Tonight I’m sampling a wine from a very important Australian producer, and while this isn’t the most famous wine from that producer, it is important and interesting nonetheless.
I have before me a bottle of Henschke Henry’s Seven Barossa 2008. It’s a blend of Shiraz, Grenache, and Viognier. As I mentioned when I wrote about the Domain Day wine a few weeks ago, the Barossa Valley is a bit of Australian holy ground, and best known for robust Shiraz. It is also the home of some of the oldest vines in Australia, many of them Grenache bush vines, meaning vines not trained to wires.
If Barossa is holy ground, Henschke is Australian divinity. A family run winery since 1868, it has had many generations working its vines and making wine over almost the last decade and a half. (Note to self, mark the calendar to buy some 150th anniversary wines around 2018.) The current generation consists of husband and wife Stephen (winemaker) and Prue (vigneron), as well as at least one Dachshund named Cassie. They make a range of wines, red, white, and sparkling, with their winery based in Eden Valley, a cool subregion of Barossa. The have vineyards in Eden Valley in Barossa and Lenswood in the Adelaide Hills, which gives them a range of grapes, with an emphasis on cooler climates.
Having hit on second wines yesterday, it’s worth talking a bit about Henschke in terms of icon wines. So with the great houses of France, particularly Bourdeaux, there is the notion of grand vin which carries the house name, and possibly a second wine with a different but evocative name. In Australia, this is turned on its head. Henschke has an icon wine, Hill of Grace, but it represents a small fraction of its production. It is a rare and beautiful wine which I’ve only tasted once, and while when it springs to mind when people mention Henschke, it is not what most people have tasted when they’ve had a bottle with a Henschke label on it. Rather, most have had something like the Henry’s Seven in front of me. And while Henschke has a range of wines, it doesn’t really touch the low end, in that while this might be one of their more affordable wines, it’s neither cheap nor cheaply made.
As I mentioned, this wine is a blend and sourced from the Barossa Valley, in particular Eden Valley. The blend, Shiraz, Grenache and Viognier (with 2% Mourvèdre according to the tasting notes), conjures forth thoughts of the Rhône. I’m not sure in which region it would be considered a traditional blend – in the Côte-Rôtie you certainly see Syrah co-fermented with a considerable whack of Viognier, but I tend to think of Grenache as more typical of the Southern Rhône (and Spain of course). But I’m a student, so for all I know there is an AOC that has been doing SGV for years. But Australia is not bound by French AOC rules, so while things like Syrah/Shiraz and Cabernet-Sauvignon blends are uncommon in France (except for one region I can’t remember right now) they can be commonplace in Australia.
So this wine – very nice. Friends brought it when we hosted them for Thanksgiving dinner a few weeks back, and as we had already selected some wines to go with the turkey, we set this one aside. I wish I had some of the Pomerol from last night to taste side by side, as this couldn’t be more different. While it’s a similar age (this is roughly six months younger – that crazy hemisphere thing) it’s from a different planet. I have a bias in favour of New World wines in general, and so when I was asked to describe how to pick an Australian Shiraz, I said that a taster should look up from their notes and clear their mind with a swig in the mouth. If the first thing that comes to mind is “damn, this is delicious” then it’s an Australian Shiraz.
Seriously though, this is a much more fruit forward style. Shiraz makes a much fuller wine, and while people speak of Grenache in France as being a lighter wine, in Barossa from old vines it is like a grape shotgun at point blank range. The Viognier adds aromatics and apparently helps in colour fixing in co-fermentation. In this case it certainly keeps up in terms of palate weight. This is a delightful blend, with intensity and concentration, but without heavy handedness.
Clear and bright, medium-plus ruby with quick, thick pale ruby legs.
Clean and developing with medium-plus intensity and sweet spice, fresh raspberries, blackberries, and a bit of liquorice.
Dry (though the fruit is so fresh and sweet, I had to think twice), medium acidity, medium soft tannins, medium-plus body, medium-plus alcohol, medium-plus flavour intensity, with strong blackberry, raspberry, liquorice, sweet spice, and a bit of old oak. Medium-plus length with some plums on the finish.
This is a very good wine – intense across the board, and so balanced with medium-plus being the norm for the scores. The acidity is not quite up to the rest of the scores, but it does not put the wine out of balance. The complexity is only in its infancy, in that I expect it to be more rounded with some cellaring. I think this wine will improve over the next five years at least.