Triumph in challenging year

by Ray Jordan

Describing the 2019 Barossa and Eden Valley vintage as challenging would be akin to the Black Knight describing the loss of his arms as “only a flesh wound.”

The good thing though is that it was a very good vintage, albeit one which tested vignerons, winemakers and nerves.

On the release of the 2019 Henschke Hill of Grace, viticulturist Prue Henschke described the litany of weather events that conspired to make life hell for many producers.

“After a dry winter, we lost much of the vineyards to frost in September and then another just as the flavours were developing, then hail, rain in November and December before a hot summer. Including the hottest day on record,” she said.
Dealing with single-vineyard wines such as the Hill of Grace means there’s no option to blend with other vineyards in the case of a production shortfall.

The relatively small volume produced on the Hill of Grace and Mount Edelstone vineyards from the 2019 vintage prompted the decision this year to release two additional wines, these ones from the Henschke museum – a 2008 Hill of Grace and a 2013 Mount Edelstone – just to ensure customers had access to these highly sought-after wines.

The highlight of the release is always going to be Hill of Grace, Australia’s most revered single vineyard shiraz. But at the same time comes the release of other single vineyard wines, the Mount Edelstone shiraz, Cyril Henschke cabernet sauvignon and the most recently added Wheelwright shiraz.

The famous Hill of Grace vines.


Weather events like those experienced in 2018 and 2019 test winemaking, but more so viticulture.

Winemaker Stephen Henschke acknowledges the fundamental and vital contribution of his wife Prue.

“While the hands of many generations have nurtured these vineyards, the family has been blessed by Prue's incredible contribution’” He said. “Her dedication to nurturing the land and regenerating our vineyards and soils with organic and biodynamic practices over the past 40 years has been vital.

“Prue has dramatically improved the fruit quality as well as vine resilience to weather extremes.

Prue Henschke working the vines.

"Although the yields were minuscule, the quality produced by these old vines shines through. 2019 is comparable to vintages such as 1966, 1977, 1983, 1995, 2008 and 2013, all of which were warm and dry seasons that produced small, but extremely high-quality yields.”

Tasting the new release of Hill of Grace and the other single vineyard wines is a highlight of the tasting calendar. For me the quality of the three shiraz wines was evident immediately and the disappointment is only that there is not more of them.

But in many ways the real highlight for me was the Cyril Henschke Cabernet sauvignon. Stephen Henschke agreed that cabernet was a standout variety of the vintage, and this is certainly one of the best of these wines I have tasted.
Of course, these wines aren’t cheap. Far from it. The Hill of Grace 2019 is a cool $975 while the museum 2008 is $1250.

The Hill of Grace will be one of the highlights at this International Shiraz Challenge which I am jointly hoisting with WA Winemaker Larry Cherubino on 18 May at the Cherubino cellar door in Margaret River.

I have put together a stella line up of wines from Australia, France, New Zealand and South Africa in what will be an outstanding tasting event.

Henschke Hill of Grace shiraz 2019 ($975)
The latest release of Australia’s greatest single vineyard red wine.  It is another stella wine from this small but wonderfully expressive vintage in Eden Valley. The colour is typically bright and brilliant. The nose reveals that mix of plums and prune with a little dark chocolate and lifted sage bush wintergreen spiciness. The heart of soul of the wine are the vines that are now more than 160 years old, although more recent plantings are now included in the final blend. There is a dry and earthy slightly savoury character here that brings further interest to the palate. Exceptional.

Score: 98/100 Cellar: 40 years



Henschke Mount Edelstone 2019 ($260)
This small vintage proved to be exceptional for this old vineyard now managed with organic and biodynamic practices. The colour is brilliant and vibrant, pulling you in from the outset. The nose shows those beautiful dusty plum red fruits with a chalky sage bush character. Brilliantly integrated with a seamless mix of 20% new and 80% seasoned French and American oak. There’s a spicy character there which is accentuated on the nose by the oak, but then the creamy sweet fruit takes its lead from the American oak. Outstanding wine.
Score: 97/100 Cellar: 30 years

Henschke Cyril Henschke cabernet sauvignon 2019 ($180)

This is an exceptional wine from an exceptional vintage. It’s 100% cabernet from the Henschke’ Eden valley property. Beautiful aromas of distinctive blackcurrant with those slightly leafy spicy notes from the region. It’s more in the medium bodied zone such is its elegance and poise. Seamless oak and tannin support. The intensity of the fruit has completely absorbed the 32% new oak contribution. Fine grained and regal.
Score: 96/100 Cellar: 30 years

Henschke The Wheelwright 2019 ($155)
This wine is only in its fifth release as a single vineyard wine. It comes from a small patch planted by Cyril Henschke in 1968 in the central Eden Valley. The aromas reveal a mix of dark plum and blackberry merged with a little chocolate and balancing chalky sage bush characters. The palate is deeply concentrated yet has a stylish plush elegance. Lots of those dark plummy characters emerge on the palate as it breathes and extend through to a very long finish. Smooth and seamless with the oak well integrated.
Score: 95/100 Cellar: 20 years

Henschke Mount Edelstone shiraz 2013 ($315)
This was a warm and dry season with low yields similar to the current 2019. It almost seems to be in a time warp as nothing has moved. Intense dark fruits with a seamlessly woven palate. The dry and spicy sage bush characters emerge. Chalky dry tannins with a slightly spicy edge to them. Has a slightly grainy feel which adds to its appeal. Reveals the remarkable ageing potential for these wines.
Score: 96/100 Cellar: 20 years

Henschke Hill of Grace 2008 ($1250)
A vintage that was similar to the current 2019 with the dry and warm conditions contributing to low volumes of excellent concentrated fruit. This is just starting to move into its work. The richness and power is evident immediately. On the nose dark chocolate and black fruits with a leathery spicy character. On the palate deep dark secrets reveal with concentration and power. This was the 50th anniversary release of this great wine.
Score: 98/100 Cellar: 20 years