This week’s decent drinking
Ask any wine buff what the name Henschke means to them and it’s odds on that they’ll come up with the words “Hill of Grace”. This top dollar shiraz is truly an Australian icon, one of the few that gets mentioned in the same breath as Penfold’s Grange. ‘Hill of Grace’ is a fabulous Barossa shiraz made from vines nearly a hundred years old; complex, powerful, elegant and fully deserving of the hype. Another Henschke notable is ‘Mount Edelstone’ shiraz, named for a hill in the Barossa originally christened ‘Edelstein’ – precious stone – by the German immigrants, including Stephen Henschke’s ancestors, who populated the valley five generations ago. It’s long been a particular favourite of mine.
We tasted these classics, along with other Henschke wines at L’Ecrivain in the company of the amiable Stephen Henschke and his wife Prue, winemaker and viticulturist. Though Henschke is best known for it reds, initially it was the whites that dazzled. The 2007 ‘Coralinga’ sauvignon blanc from Lenswood in the Adelaide Hills was as complex as this essentially workaday grape can get, kept fresh with brisk though not overwhelming acidity. Better still was the 2006 ‘Julius’ riesling with all the bracing minerality and lime refreshment you find in Eden Valley wines. There was also a pinot grigio that contained an unusual element – flavour.
Of the reds in the tasting I particularly liked the vibrant, powerful Johann’s Garden grenache and the smart Henry’s Seven shiraz/viognier which, for around €30 gives a massive hint as to the sheer class of Henschke when you go upscale.
We drank the 2001 Hill of Grace over lunch. It was everything I expected. In 2002 Stephen put the flagship wine under screwcap. Yet, unlike most Australian winemakers, he’s not entirely convinced that the screwcap is the best closure around. Latterly he’s been trialling the German glass-to-glass Vinolok closure about which I wrote in my Sunday Independent column last year. It’s both effective and beautifully aesthetic. Alas it’s expensive as the bottle neck has to be tailored to fit the stopper and because not many producers are using the system, economies of scale do not apply compared to conventional closures. The cost of bottle and closure is currently about 2 Australian dollars (about the cost of a top notch cork) which effectively prohibits its use on all but premium wines.
Prue and Stephen are working towards their organic certification, which they should receive next year. They are also farming biodynamically. Pru believes that the essence of biodynamics is about improving the organic matter of the soil. She makes her own compost using cow manure, grape skins and green waste. She also uses the specified biodynamic preparations and plants, in the accredited manner, according to the lunar phases. Many sceptics dismiss these aspects as of the lunatic fringe of winemaking but, as long as class acts like Oliver Humbrecht, Michel Chapoutier, Vanya Cullen and the Henschkes are burying the cow horns, you won’t find me numbered among the knockers of ‘bio’.
The Henschke ‘Julius’ riesling is available from The Corkscrew, Chatham Street and On The Grapevine, Dalkey, price €29.99 and worth every last cent.