On February 28, an arousing, heady mix of scents, flavours, emotions, words – lots of them – and, above all, history, flowed freely at the Henschke winery in the Eden Valley. It was a day of celebration; 60 vintages of one of Australia’s and the world’s great red wines, the Hill of Grace Shiraz. The fragility of age, the energy of youth, the luck of the cork Gods or otherwise, beauty, context and the inner workings of the humans bringing bunches of Shiraz together each vintage were to be explored in 26 glasses of Hill of Grace from 1958 – a simply stunning wine still – through to 2018.
It was also a day for the annual single vineyard releases, this time lifted considerably with the arrival of wines from the outstanding 2018 vintage, a year sharing similar vintage characteristics and mentioned in the same breath as the stellar 1982, 1990, 2002 and 2010.
Six generations of Henschkes have acted as winemakers and custodians of the family’s vineyards in the Eden Valley. It’s a dedication that produces some simply stunning, detailed, articulate wines. They speak with individual personalities.
The new releases, below, will be on shelves on May 3.
Henschke Hill of Peace Semillon 2018 – 95 points
Lovely name, lovely wine, which takes old vine Eden Valley Semillon into some pretty impressive premium wine territory. The single vineyard wine was planted in 1952 and lies opposite the Hill of Grace vineyard and Gnadenberg Church and cemetery. It remains a rare outpost for the grape in the Valley, revealing what it is capable of when given the chance. From a top vintage – Stephen Henschke remembers it as a “wonderful season” – the 2018 Hill of Peace rises from the glass in a growing swell of honeysuckle, citrus blossom, lemongrass and straw, woven among a rich concentration of lime cordial-like intensity.
Short maturation time in French oak and a contribution of skin phenolics provide added depth, warmth and texture on the palate. The effect is immediately striking and complex with a discreet touch of added brioche, toasty richness. Acidity is brisk, enduring throughout, bringing a clean finish. The five-year-old has benefited from time in bottle before release and is stunning now but will also enjoy more time in bottle, too.
A Henschke members-only wine on limited release.
Bottle Price: $70 | Drink: 2023-2028
Henschke The Wheelwright Eden Valley Shiraz 2018 – 95 points
A relatively recent addition to the Henschke wine family, first released five years ago to commemorate the company’s 150 years. Another confident, expressive Henschke Shiraz produced off old vines planted in 1968, which no doubt bring their own x-factor to the glass. And, once again, the beauty of a top vintage is revealed. Seductive aromas in violet, rose, red berries, a touch of cassis, anise, gentle herbals and Eden Valley signature sage. The palate glides along with fine tannins offering a seamless flow of spice-fuelled fruit, expressive, youthful and vibrant. A mix of French oak (65%) and American oak (35%), including a total of 21% new, is a quietly persuasive presence. Love the touch of herbal leafiness to close, which adds that elegant finishing touch to what is an already impressive palate length.
Bottle Price: $150 | Drink: 2023-2034
Henschke Cyril Henschke Cabernet Sauvignon 2018 – 96 points
Arrives with a touch of merlot (2%) and cabernet franc (1%). Do they bring something to the role of Cabernet in the Cyril Henschke, which is mighty tight and firm in structure with noteworthy acidity (6.5g/L). I suspect the additional varietal contribution is to provide a little more give in the form of added aromatics and spice, filling out the palate just that little bit more while allowing the Cabernet component to do its job, which is to provide the groundwork for a long-lived wine. And that, it will most surely be. I met Cyril Henschke a year or so before his death in 1979. Like the man, the wine that takes his name is quiet, unassuming, no nonsense, a veritable still waters kind of vinous equivalent that demands you pay attention. Nothing is laid out on a plate; it asks something of the taster.
Look for the one percenters: the smart touch of French oak (only 10% of the French hogsheads it was matured in are new – a nice understatement), the joyous red fruits and cassis countered by an injection of dried herbs with fennel, sage leading from the front and the afore-mentioned sweet indulgence of lovely, arresting spice. This is a wine for later, not now. But, then, that is the Cyril way.
NOTE: Sixth gen winemaker, Johann Henschke, says cabernet franc was actually chosen for its lovely violets and merlot for some mid-palate depth. “We’ve made worse decisions,” he added.
Bottle Price: $175 | Drink: 2025-2038
Henschke Mount Edelstone Eden Valley Shiraz 2018 – 97 points
The Henschke family believes Mount Edelstone Shiraz is the longest, consecutively produced, single vineyard wine in Australia. Planted by Ronald Angus in 1912, it was first bottled as a single vineyard wine in 1952 by Cyril Henschke, who later bought the vineyard in 1974. Today, Mount Edelstone centurion vines offer a strong statement, as if needed, on the role of old vines. They bring an easy, effortless balance, as enjoyed here, combined with a richness and density of flavour.
The 2018 Mount Edelstone starts with aromas that are sweet, aromatic and inviting in red berries and black fruits and the prettiest of aromatics in Asian spice, rosehip and, once again, typical Eden Valley sage notes, so integral to quality Eden Valley Shiraz. There’s plenty to enjoy and contemplate with an almost luxurious air and carry with bursts of generous cassis and red fruit punctuated by spice, a mix of dried herbs and merest hints of cedary oak from maturation in French and American oak hogsheads. The prodigious length, driven by silky tannins, is a thing to behold. A fitting celebration of a great vintage.
Bottle Price: $245 | Drink: 2023-2037
Henschke Hill of Roses Eden Valley Shiraz 2018 – 98 points
The aromatics are the thing. They rise, swirl and play with the senses in dark rose petals, lilac, anise, a splash of riotous florals, joining bramble, dark cherry, sage, allspice. Free flowing, Hill of Roses presents a youthful, almost exuberant version of Hill of Grace with young vines lending a rare energy and forceful personality. Too young to be considered for inclusion in Hill of Grace, the young vines remain, nevertheless, a depositary of concentrated flavour and sophistication. Grown on what is described as the Nursery Block (planted 1989) on the Hill of Grace vineyard, it has to be acknowledged that the grapes and the wine have surely outgrown the nursery and are ready to play with the big boys and girls.
Hill of Roses stands alone with its joyous, aromatic-led personality, its warmth wrapped in dark fruits, earth and woodsy spices, its balance and its length. To borrow from the maker, a “long, linear, cool line of tannin” makes for a relaxed and inviting wine.
NOTE: Asked when the Hill of Roses grapes will be ready for Hill of Grace, the answer from Stephen Henschke was oblique: “Don’t know yet.”
Bottle Price: $455 | Drink: 2023-2038
Henschke Hill of Grace 2018 – 99 points
We think of the Hill of Grace vineyard as a single, scintillating entity. Wrong. The vineyard is divided into 13 blocks, of which six contribute to Hill of Grace, the wine. Of that six, the Grandfathers Shiraz planted in 1860, are the oldest. To understand what the Henschkes call “the tapestry” of the Hill of Grace vineyard goes some way to understand exactly what it is capable of in a superb vintage like 2018.
What looks like a jigsaw on paper comes together harmoniously in the glass. The fruit soars in blackcurrant pastille, black fruits, briar, earth, bramble, toasted spice, supported by – once again – the most magical and lifted floral aromatics in violet and rose. A fine web of tannins offers a deeper insight, one that is dense and firm, built to last.
The word on the palate is elegance. The winemaking detail bears noting, especially the 18 months maturation in new (20%) and seasoned French (83%) and American (17%) hogsheads. For every drinker who questions the role of American oak in Shiraz – is it too loud? – think again. A smidge of American oak is just one small but telling piece in the great complex tapestry that is Hill of Grace. And in 2018, every piece fell into place producing a wine for the ages.
Bottle Price: $950 | Drink: 2023-2048