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Ric visits Henschke

August 28, 2016

Henschke was founded by Johann Christian Henschke who fled Germany in 1842 in the wake of widespread persecution of Old Lutherans, losing his wife and a few of his children during the long and treacherous sea journey to Australia. He settled in the Eden Valley of the Barossa, bought land and started producing wine in 1868. Today, the estate is still family-owned, helmed by fifth generation descendant Stephen Henschke with the sixth generation ready to take over in due course. I consider Henschke’s Hill of Grace as the pinnacle of Australian wine and truly a great wine by any standard. A true single vineyard shiraz (as opposed to Penfolds Grange, a multi-district blend that varies from year-to-year and you simply do not know how many are bottled annually) made from very old vines, some exceeding 100 years, Hill of Grace exudes complexity, depth and layering, seamlessly combining power and elegance, traits that have filtered to other reds within the Henschke stable.

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Although I have visited Henschke’s cellar door several times since 2004, this is the first time arrangements were made for a small group of us to visit the estate on 06 Aug 2016 that included a tour of the Hill of Grace vineyard. Readers familiar with the Barossa will know that Eden Valley lies in the north-eastern sector of the Barossa, almost 500 metres above sea-level, and that Henschke itself is situated at a remote corner of the Eden Valley. Surprisingly, the Hill of Grace vineyard is just a small unmarked patch situated some distance away from the main estate, not at all visible from the paved road leading to the estate’s gates and, hence, naturally protected from nosy wine enthusiasts. Severely gnarled and aged, but still going strong, these are the best old vines of shiraz to be found anywhere in Australia, grown on a bed of clay and limestone. Henschke has the foresight to anticipate, though, that these very old vines are not going to last forever. Thus, cuttings were made from the very best vines of Hill of Grace and replanted in an adjacent plot named Hill of Roses, available only as a cellar door release,  its first vintage being the 2007. The visit culminated in a private tasting. While I found the whites to be gentle and elegant, I wished there was a bit more going on for them. The reds, on the other hand, are truly the calling cards of Henschke and, of course, we wasted no time carting away as many bottles of Hill of Roses as we could (limited to 3 per customer).

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Very old vine of Henschke Hill of Grace vineyard

2015 Henschke Julius Riesling. Made from grapes grown in Eden Valley, famed for its cool-climate Riesling. Gentle bouquet with aromas of grassy elements with overtones of malt. Medium-bodied. Dry and minerally on the palate, quite deft and elegant, more open than a Clare Valley riesling, finishing well.

2015 Henschke Joseph Hill Gewurztraminer. Made from grapes grown in the Adelaide Hills. Light straw-coloured, generous in lychees, green apples and green melons, smooth and elegant with a trace of sweetness and well-integrated acidity, displaying good linearity all the way to its finish.

2014 Henschke Louis Semillion, also grown in the Eden Valley. Straw-colored with green apples and melons, more minerally and flinty but smooth with an easy elegance, displaying very good integration of fine citrus and crisp acidity. Could do with more depth.

2015 Henschke Innes Vineyard Littlehampton Pinot Gris. Notes of citrus and peaches dominate with, again, an easy smoothness and elegance aided by subtle acidity, finishing on a mild note of mint.

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2013 Henschke Giles Lenswood Pinot Noir. Lenswood lies within a cool, hilly part of Adelaide Hills that is ideal for pinot noir. This wine displays a classic pinot color with aromas of aged roses, cinnamon and plums with further notes of strawberries on the palate, medium-bodied with subtle acidity that is quite appropriate though somewhat restrained and short, missing in complexity.

2012 Henschke Keyneton Euphonium, a blend of 65% shiraz and the rest cabernet. Generous bouquet of sweet herbal elements with medicinal traces, underscored by black fruits, briar and sweet dark plums on the palate of good density and concentration, finishing with traces of spice.

2010 Henschke Cyril Henschke Cabernet Sauvignon. Forward balance of cherry wood, plum and cassis on the nose with further notes of mocha and chocolate on the palate, displaying very good depth, concentration and integration, highly elegant with subtle intensity, tapering to a gentle finish. Very fine.

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2009 Henschke Hill of Roses. Directly related to Hill of Grace, its breeding is evident where this current vintage, displaying some vermillion at the rim, was highly impressive with deep aromas of red and dark plums, sandalwood, mocha and dark chocolate with a lovely tensile presence contributed by the excellent concentration and purity of fruit, sweet supple tannins and refined acidity, revealing some secondary nuances and early complexity. Poised and elegant without any hint of over-extraction nor manipulation, though it proved to be rather short at the finish, expected from young vines yet to hit full maturity but the results are already remarkably stunning.

2012 Henschke Mount Edelstone shiraz, made from old vines grown in the Eden Valley not unlike Hill of Grace, aged in 32% new oak, mostly French. Readers will note that the Hill of Roses was served first in the line-up even though it costs twice as much. The reason was evident on tasting where the Mount Edelstone shiraz remained superbly poised and restraint in spite of the wonderful depth of glorious dark fruits with characters of sweet dark plums and dark currants illuminated on the palate in excellent definition, highly elegant with superb integration of fruit, acidity, tannins and wood, displaying superb balance and linearity, outstripping the Hill of Roses. This wine will surely turn out to be great over time.

2010 Henschke Hill of Grace. The pinnacle of Australian shiraz was tasted with palpable anticipation. But like all the very best crus of the world, the Hill of Grace is hardly a showstopper, expressing its virtues in a most refined manner with a truly stupendous depth of dark fruits and red currants of fabulous intensity and concentration even greater than that of Mount Edelstone, yet appearing so ethereal through its lovely acidity, great balance and fine detail, not at all hedonistic, absolutely elegant with true finesse, revealing some early complexity at this stage. Truly outstanding but, unfortunately, now priced beyond the reach of most. Go for it if you can but the smart money will be on Mount Edelstone.

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