A Visit to Henschke Vineyards

I think everyone is familiar with the Henschke name. Even if you don’t drink the stuff, you’ve heard the name, or seen the branded bottles that are so recognisable. For me it started in the U.K. when I was working in wine retail on some dodgy off license inSouth London. A case of 1990 Mt Edelstone Shiraz turned up in the shop and according to the manager someone had keyed in the wrong code and it was saying the bottle price was £4.99, we knew it was at least four times this amount.

Henschke Cellar Door

So we purchased the whole lot and divided it. It was effectively my first cellar purchase. I took them home and I shared one with my parents. All I remember was there were many pleasant sighs and delighted faces at dinner that night. My Dad was hardly the connoisseur, anything under three quid was normally a bargain. But even he had to conceed it was a special wine. I wish I’d kept onto those other bottles, but I think they were drunk in a matter of days. Back then the idea of cellaring a wine was baffling? Why would you want to deny yourself such pleasure. Oh the folly of youth.

Flash forward 20 years and I’m sitting in a tasting with Prue Henschke drinking the same wine but 18 vintages have passed. The smiles of delight have not changed, the memory is much stronger in recalling the joyous sensations of the past. It was my Proust and sponge cake moment but with wine playing the part of the Madeleine. TheMountEdelstonehas been refined over the years, but there is something instantly recognisable about the shape of that wine, the way it felt on the palate, the sensation it provoked. It was cold in the tasting room but I could barely hide a smile.

Wine, like good food, is responsible for triggering memories. Great wines deserves a place in the rolodex of the mind.

Prue Henschke and her dashund take us through the vineyard

Self indulgent nostalgia aside, we were lucky enough to given a tour of the Hill of Grace vineyards before a tasting that looked at most of the estate wines as well as some new experimental blends. The vines are ancient gnarled stumnps to look at, (more like tree trunks than vines), and were planted sometime between the 1850s-1860s.The Grandfathers Block (which are some of the oldest) are like sage, old vinous druids. They perform their rituals in the vineyard each year providing their dry grown intensity into the Hill of Grace. They have outlived family members, survived terrible vintages but still act as a constant reminder of the Henschke forebears. A beating heart of the land if you will.

They work well as an endearing metaphor for survival. Consider the first 400 migrants fromSilesiawho came toSouth Australiain 1838 without knowing what to expect. That’s a fair whack of faith. Yet survive they did, and it was not until 1861 that Johann Christian Henschke made his home in theBarossaValleythat the Henschke story began. The story of that Lutheran faith resonates thanks to the original church that lies opposite the vineyard with the name Gnadenberg, which translates to “Hill of Grace.

Believers or non believers have even been known to have a religious experience after drinking this wine, so it was only fair we should see it context, after we had walked the soil it was time to taste its wares.

Louis Semillon 2008 $21 13.5%

This Semillon falls somewhere between Hunter and WA in terms of profile, it shows a nose of honey, lanolin, green herbs and citrus. The palate has an attractive waxy texture with lime and a honey on toast character. It shows good structure and balance with a persistent finish. 93

Innes Vineyard Pinot Gris 2007 $25 14%

Site selection fo this wine has paid off as the Henschke’s alongside Brian Croser and Tim Knappstein were some of the first to plant the variety in the Adelaide Hills back in the 80s. Pear and apricot and  some developed toast character. The mouthfeel is where it all comes together with a superb glossy texture, length and core of refreshing acids. 91

Julius Riesling 2010 $28 12%

Typical Eden Valley Riesling showing a steeley and slate driven resolve. Vivid with lime and minerals a clean line of zesty, crunchy acids and offers the refreshment of just bitten apples. Great ageing potential here. 92

Joseph Hill Gewurtztraminer 2010 $28 12.5%

It smells like its Alsation counterparts. with cumquat, lychee musk and spiced fruit. The palate is a broad spectrum of fruit with peach, grapefruit some tangerine peel and a glossy texture without being cloying. A shaft of acid shines light on the balanced finish. 9 

Cyril Henschke 2007 $119.50 14%

A blend of Cabernet, Merlot and Cabernet Franc this wine carries an attractive perfume of redcurrants, violets and blackcurrant, some mint and tantalising spice. Pure elegance and nicely structured on the palate with notes of cassis and pepper with well-integrated, gravelly tannins. 93

Mount Edelstone Shiraz 2008 $104 14.5%

It’s been produced since 1952 and for some it offers as much pleasure as Hill of Grace for a quarter of the price. The 2008 shows red fruit and white pepper with notes of dried sage as well as intense plum. Seamlessly textured with a lovely sweet fruit signature with underlying clove spice and a gossamer framework of tannin. One for the cellar at least for the next decade or so. 94+

Hill of Roses Shiraz 2006 $189 14.5% (cellar door only)

It’s all about the nose, having reached 20 years of age these vines are starting to mature into a plot to watch and just a stones throw away from the Hill of Grace vineyard. It has exceptional aromatics of juniper, anise,cloves, five spice and pepper with a core of dark fruit enshrouding it all. A beautiful, layered wine that’s expansive and elegant at the same time. Complex, fascinatingShirazthat needs time to truly reveal its spicy charms. It’s  got the structure, tannin and acid to go the distance. Epic drinking. 95

Hill of Grace Shiraz 2006 $550 14.5%

I’d have to say that trying this wine in the cold temperature of the highEdenwas not the best environment, but beneath its chilly interior, it still showed remarkable fruit and aromatic lift. Intense red fruits on the nose with plum, violets and anise with a trademark five spice or Szechuan pepper character. Flawlessly structured wine that gathers momentum as it spreads across the palate and seductively teases with spice and multi-dimensional length. The tannins are slightly gravelly, dusty and tight and there’s a hint of warmth before a ridiculously persistent finish. 95+

Tempranillo Graciano 2008

As a curio we were able to look at this blend that may just be a cellar door release at this stage. It comes from what Prue refers to as the “Hill of Unearthly Delights”, a plot planted to the more experimental varieties. Needless to say this was a fabulous wine showing a smoky nose of bacon bones, lifted red fruits, violets, some floral characters and white pepper. The palate beautifully tempered by red fruit with featherweight tannins and clean, perky acids that lent lift and freshness. 94

I’d like to thank Prue Henschke for taking the time to share her thoughts and by giving us a personal tour, also big thanks to Susanna Brown from Henschke  and Fiona Macdonald at Fine Wine Partners for making it happen.

This piece originally appeared on http://www.winingpom.com.au and is republished courtesy of the Author, Patrick Haddock.

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Author:Jeremy Bowell

Jeremy Bowell is the founder and editor of Taste Explorer. He also writes for InsideCuisine.com, TheGrapeHunter.com, SoBadSoGood.com and has featured in the Sydney Morning Herald's Good Living section. He is an avid connoisseur of all things food and drink related.