2017 Single Vineyard Releases from Henschke

2017s from Henschke

Embargoed until 28th March 2022

It is always a pleasure to taste with the Henschkes, and this year, it was another Zoom affair.   This year the focus is on the Single Vineyard Releases of the 2017 vintage.  They kindly threw in a bottle of Keynton Euphonium for good measure, not least because it falls into consideration as a The Great Australian Red candidate (a wine with more than a combination of 85% of Shiraz and Cabernet in the mix).  So, they knew I would be keen to taste it.

2017 was a cool vintage, and Stephen explained that the 2016 winter was wet, leading up to rolling thunderstorms and a combination of both the La Niña and Indian Ocean effects.  Interestingly, a similar weather pattern should have happened this year, but it didn’t much harm South Australia while it hammered the North with the horrible floods, which you may have seen on the news.  Even so, it was very windy, and red gums fell over like matchsticks.  There was a delayed flowering and a reasonably difficult summer, but a lovely mild autumn and an approximation of an Indian summer kept the vines cheery enough so that they managed to get the red grapes ripe late into the season.  While it was a tricky vintage for Cabernet, Shiraz fared well.  I know from tasting hundreds of 2017s that many wineries made underpowered, disjointed wines that they would rather forget, but Henschke is always an outlier and vintage generalisations, while perennially unhelpful, never apply here.

By contrast, this collection of wines is worthy of very serious contemplation.  They show that the hallowed ground on which these vines are planted always give up their best efforts despite and, curiously, in concert with the conditions above.

As always, I taste these wines over the course of four days and take careful note of how they open up and evolve.  I believe that this patience unlocks some of the hidden secrets of these wines that are not always obvious in the first few hours.

I have noted the UK RRPs here for each wine, and I will update this article with reliable stockists when the time comes for their release.  If you would like to be assured of owning any of these wines, it is advisable to speak to your local independent wine specialist as soon as possible.  They will inquire with UK agents Liberty Wines.  Stephen noted that volumes are approximately 10-15% down on the average in 2017, so this should incentivise you to pick up the phone today.

I can recommend looking at the Henschke website if you would like more in-depth information on these wines and the vineyards themselves – Henschke.

There is a global release of the wines on Wednesday 4th May 2022 and this copy is embargoed until Monday 28th March 2022.

2017 Henschke, Keynton Euphonium £45.00

Grapes – 62% Shiraz, 24% Cabernet Sauvignon, 11% Cabernet Franc, 3 Merlot

Vineyards – Barossa (Eden Valley and Barossa Valley)

Harvest Dates – 22nd March – 12 May

Alcohol – 14.5%

pH – 3.53

Acidity – 6.2 g/L

Oak – 19% new and 81% seasoned French (85%) and American (15%) oak hogsheads for 18 months

I am particularly partial to Keynton Euphonium, and it is a genuinely noble creation in 2017.  The 2017 is a tighter, more structured style than the expansive 2016, and yet I like it enormously for very different reasons.  There is no need for this blend to load muscle and weight on the palate, even though many wines do just this.  Imagine, if you will, a KE sporting a perfectly tailored three-piece suit, broad across the shoulders and nipped in at the waist – this is the silhouette of 2017 Euphonium.  Elegant, controlled and suave, this is a perfumed wine with a gorgeous, smoky, red-fruited feel.  The acidity is mouth-watering, making this intense red wine feel refreshing and savoury.  I am extremely impressed and if you consider the diminutive price tag, this is a work of genius.  While I appreciate that it could not be more different in delivery than the mighty 2016, I find its balance and elegance exceptionally alluring.  You could indeed open a bottle today and enjoy the flavours from the off, but there is a rigidity and poise here buried in its core that will enable this wine to mellow for a good ten to fifteen years.  18/20 (Drink now – 2035)

2017 Henschke, The Wheelright Vineyard £105.00

Grapes – 100% Shiraz

Vineyard – Eden Valley

Harvest Dates – 9th – 27th April

Alcohol – 14.5%

pH – 3.52

Acidity – 6.02 g/L

Oak – 16% new and 84% seasoned French (87%) and American (13%) oak hogsheads for 18 months

This is the first release of The Wheelright, named after Johann Christian Henschke, the founding father and first-generation winemaker at Henschke.  A skilled stonemason and wheelwright, I imagine he would be pretty chuffed to taste this wine and learn that the sixth generation of Henschkes is currently driving this business forwards at a gathering momentum.  Made from low-yielding, biodynamically-grown, old-vine Shiraz, the vines were planted near the village of Eden Valley at 500m in 1968 by fourth-generation winemaker Cyril Henschke.  This vintage commemorates 150 years of Henschke winemaking, so it is somewhat of a landmark.  This is a rather different style of Shiraz to the others in this collection, given it comes from a higher site and a wetter one, too.  There is not the density of black fruit that one finds in Mount Edelstone or Hill of Grace in this beautiful wine and to use an ecclesiastical analogy, it seems as if the bass voices have taken time out from the choir and left the altos, tenors and sopranos to carry on with their anthems!  Red-fruited in style with floral notes and lip-smacking savouriness on the finish, this is a spicy, energetic Shiraz that seems to deliver its message effortlessly.  So many wines try so hard to impress, but The Wheelright keeps rolling along with a wonderful, measured tempo.  Vital, sonorous and energetic, while you can drink it today, I anticipate it will hold for two decades, such is the intricacy of its tannins and the crispness of the acidity on the finish.  18.5+/20 (Drink now – 2040)

2017 Henschke, Mount Edelstone Vineyard £144.00

Grapes – 100% Shiraz

Vineyard – Eden Valley

Harvest Dates – 19th – 24th April

Alcohol – 14.5%

pH – 3.59

Acidity – 6.4 g/L

Oak – 26% new and 74% seasoned French (86%) and American (14%) oak hogsheads for 18 months

Planted in 1912 and with an easterly aspect and lower altitude (400m) than The Wheelright, Prue Henschke describes this soil type in this historic vineyard as ‘a dream’.  Sandy loam over gravelly red clay and, below, layers of micaceous schist equal the perfect Henschke soil sandwich!  Prue recognises that these strata give her wines more vigour and more power, and I can echo these thoughts because this is one of the most expressive young Henschke wines I have seen.  There is no doubt that the flavours and perfumes in the glass directly reflect this precise site; this is all you can ask of a great wine.  The purity of the blackberry theme is sensational and while the French oak does what French oak always tries to do – add gravitas and detail – it is the 14% American oak from the Appalachian Mountains that adds style, richness, and a touch of glamour to proceedings.  After all of the action, the finish is respectfully prim, and tart and I love it when wines finish correctly on the palate with a ‘proper full stop’.  I am aware that I get rather over-excited about Mount Edelstone, and so I paid particular attention to how this wine opened up over the course of four days, and it simply unfurled an immense array of charm and intricacy that, on first tasting, was discreetly hidden behind panels of flavour.  This is a thrillingly controlled wine with invigorating flavours, and it will make three decades in a good cellar.  19+/20 (Drink 2025 – 2050)

2017 Henschke, Hill of Grace Vineyard £595.00

Grapes – 100% Shiraz

Vineyard – Eden Valley

Harvest Dates – 18th – 21st April

Alcohol – 14.5%

pH – 3.52

Acidity – 6.4 g/L

Oak – 29% new and 71% seasoned French (83%) and American (17%) oak hogsheads for 18 months

By the time Paul Alfred Henschke took over the reins at Henschke in 1914 the Hill of Grace vines were over 50 years old.  These pre-phylloxera vines are among the most famous Shiraz plantings in the world, and they happen to be looked after by a family whose own roots are as deep as these vines.   Slightly westward-facing and with a topsoil of windblown, high-nutrient loess, with red clay underneath and below this weathered blue slate, this is a truly incredible vineyard.  There is some soil variation across the site, so there are six picks for Hill of Grace and one for the Hill of Roses parcel.  This site has the same altitude as Mount Edelstone, but the wines could not be more different on the palate.  2017 Hill of Grace is inky black, and the nose is loaded with exotic spices, violets and chypre.  This is a masculine, power-packed wine with amazing amplitude and depth of flavour, but it is in no way heavy or ponderous.  There is a ‘cool vintage’ feel throughout, and this means that each indulgent black-cherry soaked sip is countered by revitalising grip and freshness, which is extremely enjoyable.  Like a black panther waiting to pounce, this is a youthful, vigorous Hill of Grace, and while this is not a showy, sweet-fruited, juicy vintage, it is definitely a wine that will appeal to true connoisseurs of this estate because we all know that the leaner, more athletic wines will make old bones with ease!  2017 Hill of Grace is akin to a full orchestra performing an intricate piece that requires perfect command of each and every instrument.  It is the antithesis of a greatest-hits, opera-light track packed with crowd-pleasing crashing and bashing, and this is why I really admire just how elegant this wine is in 2017.  19.5+/20 (Drink 2030 – 2055)

2017 Henschke, Hill of Roses Vineyard £315.00

Grapes – 100% Shiraz

Vineyard – Eden Valley

Harvest Date – 28th April

Alcohol – 14.5%

pH – 3.60

Acidity – 6.04 g/L

Oak – 25% new and 75% seasoned French (89%) and American (11%) oak hogsheads for 18 months

Hill of Roses is Prue’s baby.  Back in 1986, she made a selection from the vines in The Grandfathers Block of Hill of Grace and planted them in Post Office Block 3, with an idea to extend the vineyard in order to look at young vine HoG versus old vine HoG styles.  While these vines are now over 30 years old, they are not due to classify for Old Vine status for a further 20 years.  So, Henschke is using these vines as a test case, and I am told that some small parcels of fruit are already looking like they will make it into Hill of Grace in time.  There will come a time, who knows when, when there will be no more Hill of Roses because it will be fully involved in Hill of Grace.  Well, this is the aim – let’s see what happens.

In the meantime, Hill of Roses is developing a character all of its own.  In 2017, Hill of Roses is a genuine beauty.  I cannot imagine a rose with perfume as rare or complex as this wine, yet there is extraordinary florality here.   Plush, vigorous and amazingly impressive, this wine seems so close to perfection, but all the more fascinating because of its blemishes and slight imperfections.  While it lacks the experienced coachbuilding details of Hill of Grace, and perhaps the walnut veneer and figurine on the bonnet are not part of its make-up, it is a fabulous wine.  It is made in exactly the same way as the other three single-vineyard wines, and as every year passes, it gathers more and more complexity.  It was also amazing to see that, after four days open, with no wine preservation system used, its integrity and energy were as boisterous and engaging as when I first opened the bottle.  Hill of Roses seems to understand its position in the pecking order as an understudy to Hill of Grace, and I am certain that when the time comes, it will slip seamlessly into the role into which it was born.  19+/20 (Drink 2025 – 2045)