Wooed by Henschke
|Henschke Hill of Grace Vineyard
(Photo by Kate Parry)
It must have been 6 or 7 degrees in the Henschke tasting room, perhaps less. Needless to say it was cold. I was cold. The wines were cold too, to the point were I spotted icicles in my Shiraz (ok, I might be lying about the icicles).
Surprisingly though the wines looked great, better even than I thought they would be. I was impressed. I was wooed even, brought over to the Henschke way of thinking from a lightly sceptical, if still reverential, position….
I mean, I’ve always enjoyed the top Henschke wines – Mt Ed and Cyril in particular – yet the lesser labels have often left me questioning whether this famous marque might be living off it’s hallowed reputation.
But not that day. No. The light was on and the wines were awake.
Let’s step back a bit then. I was at Henschke on that chilly June morning to finally kick the dirt and smell the air. I wanted to resolve with myself just why this place was considered so special by so many, and with Prue Henschke herself on hand to show us around (with her new little dog too) I was certainly going to get a proper insiders perspective.
Given that Prue is the viticulturist it’s probably of little surprise that the highlight of this trip was our visit to the Hill of Grace vineyard, which I’ve got to say looked like one of the most healthy and ‘evolved’ vineyards I’ve seen. By evolved I mean that it was glowing with best-practice viticulture, featuring trials of new native cover crops (a Wallaby grass for those interested) and experimental new fruiting wire systems (in conjunction with the Uni of Adelaide) along with the utilisation of biodynamic preparations and extensive mulching under vine.
|The Henschke Cellars with said barrels of dark liquids
Photo: Kate Parry
It was a vineyard that looked every bit as special as the wine that comes from it, a carefully nurtured terroir piece with the Gnadenberg church peering from across the road as if to reiterate that this is indeed hallowed ground.
To be honest, after the vineyard the cellars themselves were more museum than anything else. They’re old and ornate, complete with archiac underground vats and odd barrels full of fortifieds and strange liquids. Yet the mystique here is in the vineyard, the winery setup somehow compromised (in my head at least) by the rows of shiny tanks and modern presses, as if to reiterate that wine really is made in the (Henschke) vineyard….
Anyway, onto the wines. All of these were tasted non blind, in early June, at a seriously low temperature. I think I was particularly generous with the scores, but I’ll let you be the judge.
Henschke Louis Semillon 2008 (Eden Valley)
Green, grassy, fresh style with simple lean melon fruit and just a whisper of oak/lees complexity. It’s maturing rather well, putting on a little extra weight through the middle now which only adds to the attraction. A pleasant, simple white with a spoonful of style. 16.8/89
Henschke Julius Riesling 2010 (Eden Valley)
Really fragrant and quite pretty, this looks zesty, fresh and pure, the palate rather rich for Eden Valley but with soft, genuine acidity. The real attraction though is the late hit of juicy textural lift, a final phenolic thrust that propels the whole wine forwards. Nice wine. 17.8/92
Henschke Joseph Hill Gewurtztraminer 2010 (Eden Valley)
I’m such a sucker for good Gewurtz and I really rather liked this. White pepper, bath salts, lychee juice and no shortage of such aromatic delights. Palate is voluptuous without fat, nay it’s even rather pretty with ripe tropical richness and a firm finish. Everything you would want in a Gewurtz really. 18/93+
Henschke Innes Pinot Gris 2007 (Adelaide Hills)
I think this suffered purely due to the extra bottle age. A soft and even a little flat style with a chalky edge but little in the way of varietal push. Just a fraction too broad and simple for me. 16.5/88
|Henschke Julius – no icicles
Photo: Kate Parry
Henschke Tempranillo Graciano 2008 (Eden Valley)
An experimental wine and a seriously rare beast for anyone outside the Henschke circle to see. It comes off a vineyard that Prue calls the ‘Hill of Unearthly Delights’ which is essentially Henschke’s own little R & D plot where everything from Tempranillo to Nebbiolo is planted. This particular blend may never see the light of day under a Henschke label, but suffice to say that there is interest here.
It’s unquestionably a product of the roasting 2008 vineyard, with the fragrant, black pepper and chilli flake nose just that little bit warm and heavy around the edges. Still, the red/black, savoury and earthen fruit is really rather attractive, if somewhat confected, the palate needing only a little more concentration for big love. An intriguing experiment no question. 17/90
Henschke Abbots Prayer Merlot Cabernet 2008 (Adelaide Hills)
Now here is a surprise packet, a wine that doesn’t always do it for me. It’s a welcome and varietal beast this year despite the vintage, with a nose of glacé plums, black leafy Merlot fruit, and just a little mint, the whole wine cast reasonably ripely yet with restraint. The palate is a dry one, with firm stewed plum fruit all finishing with excellent, dry, fanning tannins. It’s still a warmish beast, yet the tannins and varietal purity make for something really very smart. Nice wine. 17.8/92+
Henschke Cyril Henschke Cabernet blend 2007 (Eden Valley)
Drought year wine with excellent structure, if just a fraction hard. Ripe, slightly desiccated fruit with herbs and chocolate on the nose, backed by a long, dry, chocolate-and-cassis palate looks rather drying and firm. The key feature here is the tannins which are wonderfully long and well formed, yet they can’t hide the slight lack of flesh on the bones. The tannins are what gets you with this wine though, the kicker to push it just into ‘yes’ territory. 17/90+
Henschke Mt Edelstone Shiraz 2008 (Eden Valley)
Solid as ever and a smart wine for the vintage. Red/black fruit nose with soy, chocolate and richly condensed red plum fruit. Has plenty of x factor going for it, even from the outset. Sweet fruit with a dark, sweetened core. It’s a forward Mt Ed this one, a generous and plump style that probably lacks the structure of the best vintages though is unequivocably quite more-ish. Point up for the deliciousness, as it really is a tasty wine, though with the reservation that I can’t see it improving dramatically in the future. 18/93
|Hill of Roses
Henschke Hill of Roses Shiraz 2006 (Eden Valley)
Prue says that the five spice Hill of Grace Shiraz smell is something you can pick it as soon as it hits the crusher, a beautiful aroma that is all pervading and used in small quantities to spice up other wines. For the first time ever Prue believes that she can smell that five spice character in this wine…
The Hill of Roses is produced from a section of the Hill of Grace vineyard known as the Post Office Block, with the vines in it just 19 years of age (too young for inclusion in the Hill of Grace itself).
What I most like about this wine is just how Hill of Grace like it is, with a spoonful of HoG x factor added for good measure. It’s a fabulously wild and spicy (yes, five spice even) wine, with dense, soy sauce and reduced plums, a little black pepper, cloves and some black fruit. There’s some chocolate oak in there too, a fine cocoa powder oak that is very attractive indeed. The palate fittingly is a serious one, that briary, concentrated, black and red fruit is matched to sweet cocoa flake oak and dry tannins. The whole package is firm, serious and oh so impressive. Stunning Shiraz, paled only by its brother the HoG. Wow wine. 18.7/95
Henschke Hill of Grace Shiraz 2006 (Eden Valley)
It is such a treat to have the two ‘Hill’ wines next to each other. The difference between the two is only vine age, yet next to each other they are quite obviously different wines. What HoG has over HoR is an extra density, an extra wildness, that whiff of bacon fat and even deeper tannins.
To be honest I was amazed at how much I loved this wine. This little Henschke jaunt came just days after the Winestate Shiraz Challenge tasting and I have no doubt that this was of a similar calibre to the top wines in that tasting – ie world class.
Another deep, wildly spicy wine here, full of dark chocolate, five spice and black pepper. It’s so classically rich, full and utterly ‘Shiraz’ in it’s form, yet with that fatty meaty perfume of great Syrah. The palate too is all dark fruit, dark chocolate and sinewy tannins. It’s worth mentioning those fine tannins actually, for it’s always welcoming to see proper natural tannins in an Australian warm climate Shiraz (I’m calling Eden Valley warm climate for this purpose though some may debate that).
An immensely long, dense and satisfying wine this red entirely lives up to it’s vaunted reputation… 19/96
(Special thanks to Fiona MacDonald from FWP for arranging this visit. You’re a legend Fi)
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