Hill of Grace producers Stephen and Prue Henschke recently conducted a tasting in Dublin for the Irish trade. The estate, founded in 1861, has always been family run but it was Stephen’s father, Cyril Alfred Henschke, who in 1958 raised its international profile by creating Hill of Grace Shiraz. At a time when most Australian wine was fortified or simple jug wine, it marked a decisive move toward the emergence of Australia as a serious wine producer.
Partly because the Henschke family were originally from German Silesia, Stephen went in 1975 to study winemaking at Geisenheim in Germany. Prue and he had just married and she decided to join him in his studies. It meant that they could bring an international perspective to the Australian wine industry at a time when few local producers had ever visited Europe. Following Cyril’s death in 1979, they decided to work together at the estate but concentrated on different areas, with Stephen in charge of winemaking and Prue managing viticulture.
The Dublin tasting was of the latest releases and it showed the striking variety of the wines. Semillon and riesling are important to the estate and, in Tillys Vineyard Semillon Chardonnay Sauvignon Blanc 2006 (€90 case of six), semillon was strongly dominant on nose and palate.
On the whole, I preferred the reds, but they are expensive. Cyril Henschke Cabernet Sauvignon 2003 (€400 case of six) was pretty ready to drink with ripe plum and blackcurrant and supple tannins.
Mt Edelstone Shiraz 2004 (€350 case of six) was very classy, with juicy redcurrant and plum fruit and a hint of smoky black olive. It was my favourite of the line-up.
Also very enjoyable was Henry’s Seven Shiraz Grenache Viognier 2005 (€125 for six). Very classic stuff, with soft strawberry fruits subtly combined with black olive and peppery notes, which would go down a treat with lovers of Chateauneuf du Pape. Delicious.
The famed Hill of Grace Shiraz 2001 (€850 case of six, 2005 vintage) rounded off the tasting. It had black fruit, vanilla and iodine on the nose, with ripe dark fruits and supple tannins on the palate. The alcohol was noticeable and, at this price, I would have liked it better balanced by the fruit.
Nevertheless, a memorable tasting and the wines are available from Cassidys. A bottle or two would make a great Christmas gift.