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Monthly Archives: June 2013

  • Ontology and Evanescence – 50 years of Hill of Grace 1958-2008

    Edgar's been spoilt yet again this month, this time with Henschke's Hill of Grace...

    Imagine a barn-like room next to an old winery in full harvest mode.  Every time the doors open, you can hear the bustle, and the smells of fermentation waft through.  Inside there are long tables arranged into a square shape, and around the square sit the Henschke family, a selection of the world’s leading authorities on Australian wine including James Halliday, Jancis Robinson and Lisa Perotti-Brown, and then there is you.  On the table in front of you there are 48 separate glasses with vintage numbers next to them and some agent of divine providence is pouring tasting measures of Hill of Grace.  For me, this was a dream come true.

    In a few hours of heightened perception we tasted through every vintage since the first: 1958.  This would be special by anybody’s standards, but the sense of occasion was heightened further when Stephen Henschke remarked that it was lucky the first bottle of ‘58 was not corked, as there was only one other left at the winery.   Truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

    Hill of Grace is the most revered single-vineyard wine in Australia.  It was not the first, not even at Henschke: Mt Edelstone dates back to 1952, and the plaudits it received for the 1956 vintage encouraged Cyril Henschke to branch out further with Hill of Grace.  The vineyard itself is a picture-postcard collection of ancient vines planted by settlers from Germany 150 years ago.  In the background the Gnadenberg church proudly watches over the vineyard.  More prosaic custodianship comes in the form of Johann Henschke’s exhortation to clean shoes in the anti-phylloxera bath.  However, there is a prelapsarian feeling that nothing bad could happen here, in the beautiful Eden Valley.  The theme of custodianship was taken up by Prue Henschke, whose biodynamic methods have breathed life into the soils.  These old vines are not irrigated and produce incredibly concentrated, low pH musts of extraordinary aromatic intensity.  When we tasted the wines, the signature of Chinese five spice recurred throughout, really highlighting that incredible alchemy which allows a wine to express a sense of place.  Grange, eat your heart out.

    Stephen introduced the wines broadly by decade.  1958 to 1969 were characterised by ripeness.  At the time there was a tax on spirits but none on wine, with the result that producers tended to make more alcoholic styles.  Open fermenters were used and winemaking was fairly “raw”.  The 1970s saw a move towards fruit and away from leather and rusticity.  Pressings were no longer used, ferments were temperature-controlled and smaller oak was favoured.  The 80’s saw a more overt American oak style and increasing technical mastery of all aspects of the winemaking process under Stephen.  Whereas the 90’s saw more French oak and a mastery of the viticulture under Prue: composting, using mulches and cane pruning are some examples. 

    For me, the themes which ran through all the wines were:

    • The tannins are exceptional.  They are powerful but none of the wines was drying out.  There are so many layers of texture here.
    • The power is restrained at all times.  After 48 samples of Australian Shiraz, nobody had a tired palate.  Even vintages with higher alcohols and full body were incredibly balanced.
    • The colour development was extremely consistent.  The oldest vintages were a russet brown, and the youngest were inky purple, and all the wines in between seemed to be a bridge between the hues of its neighbours.  A small point, but one that illustrates the consistency of the fruit quality from the old vines. 
    • This consistency allows the vineyard character to shine.  The five-spice note kept coming back.
    • 1986 was a watershed in terms of maturity and style.  The older vintages were more Pinot-like, whereas the younger ones showed more restrained power.
    • The wines seemed to show their best between 20 and 30 years old.  However, there was also a drinking window for the younger vintages thanks to the exuberance of the fruit on release.

    This tasting encapsulated what is great about wine; that which takes it beyond sheer deliciousness and into the realm of fine art.  On the one hand, being able to identify a vineyard character taps into our human desire to classify, recognise and know.  All too often, vineyard character is elusive; here it came across with vivid force.  On the other hand, tasting so many vintages at once evokes the aesthetics of impermanence.  Tasting 1985 Hill of Grace was like seeing the first cherry blossom fall from a tree clouded in white.  Great wine is not just great per se, but great for what it reminds us about life itself.  That’s why I decided to call this piece “ontology and evanescence” instead of “50 shades of Grace”, which is what you were probably expecting.

    For a link to the article written by Jancis Robinson:

  • Vive la France

    Yes, we may be Italian specialists with Italian names and a Sicilian place of birth but that doesn't mean we can't think outside the boot.

    Our Senior Buyer, Edgar, has been touring France and working closely with producers to bring you some of the best French wines on offer that express what we see as four key factors critical for accompanying fine dining today: minerality, typicity, ecologically sympathetic production and family domaines.

    Minerality can mean many things to many people, from gun flint to lack of oak and high, energetic acidity – but however you define it, Sylvain Gaudron’s Vouvrays show it in spades. Our new St Josephs are also fantastic examples, and their maker Guy Farge defines minerality as "the taste of spring water"! Ponder with a bottle of Terre de Granit to understand his point.

    Typicity is so well illustrated by the new Vin de Pays d’Ardeche from St Desirat – rarely does a wine of this price point so clearly shout where it is from.

    Ecological concerns are increasingly important for enlightened winemakers and all these wines reflect this to a greater or lesser degree. Try Montvac’s incredible Vacqueyras to see the results in the glass – happy in the knowledge that the wine went into the bottle on a fruit day!

    As for family domaines, none is a better illustration of this than the incredible Château Mille Roses, home of the Faure family, and a rarity in Margaux which is increasingly home to big investors. But more important than any theme is how the wines taste in the glass, and we commend them to you to try!


    Speak to your account manger to take a closer look at our French wine selection.

  • A sizzling Spanish tasting with an Italian twist!

    Will Phaure gives us a blow by blow account from a tasting in the depths of the New Forest...

    11.05 We arrive at Limewood Hotel, situated in the heart of the New Forest. The sun is shining, the skies are blue and the Ferrari is parked strategically outside the main door. Had one of our customers arrived already? Panic - I am sure the tasting invitation said 12pm.

    11.55 The wines finally leave the fridges and arrive in beautiful silver ice buckets ready for our wonderful Spanish producers to tell their stories. At 12pm on the dot the first bottle of cava is uncorked and the tasting begins.

    12.15 The sound of another Italian sports car roars gently up the mile long drive and parks next to the Ferrari. The fact that there are signs stating no parking in front of the main door is irrelevant. We did not mind, the hotel certainly did not mind, but I think the Ferrari owner did!

    12.17 Customers of Enotria get out of the Maserati and head towards our Spanish tasting. The party has certainly begun now for it is Julian Leefe-Griffiths, MD of The Black Pig and the George and Dragon in Tunbridge Wells who has arrived accompanied by the one and only James Pullen, owner of The Griffin Inn in Fletching!

    The sun is shining and the wines are tasting really well with fantastic comments from our customers - with 30 customers, 3 producers (Erick, Manuel and Imna) and 7 colleagues present the tasting is in full throttle!

    16:00 The tasting officially finishes.

    5.17 The tasting actually finishes and the Maserati is now parked on the front lawn...

     That’s just how we roll.

  • Enotria Tasting at the Griffin Inn, East Sussex

     James Pullan from the Griffin Inn (, East Sussex reports on a recent wine tasting:

    On Thursday 9th May the "innovative, didactic and sybaritic" Griffin Wine Club continued its world wine tour with a visit to South America (specifically Argentina and Chile, not Bolivia, Peru and Columbia!). Extremely well-attended by the membership, our host on the evening was Harriet Kininmonth from Enotria, the Indiana Jones of the wine world, who boldly goes…etc etc.

     We tasted an eclectic selection of 4 whites and 6 reds, including the delicious and highly idiosyncratic Elki Pedro Ximenez and the fantastic value De Gras Viognier. Stars of the reds; the Pinot Noir Vina Leyda proved that Chile can in fact compete with any New World Pinot producer. The wonderfully named "Humberto Canale" Cabernet Franc from the wilds of Patagonia was an absolute show stopper.

     With Harriet and yours truly guiding our punters through the oenological delights of the Andes and Patagonia, and having armed them all with the Enotria tasting wheel, much banter and audience participation ensued, the screws at the back of the tongue having been considerably loosened by Malbec, Pinot and Cabernet.

     An extremely enjoyable Wine Club night drew to a belated close at 1am with the spittoons that had been provided, unsurprisingly untouched!



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