A visit with Henschke: latest releases (including two maiden wines) plus some back vintage notes from the Landmark Tutorial

Big congratulations to Stephen and Prue Henschke who, last week, entered into the Family Business Australia (South Australia) Hall of Fame.  

The week before, I’d caught up with Stephen (pictured in the tasting room), who represents the fifth generation of his family making wine in the Eden Valley.  Stephen’s father Cyril is credited with being at the vanguard of making single vineyard wines – Cyril first made Mount Edelstone  Shiraz in 1952, then Hill of Grace Shiraz in 1958.  By selecting the best genetic material  from both vineyards, Stephen and Prue, the viticulturist, aim to ensure that these iconic vineyards continue to delight future generations. 

But there’s no resting on laurels at Henschke and the couple’s passion for wine extends well beyond the parameters of tradition.  As Stephen puts it “in the old days we inherited land and planted everything on it.  Now we’re more scientific.  We think about the level of maturity and kind of flavours we want and push the boundaries of where we grow to get the best result.”  Take the Lenswood vineyard which they acquired in the early 80s in the cooler climes of Adelaide Hills.  And closer to home, the so-called “Hill of Unearthly Delights” in Eden Valley is the seedbed for a hatful of emerging new varieties, Tempranillo, Graciano, Nebbiolo and Barbera. 

What’s more, all the top end wines are going under Vino-Lok (a glass seal).  Describing it as “beautiful, elegant” for Stephen it has significant aesthetic advantages over screwcap (which will be retained for lower tier wines) plus it’s recyclable, natural and neutral.  In terms of longevity, he says wines bottled under Vino-Lok behaves like an imperial (6 litre bottle), showing more fruit and better palate structure. 

During my visit, Stephen showed me the fruits of many Hills – Grace, Unearthly Delights, Adelaide and more, including a couple of maiden wines – the new Archers Reserve Pinot Noir and Tempranillo.  Here are my notes:

Henschke Louis Semillon 2009 (Eden valley) – saying he’s “mercenary about blending to get the best intensity of flavour and structure” this wine, named after Stephen’s uncle, is always based on a block or two of 50 year old plus vineyards planted by Cyril Henschke plus fruit from a couple of growers “if the quality is there.” Hill of Grace Semillon sometimes goes in too.   Stephen keeps the different components as small and separate as possible until blending.  In this vintage it’s unoaked so as not to detract from the fruit intensity.  It’s certainly delicate for a South Australian Semillon, with a lively yet focused thread of lemony acidity giving line to its citrus fruit and lift to notes of blossom,bath salts and herbs.   A finely honed, subtle wine with a  lingering, stony mineral finish.  Lovely.

Incidentally, Prue has been evaluating their different Semillon clones.  A couple of clones give clover blossom, while another block of the red-tinged so-called Madeira clone produces quite textural wines with raw potato and nutty flavours and dried  herbs.  Because the fruit from the very aged dry grown Hill of Grace is a little bit riper, the Semillon tends to be a little more honeyed/tropical.  Very lean, grassy, lemony characters typify a grower fruit component from High Eden Ridge. 

Henschke Julius Riesling 2010 (Eden Valley) – though quite often from a single vineyard named after a great uncle and planted by Cyril in the 60s, Stephen says “our approach is make the best wine.”  So while the Julius vineyard always represents the core of this wine, other estate or grower fruit may be included.  A tight mineral, citrus core shows grapefruit, minerals and quinine. There’s a wilder, funky edge too of apple rind/core, which brings some texture.  A substantial, youthful wine – plenty of interest yet to unravel.

Henschke Green’s Hill Riesling 2010 (Adelaide Hills) – from the 20ha Lenswood vineyard, a former apple orchard and, funnily enough, this wine has a core of brightly etched fresh cut green apple fruit.  Lifted floral top notes make for a prettier, more delicate style than the Julius Riesling, though there’s a textural, honeyed note to the finish.  Racy acidity makes for a mouthwatering finish. 

Henschke Julius Riesling 2011 (Eden Valley) – no question, the cool 2011 vintage was challenging to say the least with, unusually, lots of rain in December and thoughout the growing season.  But here’s the upside – fabulous natural acidity – all 9.4g/l total acidity (versus 6.94g/l in 2010).  Wow – this just dances over the palate and en pointe, combining delicacy with great power.  An expressive nose with sweet talc leads onto a super persistent palate whose lime, lime blossom and snappy green apple notes are suspended in animation.  Terrific.

Henschke Green’s Hill Riesling 2011 (Adelaide Hills) – even higher natural acidity here – 9.6g/l (versus 7g/l in 2010) makes for a rapier sharp palate with biting acidity yet to come into balanace with its greengage and green apple (flesh, core and peel) fruit.  Lovely purity.  Needs time. 

Henschke Giles Pinot Noir 2009 (Lenswood, Adelaide Hills)– though made from 100% estate fruit, there are plenty of variables to juggle.  For starters several clones (MV6, D5, D12, 114 115, G8V3, G8V7, D2V4, 777, 667 & Pommard) but also, now the vines have some age under their belt, Stephen is finding that co-fermenting different clones from the top, middle and bottom of the (100m) slope gives “an extra dimension” to the wine.  In the winery it sees a bit of carbonic maceration, lots of whole berry and, if the stems are well lignified, they’ll be added too. A lifted frangipani, floral nose gives away the carbonic.  The palate is attractively perfumed too with floral notes to its creamy but succulent black and red cherry and berry fruit, deftly balanced by a touch of rhubarb bite.  Subtle oak ( just 20% new) adds a dash of sweet cinnamon spice.  Impressive.  A sensual Pinot.

Henschke Archers Reserve Pinot Noir 2010 (Lenswood, Adelaide Hills) – this maiden vintage is based on a selection of (3) best barrels of Giles Pinot Noir which saw extended time in barrel (11 months as opposed to 9 months).  Tracking back into the vineyard, the barrels derive from vines planted by Tim Knappstein to the Pommard clone on a neighbouring site which Henscke acquired in 2009.  Stephen refers to its as “a learning exercise.”  While it has the frangipane lift, the (ripe) tannins are firmer, more powerful and there’s a lovely wash of mineral acid to its red fruits, which makes for a long, lingering finish.  Less about fruit, more about structure – lovely restraint and minerality. 

Henschke Tempranillo 2010 (Eden Valley) – this seductive Tempranillo with a dash of Graciano is possessed of melting tannins, which makes for a seamless palate well endowed with savoury liquorice spice and dried sage edged juicy plum and fresh rhubarb.  This is the first wine from the Hill of Unearthly Delights to go into bottle.  It’s aged in 3rd and 4th use French oak for 11 months prior to which one component was left on skins for no less than 68 days in order to make a wine which Stephen says has a savouriness you don’t get in Australian grape varieties. 

Henschke Hill of Faith Mataro 2008 (Eden Valley) – this wine was made to celebrate the wine to celebrate 150th anniversary of church opposite the Hill of Grace vineyard.  On the nose it has the bright ripe cherry perfume I associate with Grenache but, in the mouth, the variety’s firm, spicy tannins assert themselves to good effect, bringing structure and what Stephen dubs “chunky domino tannins that roll around in the mouth.”  Muscular, with plenty of linear layers and a lovely wash of mineral acidity to the long, persistent finish.  A great food wine.

Henschke Henry’s Seven 2009 (Eden Valley) – a blend of 61% Shiraz co-fermented with 8% Viognier and, separately fermented, 24% Grenache and 7% Mourvedre.  A relatively approachable red with sweet upfront fleshy raspberry fruit and spicy oak, supported by ripe but present tannins; round but juicy.

Henschke Johann’s Garden 2009 (Eden Valley) – this Grenache led (71%) blend with 20 Mourvedre and 9% Shiraz shows good varietal nuance with sweet blackberry and raspberry fruits, liquorice and saddle soap.  Sinewy tannins and a mineral undertow lend gravitas.  Very good.

Henschke Tappa Pass Shiraz 2008 (Barossa)– this wine is a blend of fruit from a grower whose family has worked with the Henschkes for 3 generations and fruit from Uncle Jack’s vineyard below in Light Pass.  It’s a very concentrated, ripe Shiraz with rich, dense swathes of blackberry and blueberry fruit, the latter of which Stephen attributes to the vineyard’s limestone soils.   Though fleshy with lily petal sumptuousness of texture, it’s underpinned by a powerful chassis of tannins.  Quite a flashy, modern style.  A keeper.

Henschke Mount Edelstone Shiraz 2008 (Eden Valley) – first made in 1952, this propitious vineyard, 100 years old next year, has produced the goods every year except 1974 (and, looking ahead, maybe 2011). Originally called Mount Edelstone Claret, Stephen says his father produced this wine in response to the demand for good table wine from Australia’s early restaurant pioneers -Italian and Greek immigrants.  As you’ll have picked up the vineyard was 40 years old before the Henschkes made their first Mount Edelstone.  Stephen says previously the fruit was sold to other wineries but, when the owner, Colin Angas, realised that he was getting the same price per ton as Riverland fruit he was furious and instead sold the fruit to Cyril Henschke who bought the vineyard in 1974 (see here for more background on the vineyard).  It shows tight knit and concentrated but well-defined and fresh raspberry and blackberry fruit with dried sage and warm earth.  Fined tannined, it’s possessed of lovely length, layer and line.  A beautiful, fluid wine which Stephen says has benefited from converting the trellis system to Scott Henry in 1989, which he says has tamed vigour and, with more solar panels (leaves), promoted the quality of the tannins. 

Henschke Mount Edelstone Shiraz 2006 (Eden Valley) – succulent plum with a savoury edge of dried sage and anise.  A very leavened, long, rolling palate is fleshy but beautifully fresh.  Lovely. (Tasted at the Landmark Tutorial, September 2010)

Henschke Hill of Grace 2006 (Eden Valley)  – this iconic vineyard needs no introduction (but you can read about it here) and the fruits of its labour show great freshness and spice.  Stephen prefers acidity rather than tannins to give the definition, which he says results in a  more drinkable wine and, sure enough, this is a sleek, refined and dangerously drinkable!  Medium bodied, it shows great intensity of juicy plum and blackberry fruit with sweet and lifted five spice.  Silky tannins make for a wine which is approachable now but, such is its intensity of fruit and fine balance, expect it to keep a couple of decades plus.   And seductive though it is already, I’d say well worth biding one’s time to allow it to build in complexity and layer.  Outstanding.

Henschke Hill of Grace Shiraz 1991 (Eden Valley)  – this was my introduction to Hill of Grace and my contemporaneous notes say “NOT A BLOCKBUSTER STYLE,” which is rather what I’d expected.  On nose and palate showing lovely tertiary development with a savoury, gamey quality to its still juicy fruit and terrific spicy intensity, with carraway seed and liquorice lingering almost beyond the finish!  Fine supporting tannins complete the picture of refinement.  My notes also make mention of the fact Hill of Grace was also called parrot hill so but for the extreme good taste of the Henschke family, it could have been an early example of a critter label!

Henschke Hill of Grace Museum Release Shiraz 1986 (Eden Valley) – showing development with a garnet core and bricky rim.  On the nose it shows pronounced dried herb notes with darker liquorice.  In the mouth, it’s very savoury/gamey with leather and earthy spice.  While still well balanced, long and fine my sense is it’s on a plateau.  (Tasted at the Landmark Tutorial, September 2010)

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