Legendary Henschke wines are coming to the LCBO
In most winemaking nations, there are a handful of family-run wineries that have risen to the summit of success based on unswerving quality. There is actually an auspicious international association called Primum Familiae Vini that promotes this notion (and they will be celebrating themselves with tastings and dinners in Vancouver, March 9 to 11). Thus far, they have no Australian members, so I would like to nominate Stephen and Prue Henschke, guiding lights to the benefits of family winery ownership, especially when that family is endowed with great passion, intelligence and inquiring minds.
Henschke is one of Australia’s iconic brands. There is no question that part of its success is due to its geographical position, in the Eden Valley of the Barossa district. Another part can be credited to one famous $500 shiraz called Hill of Grace that emanates from what Stephen Henschke describes as “a single vineyard the size of a handkerchief.” Mostly, though, the brand’s success is due to the brilliantly detailed minds of the husband-and-wife team; their freedom to call the shots has translated that terroir into a taste that crosses New and Old World lines and creates brilliant, rich, powerful, yet intricately nuanced wines.
They were in Toronto last week to launch several of their wines though the LCBO’s Vintages stores and on-line retail platform. I was amazed at the number of different labels they have created—a move that always sets off alarm bells that perhaps they aren’t focused on doing everything well. My fears, however, were unfounded. I was shocked at the consistent excellence. The style is appealing, complex, layered and spicy—white or red. The pair make great wine that is immediately appreciable to the $15 wine drinker or the $100 collector. It might be said that they have tamed the Australian juggernaut, marrying finesse and detail to Aussie wine’s almost overwhelming generosity.
Here are the Henshcke wines that I have tasted, in increasing price order. Stocks quoted are based on February 11 availability. Check the LCBO’s Web site before you rush out to buy them.
Henschke 2005 Tilly’s Vineyard Sémillon Sauvignon Blanc ($26.75, 90 points, 656264)This is a barrel-aged blend of 60 per cent sémillon and 40 per cent sauvignon blanc for fans of rich whites. It’s incredibly spicy, with very lifted aromatics of clove and cardamom around classic Aussie lime and fig fruit. Full bodied, smooth and rich, even bordering on sweet. Excellent length.
Henschke 2006 Lenswood Coralinga Sauvignon Blanc ($32.95, 95 points, 685628)If you have ever admired the great balance and tension of fine pouilly-fumé from France’s Loire Valley, with its stoniness, and gooseberry, juniper and sage herbaceousness, you will love this wine. It takes all those elements, amplifies them, and then packages them into a vibrant, intense, mouthwatering experience, with an added tangerine twist. Intensely focused, with outstanding length. Sauvignon blanc doesn’t get much better than this. Available via Vintage’s Web site; stocks unknown.
Henschke 2002 Julius Riesling ($36.65, 95 points, 56192)Fabulous, pure and precise complex riesling aromas of petrol, lime, honey and spice, set in a very rich yet poised frame. Great acidity; outstanding length. Steven Henschke claims it’s one of the best rieslings he’s ever made from “a wonderful, even vintage year.” A small number of bottles remain at the Laird and Eglinton Vintages, but this brilliant wine is worth the drive (phone first).
Henschke 2005 Julius Riesling ($36.75, 92 points, 945055)This riesling is not quite as cohesive as the 2002 (above), but it is a dramatic wine built around great acidity, and lime, apricot and petrol notes. Terrific tension and power, with a mineral finish hitting excellent length. Age a couple of years; it will live for 10 or more. The largest stock (18 bottles) is at the Laird and Eglinton LCBO.
Henschke 2004 Henry’s Seven ($40.90, 92 points, 685578)A showboat that blends three red varieties in the manner of the southern Rhône (shiraz, grenache, mourvèdre), plus a dash of white viognier for added suppleness. Indeed the complex strawberry-cherry jam, cedar, nutmeg and bay leaf aromas are very much like some Chateauneuf-du-Pape. Full bodied, supple, sweet and a bit hot. Very spicy finish. Excellent length. The largest stock (13 bottles) is at the Bayview and Sheppard LCBO.
Henschke 2003 Keyneton The Euphonium ($51.55, 93 points, 720433)This is a blend of shiraz, cabernet and merlot. It’s a big, complex, involved, yet lush winter red, with chocolate, cherry, clove and spearmint flavours, plus leathery notes. Very full bodied, dense and drenched in flavour, but avoids soupiness thanks to good tannin structure. Excellent length; best now to 2015. The largest stock (23 bottles) is at the Laird and Eglinton LCBO.
Henschke 2005 Giles Pinot Noir ($57.95, 88 points, 911933)The only dip in the portfolio, this bottle lacks the poise and tension of great pinot. Though loaded with complexity, it’s a bit heavy-handed. Earthy, oaky notes reminded me of Spanish rioja. The very ripe fruit below is like strawberry jam with some peppery, cedary notes mindful of grenache. Very good palate weight and smoothness, but a bit dull. Excellent length. Available via the Vintages Web site; stocks unknown.
Henschke 2003 Mt. Edelstone Shiraz ($110.95, 94 points, 718601)From a 14-acre Eden Valley vineyard planted in 1912, this is a massive shiraz with great bones. Huge nose of blackberry, clove, smoked meat, chocolate, spearmint and sage. Full bodied, ripe and rounded with perfectly proportioned fruit, alcohol and tannin—a kind of contained explosion on the palate. Runs to an outstanding length. Best 2010 and beyond.
Henschke 2001 Hill of Grace ($517, not tasted, 61689)The iconic wine of Henschke, indeed of all of Australia. It is available, but, in an incomprehensible marketing disconnect, the 2001 vintage was not presented to the media—instead we tasted the 2002, which is staggeringly good (rating 98 points). I mention the availability of the 2001 for those who may never have had the chance to own this wine before. Available via the LCBO; stocks unknown.