Henschke Masterclass at Decanter – Australian top-level Shiraz

FWE 20121118 Henschke MasterclassIt was quite interesting to see the themes of the six Masterclasses that were held in connection with this year’s Decanter Fine Wine Experience. Three were each devoted to one well-known Bordeaux château – Pichon Baron, Palmer and Figeac. A fourth French theme was Dom Pérignon, and all four masterclasses were held by the owner or winemaker. On top of that, Jancis Robinson and her two co-authors to the recently released book Wine Grapes held a tasting with some more odd wines of mixed origin. Finally there was a masterclass with wine from Henschke, an Australian producer from Eden Valley. This means that they didn’t just lead the only masterclass with a New World theme, but in fact the only non-French producer-oriented masterclass! Given the rather prestigious occasion, I’d call that a rather heavy role, and it fell to the winemaker son of the family, Johann Henschke, to lead the masterclass. I attended the Henschke event and Dom Pérignon, and spent the rest of the time tasting my way through the Grand Tasting, i.e., the parallell wine fair of about 100 stands.

Henschke has a broad portfolio of wines, with several grape varieties represented and wine from Eden Valley, Barossa Valley and Adelaide Hills, but I’d say that their reputation is primarily built on their Shiraz wines, and in particular their top wine Hill of Grace. It is today one of 17 Australian wines classified by Langton’s, an Australian auction house, as “Exceptional” (their highest rating) based on demand on the auction market. However, Hill of Grace was on that list already in its 1996 edition, when there were only three wine at that level. The other two were Penfolds Grange Shiraz – introductions are probably unnecessary – and Mount Mary Quintet Cabernet Blend. Hill of Grace is in fact a little more expensive than Grange, and not too easy to find. I hadn’t tasted it before, so four vintages in one tasting definitely sounded interesting to me. On the topic of Langton’s classification, Henschke’s Mount Edelstone is found at the second-highest level (“Outstanding”), and we got to taste the same four vintages of that wine as well.

Note the screw cap closure!

Hill of Grace – and also the other Henschke wines – have a reputation as elegant and “Europan-styled”, at least within the Australian spectrum of wine styles. Considering that Eden Valley is slightly cooler than Barossa Valley, this is perhaps not too surprising. Hill of Grace is a single vineyard wine (unlike Penfolds Grange), and the oldest vines in the vineyard, the so-called “The Grandfathers Block” were planted in the 1860s. Other blocks are considerably younger, but only those that are deemed good enough in a certain vintage are included in Hill of Grace. This wine has been produced since 1958, but the early vintages was of a completely different and lighter style compared to the that which made it famous.

Mount Edelstone, which is considerably cheaper than Hill of Grace, is also a single vineyard wine, and has been produced since 1952. Today, it is supposed to be the oldest Australian single vineyard Shiraz still in production.

Hill of Roses is the second wine of Hill of Grace, was introduced rather recently, and has apparently only been sold in Australian. It is produced from blocks of the Hill of Grace vineyard that are considered too young to be a part of the first wine.

What I found interesting to hear was Henschke’s view on bottle closures. Since the 2005 vintage, Hill of Grace is produced only with Stelvin closures, i.e. screw cap. For a few years before that, it was available both with natural cork (that’s those irritating pieces of bark that tend to cause defects in around 5% of the wines, that I would prefer to see phased out completely ASAP) and screw cap. Hill of Grace must reasonably be the world’s most expensive wine under screwcap. Hats off to Henschke for this decision! Since 2004, they have also conducted experiments with Vino-Lok (glass closure) and have started to use these on several of the red wines.

Julius Eden Valley Riesling 2011

Appearance: light yellow.
Nose: rather ripe yellow fruit, peach, some citrus, discrete honey notes, stony mineral notes, and very discrete petrol notes.
Palate: dry, good concentration of ripe yellow fruit, strong citrus notes (grapefruit), high acidity, stony mineral notes. Aftertaste with grapefruit.
Summary: rather young, 88 p.

Mount Edelstone Eden Valley Shiraz 1994

Appearance: rather compact dark red, lighter edge.
Nose: dark berries, developed notes with leather, some barnyard aromas, some decaying leaves, other animal notes, mild spices. Slightly sweetish nose but very nuanced.
Palate: quite good concentration with dark berries, sweetness of fruit, slightly sweet and fiery attack, tar, leather and chocolate, softened but still quite notable tannins.
Summary: slightly sweeter and warmer on the palate than the nose indicates. Fully mature, but could take much longer cellaring. 92 p

Mount Edelstone Eden Valley Shiraz 2002

Appearance: compact dark red, medium red edge.
Nose: very dark berries, tar notes that give a clear impression of asphalt paving in progress, pepper mill, discretely aromatic. Not at all a sweet impression on the nose, almost some Mourvèdre feel to it.
Palate: quite concentrated, very dark berries, dark tar notes, a hint of sweetness in the background, quite present tannins, pepper notes.
Summary: the palate matches the nose. Slightly developed notes, but needs more time to fully bloom. Comes across as truly a vintage for the long run. 94+ p

Mount Edelstone Eden Valley Shiraz 2004

Appearance: compact dark red, medium red edge.
Nose: ripe dark berries, discrete sweetish notes, strong tar notes with a smoky impression and some liquorice. The nose comes across as slightly sweetish in a way that the 2002 doesn’t.
Palate: quite concentrated, dark berries, a hint of sweetness, good acidity, tar notes, quite present tannins, quite peppery.
Summary: rather similar to the 2002 on the palate, but with slightly less dark aromas and a bit more acidity. Still young, 92+ p.

Mount Edelstone Eden Valley Shiraz 2006

Appearance: compact dark red.
Nose: ripe dark berries, discrete sweetish notes, slightly flowery, some liquorice, spicy with pepper notes. Rather similar to the 2004 in the nose, possibly with slightly less tar notes.
Palate: good concentration of sweet dark berries, tar notes, rather noticeable tannins.
Summary: slighly less dark notes than 2002 or 2004, some sweetness. Rather young, but probably doesn’t need as much time as 2002 or 2004 to reach its peak. 91+ p

Hill of Roses Eden Valley Shiraz 2006

Appearance: compact dark red.
Nose: ripe dark berries, mint liquorice, some tar, dried tobacco leaves, discrete flowery notes, very elegant.
Palate: quite concentrated, slightly sweet ripe dark berries, sweet liquorice, pepper, cloves, rather powerful but slightly softened tannins.
Summary: more elegant than Mount Edelstone 2006. Young, but reasonably accessible, 92+ p.

Hill of Grace Eden Valley Shiraz 1994

Appearance: rather compact dark red, with lighter edge (slightly darker than Mount Edelstone 1994)
Nose: ripe dark berries, developed notes with mild spices, leather, some barnyard aromas, some decaying leaves and dried tobacco leaves, aromatic with a hint of mint liquorice and mineral. Nuanced and elegant nose. Compared to Mount Edelstone 1994, it is slightly more powerful, more complex and elegant.
Palate: quite concentrated, ripe dark berries with some red berries, some sweetness of fruit, pepper, liquorice, rather present but softened and polished tannins.
Summary: very nuanced, rather accessible but could probably need a little more time to reach its peak. 95+ p

Hill of Grace Eden Valley Shiraz 2002

Appearance: compact dark red, medium red edge.
Nose: very ripe dark berries, strong tar notes, an impression of asphalt paving in progress, dried tobacco leaves, freshly ground black pepper, cloves, some mint liquorice, mineral. The nose is powerful, dark, nuanced and elegant. Compared to Mount Edelstone 2002 it is less solely dominated by tar, more complex and elegant.
Palate: quite concentrated, very ripe dark berries, slightly sweet fruit notes, sweet liquorice and other liquorice, pepper, strong but rather polished tannins.
Summary: a massive and very impressive wine that still is young. 97+ p

This wine was definitely one size larger than the other in the same tasting!

Hill of Grace Eden Valley Shiraz 2004

Appearance: compact dark red, medium red edge.
Nose: very ripe dark berries, liquorice and mint liquorice, rather flowery with violets, some animal notes, pepper, elegant. Compared to Mount Edelstone 2004 the nose is more flowery.
Palate: quite concentrated with very ripe dark berries, some sour berry hints, sweet liquorice, tar, pepper, strong but polished tannins.
Summary: less dark aromas than the 2002. Young, but rather accessible now and shouldn’t need as much time to peak as the 2002. 94+ p

Mount Edelstone and Hill of Grace were closest in style in the 2004 pair (more so than the 1994, 2002 or 2006).

Hill of Grace Eden Valley Shiraz 2006

Appearance: compact dark red.
Nose: very ripe dark berries, liquorice, some tar and animal notes, some mint liquorice, pepper. Young and elegant nose. Compared to Mount Edelstone 2006, the nose is more powerful and elegant, and compared to Hill of Roses 2006 it is slightly more sweetish.
Palate: quite concentrated with very ripe dark berries with a hint of sweetness, very peppery, strong and noticeable but somewhat polished tannins. Aftertaste with sour dark berries.
Summary: young, but somewhat accessible now, can probably gain more from cellaring than the 2004. 95+ p

Summing up my impressions from the reds, I found more notes of tar in Mount Edelstone than in Hill of Grace or Hill of Roses, and those two showed more mint and mineral notes, and were more elegant. Several of them gave me an impression of mint liquorice. Basically, they are all very powerful and concentrated wines, but Hill of Grace definitely succeeds in combining power and elegance, the trick of “squaring the circle” that make wines truly great.

The vintage character comes through in a similar way in Mount Edelstone and Hill of Grace, in terms of relative style within this set of wines, and maturity. Both 2002s were truly great wines!

This time I’ve included three video clips. First a general presentation of Henschke:

Stephen Henschke presents the 2007 Hill of Grace:

And finally a Hill of Grace tasting:

The Swedish version of this post can be found here.

This entry was posted in Riesling, South Australia, Syrah and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Henschke Masterclass at Decanter – Australian top-level Shiraz

  1. Pingback: Dom Pérignon with Richard Geoffroy at Decanter | Tomas's wine blog

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