shelves without delay). She serves the best Shiraz of the day, then tops it at once with a fizzy chambourcin, a gem of purple fruitiness – such a wow that my daughter snatches a bottle to open the following night at Ripples restaurant on Sydney Harbour.

Driving home, Steve enjoys the silence. Outside, the Highway slips by like a dream. We swish through a rain shower. Minutes later a double rainbow appears. Incandescent, spanning the road from field to field. “Like the Harbour Bridge on New Year’s Eve," says Steve, while behind us the tipplers doze, snug as Joeys in a pouch.


Getting there

Emirates (emirates.com) flies daily from Glasgow to Sydney via Dubai from £1062 return.

Where to stay

Harbourside Serviced Apartments (harbourside apartments.com.au ) have studio and one and two bedroom apartments from £165 per night.

What to do

Sydney Boutique Tours (sydneyboutique tours.com.au ) has guided Hunter day tours, including lunch and a drink, from £99 per person.