A cellar series dinner involving an exceptional, premium wine label and a top flight grill restaurant was always going to be popular.. yes, it’s a full house for the Henschke ‘Double Grace’ Dinner at BLACK by ezard.
The event opens up with a tasting of Henschke’s latest vintages. We’re taken to the private room with four different wines to sample. The selection is varied.
There’s the 2009 Louis Semillon, the 2009 Keyneton Euphonium, the 2009 Lenswood Abbot Prayer, and finally, the 2007 Cyril Henschke Cabernet Sauvignon.
The excited chatter in the room grows as the wine patrons move through the tasting and further people arrive. I enjoy the citrus plumes and peachy tones of the Semillon, it’s a marked comparison to our local Hunter Semillons. The blended reds are also very special, I’ve not tasted their like before. In fact, I’d be happy to add any of the wines to my small cellar.
Concluding the private room wine tasting, we adjourn to the BLACK bar area, awaiting our tables. Sipping a glass of the 2011 Henschke Peggy’s Hill Riesling, the wine deliberations continue a while longer.
I glance across and notice a table with numerous bottles of Henschke Hill of Grace, the wine now decanted, breathing .. now that’s something you don’t see very often. The sommeliers were obviously very busy just before our arrival.
The wait staff bring us to our tables, the menu looks to showcase some signature wines and BLACK dishes. Can’t wait to try.
First up, accompanying the Peggy’s Hill Riesling, we’re served a little food aperitif of Smoked Salmon, Pea Blinis, Dill Creme Fraiche, Salmon eggs. It’s a solid start, a classic seafood wine match.
The ‘wow factor’ kicks up a notch when we’re next presented with the BLACK signature dish, Organic Farm Egg, Potato Cream, Iberico Jamon, Herb Salad. The egg is poached, then fried in a brik pastry. Tapping through the crunchy netting, pushing the spoon into the egg, a warm yolk oozes out. It’s a wonderful modern dish: a bit of fusion, visually appealing, sweet and salty, textural contrasts abound.
What particularly surprises me (and others) is the wine match. Originally I thought egg, potato cream.. yes, there are a few white wines that could pair to that, but tonight they offer up the 2009 Henschke Johann’s Grenache Shiraz. The smoothly blended spicy dark-fruited wine complements well, cuts through the rich, almost “meaty” dish.
Several times during the evening we listen as Paul Boothby, Henschke Brand Development Manager, and Justine Henschke, 6th generation of the Henschke family, speak passionately about the winery that has been producing premium wines since 1868.
Justine’s parents, winemaker Stephen and botanist, viticulturist Prue have, for some thirty years, continued to grow the Henshcke reputation for premium as well as innovative wines. Prue, in particular, has championed ‘sustainability’ through the organic techniques she employs, such as under vine wheat straw mulching to preserve soil moisture, and the use of biodynamic compost produced from winery by-products. The influences of the moon cycles are also factored in, with the Hill of Grace grapes picked just before the full moon of Easter.
While Henschke have the traditional 150 year old, low yielding vines that they use for their signature single vineyard ‘reds’, Prue has, inspired by her overseas travels, started to dabble in newer grape varieties (eg. tempranillo, nebbiolo). They also purchased (back in 1981) and established another vineyard in Lenswood (Adelaide Hills).
Justine caps off her speech with a short video with dad, Stephen, wandering the vineyards, talking about the Henschke wine making philosophy. His respect for and love of the land is evident.
It’s time for the stars of the night to arrive, the 2006 Henschke Hill of Grace Shiraz and the 2007 Henschke Hill of Grace Shiraz.
The year to year tasting comparison should be interesting; 2007 was a tough vintage with the weather (limited rainfall, frosts) hammering harvest yields. I’m also interested to gauge the Hill of Grace against that other Australian red wine icon, Penfolds Grange.
The wines have been paired with the Wagyu Flank Steak, Potato Gratin, Roasted Carrots, Cumin Carrot Emulsion with Oxtail Jus. I’d read about the BLACK steak cooking technique of a sous-vide pre-cook, followed by a wood-fire grill finish, so was interested to taste the plated result. How is it ? Well I could, and will, use that clichéd ‘hot knife through butter’ analogy. There’s a slight char on the Wagyu, it’s nicely pink, the knife glides through.
The Hill of Grace wines with their spicy, blackberry aromas and hints of cedar are an excellent companion for the Wagyu (similarly I think the food drew more out all of the wines). While somewhat similar, the differences in the vintage are noticeable (a mellowness vs rawness ). Justine described the 2007 as a ‘surprise wine’.. it may have been my preferred wine.. and vs the Penfolds Grange.. well it’s certainly not as big a red, but next time I would reach for the Hill of Grace as my preference.
By the way, Justine mentioned that the family are trying to build up a complete series of the Hill of Grace vintages. They’re missing a couple of years (1959,1960).. seems they were just too good and her grandfather may have enjoyed them out of existence. If you can help, I’m sure Justine would be very happy to hear from you.
Closing the menu for the evening is an intriguing little cheese platter. They’ve included a Cabot Clothbound Cheddar, an English style natural rinded cheddar produced in Vermont (USA). Wrapped in muslin and aged more than 10 months, the cheese has a sort of sweet caramel, nutty flavour. Accompanying it is an Old Telegraph Road Fire Engine Red, a washed rind cow’s milk cheese produced locally by Jindi in Gippsland, Victoria (it’s actually named in honour of the fire engines and firemen who fought to defend the Jindi factory during the Black Saturday Bushfires in 2009).
There’s a nice surprise when, from the depths of their wine cellar, the BLACK sommelier unexpectedly produces some bottles of 1999 Henschke Nobel Rot Riesling to wine match with the cheese platter. It’s sweetness marries well and is a great way to wrap up an evening of Henschke indulgence.
For me it’s a final reminder that Henschke, working with the varied topology and fertile windswept lands of the Eden Valley, produce an excellent variety of wines.. and limiting yourself to their ‘reds’, albeit some absolutely amazing ‘reds’, is to miss out on something special.
The other aspect of the night that strikes me is the proud, honest, down to earth nature of the Henschkes themselves. It’s evident watching Stephen on the video walking, talking through the vineyards as well as chatting with Justine through the dinner. I overhear one excited diner recounting to Justine how, some twenty plus years ago, he spent a week skiing at an Australian ski resort. A new couple he’d just met were bringing bottles of these wonderful Henschke labelled wines out each night to share in the cabin.. it was a younger Stephen and Prue Henschke. Yes, it’s all about the wine, there are no tall poppies in this family.
.. and the food on the night ? Well, excellent really. It’s been a tempting taster of the BLACK menu. I must try some more.. although, at this point I should ‘self declare’ myself as a Teague Ezard fan, I thoroughly enjoy his two Melbourne dining establishments and have all his cookbooks.
C A Henshcke & Co
Henschke Road Keyneton SA Australia
+61 8 8564 8223
Monday to Friday 9am – 4.30pm
Saturday 9am – 12 noon
Public Holidays 10am – 3pm
Closed Sunday, New Year’s Day
Good Friday and Christmas Day
BLACK by ezard
Level G, Harbourside
80 Pyrmont Street Pyrmont NSW Australia
+61 1800 700 700