There are few Australian wine producers who can produce the excitement that Henschke Wines does. They are a company with heritage. Their oldest vines produce a wine that is a legend. It is called "Hill of Grace". Just mention it and the heads of wine buffs are turned.
The Hill of Grace Vineyard in South Australia's Eden Valley has been in the Henschke family since 1891. It was already established as a vineyard on purchase, with vines that were planted around the 1860's. Since 1994 the best vines in the have been propagated to allow expansion from the same stock. The Henschke's regard the old vines and the unique red clay soil overlying Cambrian schists as happy accident of nature. The vineyard is planted predominantly in Shiraz but also includes riesling, semillon and mataro (mourvèdre),
But there are other vineyards too - Mt Edelstone which is devoted to Shiraz, Eden Valley where the cabernet sauvignon for the 'Cyril' is sourced and where semillon also grows and Lenswood where pinot noir, chardonnay, riesling, merlot and cabernet sauvignon are planted.
The room was absolutely packed with people keen to taste the legendary wines and the supporting wines from the portfolio.
Stephen Henschke hosted the tasting and the wines I was privileged to try are as follows - "
Henschke Julius Eden Valley Riesling 2001 (screwcap closure)
Pale straw in colour with bubble gum and juicy fruit aromas. Very youthful, lemony, slightly herbal and oily with distinct apple flavours on the finish. Zesty, vintage fresh, hints of sherbet and lingering lime with spicy lemon and apple lolly drop flavours at first then much later it is reminiscent of lime and ginger marmalade. I wouldn't be able to pick the provenance of this youthful riesling. It is not distinctly Australian in character and it reminded me of a baby Marlborough wine.
But there is no mistaking an older Australian riesling.
Henschke Julius Eden Valley Riesling 1996 (screwcap closure)
Much 'brighter' in appearance than the partnering wine in cork. What a great nose on this wine - it's bright, talcy, limey and floral - "frangipani" says SH. I'll take his word for it. Brighty flavoured too much the same as on the nose (lime/lemon/talc/floral). Very lifted classic dry yet oily style, a little chalky too. Zesty citrus skin lingers. It is crisp and clean and drinking beautifully.
"The fear that people have that wines in Stelvin don't age is totally misdirected." says Stephen.
Henschke Julius Riesling 1996 (in cork)
Yellow gold (a deeper colour than the partnering wine in screwcap). Slight woody character in the aroma. Lacks the lime intensity of the screwcapped-closed wine. Fat, leesy, lemon, summer hay, toast, lemon cheese, broad flavoured with good natural acidity. Still very good but seems so much older.
Henschke Tilly's Vineyard 2001
Predominantly semillon (60-70%) with some chardonnay (20%-ish) and 5-10% Sauvignon Blanc, depending on year.
There is a subtle influence of bubblegum oak in this lifted, spicy and zesty, full-bodied, mouthfilling wine with flavours of stonefruits, a subtle nuance of summer herbs, the imagination of summer meadows and hints of lime on finish. Nicely textured, a little spicy, honey emerges and broadens the finish of this warm and leesy wine that lingers with lemon acidity. It's a good wine but a style I would prefer to put down to let it develop some aged complexities. $26
Henschke Tilly's Vineyard 1993
Yellow gold. Quite developed cheesy - slightly peasy - apricot aroma. Developed and broad flavoured (viognier-like in a way) with white honey, flowers, subtle lanolin and palate refreshing acidity. Good length with a sweet musky flavour lingering. A very good wine which I liked very much.
This 1993 wine is why I would like to see the 2001 develop more - these wines can certainly take the aging.
Henschke Lenswood Croft Chardonnay 2001
Onion gold in colour. Spicy lemon oak aroma. Typical barrel-fermented style with quite strong fig and spicy toasty oak. Very long with a tight dry finish. Has all the bells and whistles, wild yeast fermentation, etc. And a nice runny honey texture too. Needs time to develop. But is it worth the price? NZ$57.
Henschke Cyril Henschke Cabernet Sauvignon 1998
Deep red colour. Subtle indication of hot climate on the aroma on the first whiff followed by vanillin oak. Spicy and mouthfilling with firm ripe spicy grainy tannins. Licorice, spice, leather, plum and blackcurrant with strong oak on the lifted fruit finish. Reasonably thick and chewy with now some drier tannins, violets and herbs. A very good wine with a long fulfilling finish characterised by ripe plum and blackcurrant fruit, licorice spice and violets that leave an incredible flavour lingering in the mouth.
This is really one of the top Aussie Cabernets and altogether an excellent wine. $118
Henschke Lenswood Abbott's Prayer 1999
Dark cherry red. Cherry, plum, subtle spice, creamy oak and floral herbal aromas. Dry tannins are noticeable when the wine is first in the mouth. Fine and vinous with violets, baked cherry fruitcake flavours and spicy plum emerging to linger with lavender, anise and a hint of sweet leather. Long, aromatic and a lifted 'fruitcake fruits' finish. A very good wine that is made from 85% merlot. $88
Henschke Mount Edelstone 1999 (Shiraz)
An intense colour of deep crimson-red black. Creamy vanillin oak aromas. Juicy creamy flavours with black fruits, firm velvety tannins, plenty of delicious sweet spice, hints of mint then a touch of black leather earthiness. Very flavoursome, rich and concentrated and the finish lasts for an age. The only disappointment is a sour earthy note at the end. $92.
Henschke Keyneton Estate 1999
Deep pinky red with juicy berry scents. A tight leathery wine in the mouth with flavours of bread, marmite, savoury meats, plenty of Shiraz spice then fragrant herbs. The fruit seems rather subdued however and there is the sour character again that put me off this wine when I previously tasted it. $52
This wine was historically Shiraz/Grenache/Mataro but G & M were pulled out. It is now a blend of Shiraz/Cabernet/Merlot.
Henschke Hill of Grace 1996 (Shiraz)
Deep blacky-red (as opposed to red black) and shows its colour development when sitting next to the youthful Mt Edelstone. Cedary oak aromas - a little closed.
A rich savoury and spicy bready biscuity wine in the mouth. Lifted and fragrant with violet and nut chocolate. Red fruits in the cherry/plum/blackberry spectrum. Plenty of cinnamon and nutmeg spices. Fine silky mature tannins. Lifted clean mint that lingers on the woody, cedary finish. Musk too.
It's all here in this very complete, fine and harmonious wine. What's more it is smooth and easy to drink. It is good to see a wine like this that has had some bottle development before release. $295
'Hill of Grace' is heralded as one of Australia's great Shiraz wines and is often compared to Grange. The price is certainly comparable to the 1996 Grange on release but the wines are quite different in flavour.
Stephen Henschke is quite passionate about the rocks in his wine growing areas and recommends a book by Palaeontologist 'Tim Flannery' - 'The Future Eden'.
Henschke vineyards are currently phylloxera free - the old vineyards are national treasures of Australia and need to be looked after and preserved.
The comprehensive Henschke website is worth checking out - there's a wealth of information, vineyard and company history of this important Australian wine company that was established in 1868.
© Sue Courtney. June 2002