Review: Port Macquarie gourmet food and wine tours are a winning combination

Port Macquarie has long been known for its relaxed coastal ambience, but the city is also getting a name for itself as a gourmet hotspot. This private food and wine tour will introduce you to many of the delicious specialties of the surrounding Hastings River region. Review: Adam Ford

Port Macquarie gourmet food and wine tours

Port Macquarie gourmet food and wine tours. Image: Adam Ford

5 stars

Port Macquarie gourmet food and wine tours with Frankie’s Travel

These superb private Port Macquarie gourmet food and wine tours feature visits to local wineries and various specialty food producers. A winery lunch can be included in the itinerary. Taste-test your way around this stunning piece of New South Wales. Duration: 8 hours (approx.)

What’s on my plate can only be described as a gourmet Van Gogh.

It’s a platter of local specialities, so superbly presented that I’m hesitant to pick up my fork and mess it up. I’m at Cassegrain Wines outside Port Macquarie on the Mid-North Coast of NSW. Greater Port Macquarie’s fast evolving food and wine scene is just one of the many surprises you are going to encounter during your visit to this tantalising part of Oz. From fine French family wineries to Wonka-esque fudge makers, the region has much to offer foodies and wine-lovers alike, and both are well catered for on the full and half-day private Port Macquarie gourmet food and wine tours offered by Frankie’s Travel.

Today, it’s just me and owner/tour guide Monique and I get to ride shotgun up the front of the bus. Sitting proudly on the dashboard is Frankie – a stuffed green turtle. Introductions done, we get underway.

Port Macquarie gourmet food and wine tours

Explore Port Macquarie’s food and wine scene with Monique at Frankie’s Travel.

Monique is an interesting lady. We agree that she will conduct the tour with her usual commentary, but I can’t help jumping in with questions. Before long we’re off message and discussing all manner of topics, including her former gigs – which range from travel agent, to overland tour guide in Asia, to traipsing over the Sydney Harbour Bridge in a onesie for BridgeClimb Sydney. Monique recently returned to her home town of Port Macquarie and launched Frankie’s Travel. If our day together is anything to go by, she’s all set for big things – if she can sit still long enough.

Our first stop is a bit of a detour, but Monique is keen to show me a few of the region’s lesser known attractions, including Old Bottlebutt – a giant Red Bloodwood in the heart of the Burrawan State Forest. It’s formally recorded on the National Register of Big Trees, with a circumference of 16.3 metres. It’s spectacular and the short stroll through the rainforest is an added bonus.

Port Macquarie gourmet food and wine tours

Port Macquarie gourmet food and wine tours: Old Bottlebutt

Monique’s tour itineraries generally include one of these ‘secret stops’, along with visits to a selection of wineries and gourmet food producers – including local institution Ricardoes Tomatoes and Strawberries. Google things to do in Port Macquarie and these guys will probably appear somewhere near the top of the search results. Their vertical strawberry picking is a very popular pastime with locals and visitors alike. Ricardoes only sells direct to the public. You won’t find their produce in the big supermarkets, but you will find it in eateries across town, included top-notch hatted restaurant The Stunned Mullet.

Port Macquarie gourmet food and wine tours

Port Macquarie gourmet food and wine tours: Ricardoes Tomatoes and Strawberries

There are three parts to the business – tomatoes, strawberries, and a rustic food store/café. On arrival, we start our guided tour in the giant hydroponic tomato patch: a series of massive hothouses producing a number of rosy varieties. The hothouses are heated by burning macadamia shells and the long draping tomato vines grow in tightly packed bundles of coconut husk (the nutrient-enriched ex-husk beds are in hot demand around town as compost).

Port Macquarie gourmet food and wine tours

Ricardoes Tomatoes and Strawberries. Image: Adam Ford

Over in the vertical strawberry fields (think back-to-back A-frame wall gardens) the fun really begins as happy visitors mingle with the estate’s colonies of busy bees (literally – and no one ever gets stung we’re told) respectively picking and pollinating the delicious looking berries. Clutching my punnet, I also pick up a jar of spicy tomato relish and rich strawberry jam on the way out for research purposes.

Port Macquarie gourmet food and wine tours

Pick your own punnet at Ricardoes Tomatoes and Strawberries. Image: Adam Ford

From there we make our way to Cassegrain Wines. Cassegrain is another name you’ll hear a lot about around Port Macquarie. This family operation has a French winemaking pedigree stretching all the way back to the 17th century. If you are surprised, as I was, to learn of a winemaking industry around Port Macquarie, it’s actually had a long history. The first vines were planted in the late 1830s. Fortunes waxed and waned but by the middle of the 20th century the industry was all but extinct. John and Eva Cassegrain saw the potential for growing fruit that thrives in a humid subtropical climate (including verdelho, semillon and the rare French grape chambourcin). Cassegrain Wines opened in 1985 and the Hastings River Wine Region was subsequently reborn. Today there are several vineyards in operation.

Port Macquarie gourmet food and wine tours

Port Macquarie gourmet food and wine tours. Image courtesy of Cassegrain Wines

After passing through the sweet-smelling barrel room to the cellar door, you’ll be invited to try a number of Cassegrain’s wares. Special mention to the 2016 Stone Circle Verdelho (made with estate-grown fruit) with its citrus and passionfruit undertones. Also the delicate, pale pink 2016 pinot gris, with hints of apple and pear. It’s all underscored with a tasting plate of local cheeses.

Port Macquarie gourmet food and wine tours

Port Macquarie gourmet food and wine tours. Image: Adam Ford

This is also our lunch stop and my piece of edible art is served in the estate’s Seasons Restaurant, with its French-inspired menu. A gourmet picnic lunch is included on Monique’s full day wine tours, however it’s possible on private tours to have lunch here. My tasting platter features succulent prawns, smoked trout, pork terrine, olives and more.

Port Macquarie gourmet food and wine tours

Image: Adam Ford

By this stage of the day tour participants are generally in the mood for something sweet, and Monique has that covered with a visit to a local fudge maker. Famous Vickers Fudge has their factory and shop under one roof at Krambach, and colourful candies, lollipops and fudge in a mind-boggling array of flavours line the shelves. Almost everything is made onsite. You can watch the factory in action and try before you buy. We linger longingly, admiring the wares. I can feel myself putting on the pounds just browsing.

Port Macquarie gourmet food and wine tours

Port Macquarie gourmet food and wine tours: Visit Vickers Fudge. Image: Adam Ford

All too soon it’s time to make our way back to town, where I bid Monique and Frankie farewell. These Port Macquarie gourmet food and wine tours are a great day out and will ensure you get to sample the best of the region – and enjoy some surprises along the way.

Adam travelled as a guest of Frankie’s Travel.

Additional images: Bigstock

 

Adam Ford

About the writer

Adam Ford is editor of The Big Bus tour and travel guide and a travel TV presenter, writer, blogger and photographer. Adam has travelled extensively through Europe, Asia, North America, Africa and the Middle East. He worked as a travel consultant for a number of years with Flight Centre before taking up the opportunity to travel the world himself as host of the TV series Tour the World on Network Ten. Adam also appears regularly as a travel commentator on Sky News Business Class. He loves to experience everything a new destination has to offer and is equally at home in a five-star Palazzo in Pisa or a home-stay in Hanoi.

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