Henschke – Beyond the Hill
Selector goes beyond the hill (of Grace) to discover a treasure trove of stories in the vast and impressive range of a true icon in the Australian wine industry.
The Henschke name holds a revered place in the vast mural that is the Australian wine landscape and for very good reason. Their Hill of Grace Shiraz has defined what is possible for an Australian single vineyard wine and is often considered our greatest.
At $825 a bottle, Hill of Grace is now considered a wine ‘unicorn’ and the current 2012 vintage recently received Halliday’s prestigious Wine Of The Year award, further cementing its place as one of the world’s greats. The vineyard, planted by second generation Henschke, Paul Gotthard in the 1860s, is considered among our most precious wine assets.
Of those who have been lucky enough to try Hill of Grace, few will doubt the acclaim it receives. But what about Henschke’s other wines? A total of 31 wines make up the Henschke portfolio and whilst Hill of Grace could easily dominate page space, the wines that tell the rest of the family story are equally deserving of your attention.
Selector recently visited the Henschke family at Keyneton in the Barossa’s Eden Valley for a special tasting with fifth generation winemaker Stephen and his daughter, Justine, to flesh out the Henschke story beyond its flagship.
The Grape Garden of Eden
The Henschkes call the elevated hills and plains of Eden Valley, specifically Keyneton, home.
“The name Eden Valley is just gorgeous, conjuring up many things, so whoever called this place Eden Valley really knew what they were talking about,” explains Stephen.
“South Australia has the reputation for being the driest state on the driest continent on the planet, but there are parts of it, like the Mount Lofty Ranges, that have an amazing climate.
“At about 500 metres, we have four distinct seasons; from wet winters and mild, sunny springs through to mild to hot summers and dry autumns.
“Those seasons, and the day-night temperature differential during the ripening period is the critical parameter for the low PH/high acidity that creates natural balance in the fruit and the resultant quality and purity of the wine.
“For Riesling, it keeps acidity and minerality and you get fine, pure examples. You’ve got Shiraz that is much more elegant, textural and spicy; red fruits, black fruits and lovely velvety tannins – all driven by the climate.”
The first bracket of Rieslings quickly reinforced Stephen’s point, showing how fine-boned Eden Valley Riesling can be. Julius is named in celebration of Stephen’s great uncle Albert Julius, who was a stonemason and well known for his sculpting and war memorial work in Adelaide and the Barossa.
All three wines tasted expressed a fine but generous backbone of lime juice-like acidity that carried with it layers of concentrated citrus, just-ripe stonefruits, minerals and spices through the length of each wine. The 2002 Julius, with 15 years under its belt, expressed the ability for these wines to age gracefully and was still showing youthful floral aromatics, fleshy primary and secondary fruit flavours and a fresh, clean mouthfeel.
The consensus was that whilst mouth-watering, the 2016 was still in its infancy and needed time to show its true colours. The 2002 Julius was Stephen’s pick and he loved the amazing spicy, floral mix of the aromatics. Wine Selectors’ Head of Product Matt White had similar thoughts and remarked on the wine’s youth and poise.
A bracket of exotic Gewürztraminers followed, again reinforcing how much of an impact the Eden’s warm days and cool nights have on coaxing fine and delicate flavours out of the aromatic grape varieties. Named after Joseph Hill Thyer, who planted the first vines on the family’s Eden Valley property, these wines are an expressive nod to the great European Gewürztraminers of Alsace.
Heady aromas of musk, Turkish delight, lychee, rosewater and delicate blossoms are all things that you could see in all of the wines shown. In the mouth, tight and complex citrus flavour lines made way for fleshy red and green apples followed by a fine, clean finish.
Justine was a fan of the 2016, believing that it had great potential to age, whilst my pick was the 2010 for its complexity, texture and classic European style.
Next in the glass was a line-up of Louis Semillons, named after Louis Edmund Henschke, who managed the Hill of Grace Vineyard for four decades. Louis ran the vineyard organically and Stephen’s wife Prue, the Henschke viticulturist, has continued this philosophy, including biodynamics for soil and vine health. Once considered wacky, biondyamics is now recognised as best practice. Prue is a true leader in the field and much of the modern success and sustainability of the Henschke name needs to be attributed to her influence.
The Louis wines are classic varietal examples of Semillon displaying lemon, lemon peel and citrus aromatics and flavours of lanolin, apples, and spice on the palate. The wines were stylistically unique, showing lots of open, fleshy complexity as young and older wines.
The 2014 Louis and even the 2010, while still being fresh and youthful, were exhibiting loads of juicy, fleshy fruits that maintained all the way from start
Matt loved the 2014 for its youth and purity, Justine the 2003 for its gracefully aged elements and creamy fruit and Stephen believed the 2014 to be a ‘complete’ wine with appealing complexity and structure.
A collection of Abbotts Prayer wines came next and served as a neat segue into exploring another important regional chapter in the Henschke story – the Adelaide Hills. Stephen and Prue purchased an orchard at Lenswood in 1981 to plant cool climate varieties. The devastating Ash Wednesday fires of 1983 wiped out the orchard and Prue and Stephen then established vineyards.
Abbotts Prayer is a single vineyard, Merlot Cabernet Sauvignon blend first produced in 1989 in acknowledgement of the region’s religious and cultural history. The wines are an elegant expression of cool climate intensity, but delivered with composure and finesse.
The 1996 example gloriously demonstrated the ability to age beautifully by displaying surprising youth for a 21-year-old. The wines were sweet and spicy, delivering fine, orderly layers of blackberry, blueberry, mulberries and plums, the mouthfeel velveteen and the finish long.
Whilst the 1996 was a favourite for its age, the 2012 was the standout for everyone involved. Stephen loved its elegance and power, Matt loved the complexity and Justine favoured its youthful balance and power.
A fitting finale
Lastly we tasted Euphonium, dedicated to the Henschke Family Brass Band that was a favourite pastime of the early German-Silesian settlers in the Barossa from the 1840s. Keyneton Euphonium (formerly Keyneton Estate) is a Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc blend with each year delivering varying percentages.
The wine is intense, rich and complex, displaying classic old world Hermitage characteristics: star anise, pepper, tar, dark berry, cigar box and sweet cassis aromas that make way to a concentrated but smooth palate of fleshy blackberries, mulberries and silky soft tannins.
We all loved the 2002 Euphonium for its aged elegance, Justine favoured the 2009 for its savoury fruit construction, while Stephen loved the 2013 for its fruit-driven palate and fresh balance.
It’s gratifying to know that each Henschke wine contains a part of their family story and each year they celebrate their history by turning soil, grape and sunlight into something delicious that can be shared and cherished. It’s even more gratifying that the wines are as great as the stories.
Stephen fittingly and simply put the Henschke mantra into perspective.
“Our whole philosophy is about being better not bigger. It’s about the quality, our amazing resources of old vineyards and making the most of our beautiful fruit and turning it into something
Long may the stories continue.
The Wines of the Tasting
Henschke Julius Riesling 2016
A pure Eden Valley Riesling with power and finesse. Fresh and delicate lime blossom and kaffir lime aromatics lead to a mouth-watering palate of minerals, green apples and limes. A definite keeper.
Henschke Keyneton Euphonium cabernet Blend 2013
An attractive, regal wine with complex aromatics of spice, plums, mulberries and blackberries. The palate is fine yet powerful with velvety, spicy layers of plums, blackberries and mocha.
Henschke Louis Semillon 2014
A complex, well-structured Semillon with good cellaring potential. Fleshy, open aromatics of fresh and baked apples, preserved lemons and marzipan with a palate full of sugar snap peas, lemons and lime juice.