This year is Henschke Wines 150th anniversary. Think about that. When this family estate was established back in 1868, the American Civil War had only just concluded and President Lincoln had made the regrettable decision to spend an evening at the theatre. We were still the best part of half a century from Federation.
Stephen and Prue Henschke, who will be so well known to wine lovers the world over, are the fifth generation of this remarkable family to hold the role of caretaker/gatekeeper. Their son, Johann, has joined the winemaking and viticulture team, while daughter, Justine, looks after marketing and PR. Johann and his wife have already ensured a seventh generation is in the wings, though it will be a decade or two before we see any input from them.
Despite such a rich history, the family does not rest on its laurels. Winemaking (and viticulture) improve consistently, if gradually, and they take the long view.
The range of wines has expanded and this year sees a new and impressive addition. The Wheelwright Shiraz, with this inaugural release being from the 2015 vintage. This is a wine made of 100% shiraz from the Henschke Eden Valley vineyard, situated at 500 metres above sea level – it is a little to the south of their famous vineyards, Hill of Grace and Mount Edelstone. Planted by Cyril Henschke, these are low yielding vines, biodynamically grown. They were grafted to protect against the possible (eventual?) influx of phylloxera. The vines were planted in 1968, and so celebrate the winery’s 50th anniversary this year.
Why is it named The Wheelwright? The founder of the Henschke estate, Johann Christian Henschke, was not just a first generation winemaker, but also a stonemason and wheelwright (being a person who builds and/or repairs wooden wheels – yes, I had to look it up, as it sounds a bit like something someone from Hobbiton might do).
The wine spent 18 months in oak (95% French and 5% American), 10% of which was new.
The Wheelwright is not their only new wine either. A grüner veltliner, Percival’s Mill, also joins the cast.
Our High Five for this week are five of Henschke’s best, though possibly not the wines you’d guess.
The High Five
Peggy’s Hill Riesling 2017 – $25
An Eden Valley riesling from a high altitude vineyard (500 metres). Florals and orange blossom notes. Nicely balanced and backed by a fine line of acidity. Impressive length. There is good intensity here and yet it retains its delicacy. This is a riesling that will make old bones and do so with grace. Terrific wine. 93 points
Percival’s Mill Grüner Veltliner 2017 – $38
Grüner is still finding its way in Australia, but it does seem that the Adelaide Hills will be ground zero for the variety. This wine, the first release of a Grüner by the Henschkes, is from an east-facing single vineyard at Lenswood, planted in 2011. Biodynamic principles (which is possibly a nice way of saying that Prue retained a little wiggle room). The name comes from an old timber mill that once stood in the area. This is a delightfully textured example of the grape, with some smoked pear and gentle apricot notes. A little spice and pepper. Not a great deal of length, but it should drink nicely for at least a few years. 91 points
Stone Jar Tempranillo 2016 – $50
From the Henschke Eden Valley vineyard, again by way of biodynamic principles, this tempranillo saw ten months in seasoned French hogsheads. A wonderfully exuberant and plush style, juicy and ripe. Black fruits and spices, a choc-cherry character. They did use a little carbonic maceration in making this wine. It is dense and with some good grip – very fine tannins and plenty of them. Very good length. This is a temp wthat will drink well over at least the next eight years. Not a subtle wine, but it is delightfully expressive. A stunning Aussie temp. 94 points
Henry’s Seven Shiraz Grenache Mataro Viognier 2016 – $37
A mix of Barossa and Eden Valley fruit – 66% shiraz, 15% grenache, 10% mataro and 9% viognier (which is co-fermented with the shiraz). Ten months in seasoned French oak hogsheads. Henry Evans planted the first vineyard at Keyneton back in 1853 and things were going very well until Henry fell off the perch in 1868 (that year again). His widow, Sarah, was less impressed by his wines than others and, influenced by her temperance convictions, ripped up the vines and closed the winery. Floral, plush, juicy and quite delicious. Fine aromatics that linger. Some will love this style, and I confess I certainly found it a joy to drink, but others may feel that the viognier interferes just a little. It is certainly noticeable. 91 points
The Wheelwright Shiraz 2015 – $130
Henschke’s exciting new wine is seriously impressive. Some dry herbs, a whiff of chocolate, the merest note of biscuity oak, raspberries and spices. Good complexity. Juicy acidity. Well integrated and utterly seamless. Plenty of tannins, but the texture is appealingly supple. Very good length. This wine is still very youthful and it should easily live for 25 years if well cellared. Hold off for five years before cracking a bottle, if you can. 96 points
Words by Drinks Writer, Ken Gargett extracted from Explore Drinks