The offer to taste releases from Henschke’s 2018 vintage was an opportunity not to be missed.
There is high anticipation before the annual release of a cluster of Henschke single-vineyard wines from South Australia’s Eden Valley, which includes the famous Hill of Grace.
The 2018 vintage has been one of the most eagerly anticipated.
Let me put this out front straight away: the collection is as good as any I have seen from Henschke over many years as a wine journalist.
So, it surprised me to hear from fifth-generation winemaker Stephen Henschke that it was one of the most challenging seasons.
It seemed everything that could go wrong did go wrong, until towards the business end of the ripening period when milder conditions enabled a long, gentle build of flavours and tannins.
They had everything: eight frosts, a dry winter, then heavy rains and wind.
And in January the hottest, coldest and wettest days on record.
Thankfully, things turned around as the grapes headed for optimum ripeness.
As always, it is the Hill of Grace that is the primary focus.
The 2018 vintage marks 60 years since Stephen Henschke’s father, Cyril, released the first vintage of this great wine.
“The 2018s have wonderful complexity, richness, depth and balance, an expressive sense of place, and fine and mature tannins,” Mr Henschke said.
“They are comparable to exceptional quality vintages such as 1982, 1990, 2002 and 2010, all from mild seasons that have shown excellent ageing potential in ideal cellaring conditions.”
The Hill of Grace vineyard is old, very old.
The oldest vines have survived more than 160 summers and are chunky, gnarled and dry-grown, with low yields a result of their age.
Since taking control of the business in 1979, Mr Henschke and his viticulturist wife, Prue, have embarked on a constant drive to improve the health of their vineyards with organic and biodynamic practices.
The result is wines that have displayed an energy and vibrancy that sets them apart, particularly during the past decade.
In addition to Hill of Grace, the new releases includ the Hill of Roses 2018, Mount Edelstone 2018, The Wheelwright 2018, Cyril Henschke 2018, and the Hill of Peace (an oak-matured semillon).
This week, I have featured the Wheelwright, a wine that is quite distinctly different from the other reds in the release, and a personal favourite, the Mount Edelstone, the current vintage of which is as good as I can recall.
Henschke Hill of Grace 2018 ($950)
This great wine comes from vines brought to Australia in the middle of the 19th century. The fruit is handpicked from the fragile old vines and then vinified in open fermenters. It is largely from vines planted about 160 years ago, but in more recent years slightly younger vines have been deemed to produce the quality to justify inclusion. One of the most exquisitely elegant and stylish of any Hill of Grace I have tasted. There is a beautiful purity of minerally fruit augmented with a mix of sage and the dried herbs. It is bright and alive with a vibrant and elevated palate. The balance and poise are perfect, and this is a wine that will handle many years to reach its best.
Cellar: 40 years
Henschke Mount Edelstone 2018 ($245)
This is 100 per cent shiraz from a vineyard that is now 106 years old. The oak is a mix of French and American only, about 27 per cent new. If you have wondered why this is considered one of the greatest examples of the variety in Australia, then this vintage might give you a very clear picture. Beautifully expressive with a palate that is both complex and extraordinarily long. A slightly savoury cherry and sagebrush character reveal on first engagement. Then, deeper notes of plum and chocolate. Has a slightly dry finish but the balance of palate poise is so exquisitely right. Right up there with the best of this famous wine.
Cellar: 35 years
Henschke The Wheelwright 2018 ($150)
This is a recent addition to the portfolio, being just the fourth vintage. It’s from a small vineyard planted in 1968 in the Mount Lofty Ranges by Cyril Henschke. It’s 100 per cent shiraz from a mix of organic and biodynamically farmed vines. It also benefits from a mix of new and old French and American oak. So, the blending and compilation of the wines is an important part of its making. It’s a most elegant wine displaying fine boney tannins, silky smooth oak and sublime medium-bodied fruit. Slightly savoury with traces of sage bush and dark chocolate with other dried herbs merging in the background.
Cellar: 25 years
- Ray Jordan is one of Australia’s most experienced and respected wine journalists, contributing to newspapers and magazines over more than 40 years. In 2017 he co-authored The Way it Was: The History of the early years of the Margaret River Wine Region