Written by Magdalena Sienkiewicz
It is hard to believe it has been a year since we formed a closer relationship with Barossa’s great Hentley Farm winery after the founder, Keith Hentschke, visited us in the Kentish countryside last year. At the time, we held an impressive collection of Keith’s older releases, including the inaugural bottlings of his iconic Clos Otto Shiraz from 2005 which, shortly after Keith’s visit, travelled all the way back to their home cellars in Australia – no wonder given we were selling six bottles for £510.00 against 800 Aussie dollars per bottle back at home. Little remains of our library collection however, it still ignited Keith’s interest and prompted a curious look at our shelves during his second visit to us, which was earlier this week.
We always enjoy Keith’s company, he is witty and laid-back. Four hours of chatter and sampling whizzed by in a flash. We had the pleasure of sampling Keith’s newest releases which are a mixture of 2016s and 2017s. Clos Otto, Von Kasper Cabernet, H-Block Shiraz, The Creation Shiraz and The Quintessential Shiraz Cabernet blend are currently set back one year however, Keith and his team are actively working on aligning their releases in the near future.
Immediately after sitting down for the tasting, Keith could not help but comment on Stu’s recent article about Penfolds, which initiated fascinating discussions. In the article, amongst the list of our collective recommendations tipped to be a better choice to Penfolds wines and their extortionate prices (you can read the full article here), Hentley Farm Quintessential Shiraz Cabernet wins over the famous Bin 389, with a score which is 4 points higher, not to mention the savings to our pockets… Keith was chuffed with such a tribute and remembering our love and preference for Cabernet Sauvignon from his previous visit, assured us that the new 2016 bottling had been blended especially for us, with the proportion of Cabernet increased to 49% with only marginal dominance of Shiraz.
Interestingly, Keith is extremely modest with his impressive dominance on the critic scores front and more importantly, he doesn’t chase for press favours. Hentley Farm have the highest number of wines with scores of 95 points and above, compared to any other neighbouring winery – and the list of names is striking with Torbreck, Greenock Creek and Seppeltsfield being the tip of the iceberg. Still, Keith sees himself as a winegrower with a passion for the Barossa and the unique sites he is so lucky to have under his helm. He supports his local community with the annual Barossa Valley Wine Show being the only single show he participates in with a feeling of duty. He also explained the respect which James Halliday carries amongst the entire Australian wine community, hence his only submissions.
Amongst a number of the aforementioned grand wineries in the neighbourhood, Keith remains focused on bringing a point of difference to the classic Barossa styles. Make no mistake, Hentley Farm wines possess a beguiling richness and beautiful textures that one expects to find in Barossa however, there is also an overwhelming sense of harmony, poise and a gracious freshness throughout the range. As such, their wines hold a unique sense of place and character, which we fell in love with at our first exposure and we continue to admire and cherish today. A stunning example of the sheer quality of Hentley Farm wines is the 2016 The Marl Grenache. Ultimately representing an introduction to the range, it offers immense drinking pleasure with alluring perfume and lush fruit - simply a joyous drink. Perhaps an underappreciated variety in the UK however, it is loved and widely enjoyed across Australia. James Halliday rewarded 2016 The Marl Grenache a staggering 96 Points and a Star for Special Value. Indeed, it is only £15.95 per bottle and we couldn’t agree more.
Keith began to describe the reason behind the unique style and supported what Andrew Quin, the chief winemaker explained to us during their visit last year. The fruit on Hentley’s sites is carefully looked after in order to retain the natural harmony (found in the highest quality of vines) and bright freshness of each variety. All fruit is picked at the optimum ripeness levels, which may seem like an industry standard technique and requirement however, not for many in the Barossa where it is often overlooked or
even purposefully missed, pushing the ripeness levels to a maximum or even leaving it on the vines until it is basically overripe. Hentley’s care for the fruit extends not only to the vineyard but to the winery as well. Delicate basket press is used to gently extract the juice, which again helps to maintain the soft texture of their wines and avoid any sharpness or harshness of acidity and tannins.
Another major factor to the unique character of their wines is quite simply their exceptional sites. Situated at the iconic Seppeltsfield road, Hentley Farm vineyards are located in the V-shaped hollow, directly opposite Greenock Creek winery. Various carefully selected blocks spread across the hill with great diversity of east and west facing slopes and altitude variances, including one of the coolest blocks in the close surrounding area at the bottom of the hollow. This variety of exceptional sites allows Hentley Farm to create some of the most exciting single block wines to come out of Barossa Valley, as well as exciting and unique blends.
Keith’s dedication to Barossa Valley is amazing although, he does betray it in one aspect. As a keen cyclist, he openly admitted that Adelaide Hills are better for it and in his opinion, they offer the best cycling routes and views in the world. A comment instantly picked up by Stu, who is a rather competitive cyclist himself…
At this stage, we were enjoying Keith’s Cabernets which are flawless, almost textbook incarnations of the classic varietal notes of eucalyptus, violets and blackcurrants - notes which are often neglected or purposefully tamed nowadays, especially in Australia and the USA, where the most famous Cabernets often become its own caricatures, overblown and over extracted, carrying very little (if anything) of varietal character.
We were chuffed to inform Keith that he managed to convert a good friend of ours, who is long on mature Burgundy and Bordeaux and stays away from young wines and rich styles found in the New World and yet, he fell in love with Hentley Farm wines and continues to express his surprise with a gamut of a life changing discovery. Keith welcomed the comment with a mischievous chuckle and immediately begin to express his own frustrations with the expectance and dominating demand for the rich and heavy styles of Australian wines (particularly in the Barossa), which effectively paints the global conception of their wines. While leading tastings, Keith admits being repeatedly asked only for samples of Clos Otto Shiraz and The Beast or simply ‘the biggest Shiraz you have’, which is not a bad thing at all since these are exceptional wines and we were looking forward to sampling them ourselves however, it leaves a little bit of a heartache seeing not enough interest in other styles and varietals, which in our opinion, people simply miss out on…
Needless to say, sampling through Hentley’s new releases was utterly joyous, with every wine providing much pleasure. Keith asked us to name our top wines of the day - Stu voted for Von Kasper Cabernet and The Quintessential Shiraz Cabernet. I struggled to limit the choice to two wines and ultimately failed the task – a failure which, for once, was met with huge approval. Cabernets were stunning, so was The Quintessential blend and so was The Creation Shiraz, which I find mightily impressive with its undeniable intensity (the winemaking process here is almost identical to that of Clos Otto), deceptively dark in colour, it carries a great sense of harmony and elegance, which is very welcoming. One of Keith’s favourites, The Beauty Shiraz, is another highlight which is a beautifully feminine expression of Barossa Shiraz, wonderfully fragrant (thanks to a touch of viognier) and simply irresistible.
We cannot finish without mentioning Clos Otto Shiraz, which is a remarkable wine and one which sticks in your memory with much fondness. Putting personal preferences aside, both Stu and I agree that the H-Block Shiraz Cabernet tipped the scales for being the stand-out wine of the day. Deeply complex and expressive, it possesses a striking balance with layers and layers of deliciousness and great textures flowing effortlessly on your palate. We could not expect anything less from a blend of the best blocks, which are Clos Otto Shiraz and von Kasper Cabernet. Thank you, Keith!
Hentley Farm The Marl Grenache 2016
96 Points - James Halliday
You see the attention to detail with this wine: 94% on skins for 6 days, 6% for 52 days, all picking batches kept separate, matured in used oak for 7 months. This is space age Barossa Valley grenache, showing it is possible to make great wine at 13.5% alcohol without any confection/Turkish delight characters, just a delicious flower vase collection of red fruits. Big time bargain.
£15.95 per bottle
Hentley Farm Von Kasper Cabernet 2015
97 Points - Magda Sienkiewicz
You cannot escape the expectation of great intensity here with deep, saturated black core however, the old saying is – never judge a book by its cover. Incredibly aromatic and uplifting nose filled with blackcurrant, mulberry and eucalyptus. The palate is expansive and expressive. Abundant fruit takes the lead over beautifully judged acidity and svelte tannins. Incredible poise and polish. Multi-dimensional and rich without heaviness or over extraction. Covering every facet of your palate and leading to a long and elegant finish, this is a sensational Cabernet which deserves a firm place amongst the very best of Barossa Valley and Australia as a whole.
£62.50 per bottle
Hentley Farm H Block Shiraz Cabernet 2015
97 Points - James Halliday
A 67/33% blend, fermented separately, 9 days on skins, matured for 22 months in French oak (50% new), blended after 6 months in oak. As expected, a very complex wine, the complexity primarily coming from the duel between blackberry and blackcurrant fruit, oak a second for both parties. So yes, oak is obvious, yet integrated, and impossible to dislike. The tannins are impeccable in usual Hentley Farm style, and when you wrap it all up, it's irresistible.
£115.95 per bottle
Hentley Farm The Quintessential Shiraz Cabernet 2015
97 Points - James Halliday
A 60/40% blend, destemmed and crushed, 70% with 35 days on skins, 30% 8 days on skins, matured in French oak (30% new) for 12 months. The blackcurrant/cassis/herb notes of the cabernet unexpectedly come out on top of the blackberry and plum of the shiraz. This medium-bodied wine has been carefully handled in the winery during both the fermentation and maturation phases, emerging with absolutely perfect balance.
£44.50 per bottle
Hentley Farm Clos Otto Shiraz 2015
97 Points - James Halliday
Individual estate parcels, machine-harvested, destemmed and crushed, open-fermented with cultured yeast, 8 days on skins, matured in French oak (70% new) for 22 months, blended after 6 months in oak. An exotic bouquet with new shoe leather and a sprinkle of sultry spices, the full-bodied palate with supple blackberry fruits to the fore and an underlay of integrated French oak. There is a finesse to the overall texture, structure and flavour that is remarkable.
£122.50 per bottle
Hentley Farm The Old Legend Grenache 2016
96 Points - James Halliday
Estate-grown, 15% picked early with a large percentage of whole bunches in the ferment adding plush fruit and vibrancy, 60% spent 40 days on skins for earth, spice and tannins; 20% was picked late in the season providing richness and colour. As intended, the result is a rich and powerful wine with texture and structure to burn. Closer to traditional style, but without confection. Will be long lived.
£43.00 per bottle
96 Points - James Halliday
Medium- to full-bodied, redolent with blackberry and satsuma plum fruit,
with very good oak integration, balance and length.
£26.95 per bottle