The 2013 Henschke Hill of Grace is the 55th release of this flagship single-vineyard wine and is the bounty of a dry, warm vintage, delivering smaller than average yields.The release is also a very special one for the Henschke family – and indeed for all fans of great Australian wine – as it coincides with the family’s 150th anniversary of winemaking in South Australia, which commenced in 1868.
The theme of faith runs deep through the Henschke story and the 2013 Hill of Grace has been christened a vintage graced by faith. The winemaking story begins with Stephen Henschke’s great-great grandfather, Johann Christian Henschke, who sailed halfway around the world in 1841 to settle high up in the Eden Valley, then very remote. That leap of faith is not forgotten, far from it. The ensuing circumstances that led to the first family making wine in 1868 – and all that has been grown, picked, fermented and bottled by Henschke family members since – was celebrated recently, as the family hosted a small gathering of Australian media in the winery’s banquet hall.
This hall, built by Stephen Henschke and his uncle Louis in the 1980s, has seen everything from tastings, birthday parties and band recitals to bubbling fermenters, vibrating de-stemmers and sorting tables. In 2013 the family presented a complete vertical of Hill of Grace spanning 1958 to 2008. Shadows of this great tasting accompanied this year’s 150th celebration.
In a typically considered, generous mode, and alongside more than a dozen new-release wines including the 2013 Hill of Grace, the family presented a stunning back vintage overview of Hill of Grace. They showed the vineyard under various seasonal influences, bearing in mind that when Cyril Henschke bottled the inaugural 1958 release, the foundation vines of the vineyard were already up to 100 years of age.
The fragrant and ethereal 2002 vintage is a wine just starting to edge towards its complete state and full prowess. A cool year with a warm finish, this has sublimely elegant, powerful fruit at its core and unfurls an almost endless trail of spicy, still fresh fruit on the palate. Also from a year with long, slow ripening, the 1996 is the pick of the 1990s and, as the name of the wine so cleverly reflects, delivers a graciously elegant and long impression. It is right in the drinking window.
The 1986 Hill of Grace is the best release of the 1980s, from a year that ran through a cooler summer in average terms, generally dry, with a heatwave in March. Bright, redder fruits were seen here and plenty of the trademark sage, too. It sits right at the apex of drinkability. 1972 was still in youthful shape with a core of fresh blackberry and cassis fruit, a more singularly elegant wine than the younger vintages.
But a spectacular 1962 stole the show from the other vintages, delivering one of those incredibly memorable, blessed moments of a great mature wine. Hailing from a warmer vintage (the darker fruits a testament to this) it offered a flow of cedar, leather, terracotta, roasting herbs, plums and spiced blackberry fruits. Miraculously, or perhaps not, it showed a facet of almost every character seen in the young 2013 wine.
Award-winning chef Paul Baker of Adelaide’s Botanic Gardens Restaurant cooked a sublimely sensitive meal, very keenly attuned to the wines being served. The generosity continued as the family extended their reach deeper into the cellar with a 1980 riesling, 1986 frontignac and 1973 ‘White Burgundy’ semillon, adding depth to the 2017 aromatic whites.
A trio from 1978 then materialised, a curio bottling of a varietal malbec, a cabernet shiraz blend and the 1978 Cyril Henschke. The ’78 Cyril marks a significant generational overlap for the family, being made by Stephen and his late father. Then came 1973 and 1978 Hill of Grace accompanying the debutant 2013 to the table and, finally, a back-to-back pair of sweet wines, the 1983 Rhine Riesling Auslese and 1984 Noble Rot Rhine Riesling.
Construction of a new cellar door is due for completion ahead of harvest 2019. It will replace the tiny stone bolthole built in 1860 by Johann Henschke. Nothing happens here in a rush nor without careful consideration, and this approach underwrites the success of the past, present and future generations of Henschkes. An iconic Australian winemaking legacy passing now to the sixth generation: Johann, Justine and Andreas Henschke.
2013 Henschke Hill of Grace, A$825
A heady mix of baking spices leading ripe red and black berries as well as plums. There’s also deeper fresh earthy aromas with plum pudding and chocolate. The old vines have delivered an elegant, smooth and concentrated palate with rich blackberry, ripe dark plum and more savoury tarry nuances, finishing with a comet-like trail of fragrant, toasted spices and hints of mocha. So elegant as to be approachable now, it will be at its best at 20-plus years.
2015 Henschke The Wheelwright Shiraz, A$130
From Eden Valley vines older than 50 years, this delivers a clear statement of the spicy fragrant and elegantly powerful shiraz produced in this elevated part of the Barossa. Aromas of toasted baking spices, pepper and roasting herbs adorn ripe blackberry and plum fruits. The palate has a very silky, smooth and long flow of fine tannin carrying deeply spicy blackberry fruit to a fresh, scintillatingly juicy and long finish. It can be enjoyed now and for the next 15-plus years.
NV Johanne Ida Selma Blanc de Noir MD, A$62
A special disgorgement for the 150th anniversary, combining pinot noir base material from 1997-2015. A very complex yet fresh array of breads and biscuits on the nose, dried chamomile flowers and an array of pithy lemon and blood orange characters. A super- energetic palate really drives long and fresh. Uplifting, celebratory finish.