Henschke & Torbreck icon wines
(Picture: Stephen and Prue Henschke at the 2010 Hill of Grace launch with Barossa artist Rod Schubert, who produced a triptych to mark the occasion, based on the old gnarled 1860s Hill of Grace vines)
What a strange business this is: one week I’m writing about sub-$10 wines for the Sydney Morning Herald, the next about $700 bottles. The $700-plus wines are Henschke Hill of Grace 2010 and Torbreck The Laird 2010, the new flagship shirazes from two prestige South Australian wineries.
I wonder how many readers are interested in hearing about wines they are never likely to buy? Should I stick to mid-market vino?
Then I open The Australian Financial Review to read the car reviews of the last two weekend editions, which have critiqued several automobiles priced in the $150,000 to $250,000 range (several Maseratis, Mercedes sports models, an Aston Martin, etc) and I ask myself whether there is a pornography of luxury wine just as there is a pornography of luxury cars?
As a wine drinker who doesn’t buy $700 bottles himself, I’m always interested in the new vintages of these wines, and assume others are, too. I welcome any feedback from readers on this topic.
The 2010 Hill of Grace (tasting), released on May 1 at $699 a bottle, is a great wine, undoubtedly one of the greatest ever to appear under this hallowed label. I’ve rated it the best, the only one to receive 99 points, with the ’05 (tasting) and ’06 (tasting) sitting on 98 and the ’09 (tasting), 97. There hasn’t been a less than stellar Hill of Grace for quite a few years. Indeed, I’m sure the Henschke family would rather not release a wine at all than release a sub-standard wine, as there is now so much riding on such an expensive, rare wine.
The pressure wasn’t always so intense. A friend recently showed me a Henschke price-list from January 1989, which lists the 1985 HOG (tasting) at $17.70. That’s an almost 40-fold increase in 26 years. The price for the 2010 has jumped 7.5% from the 2009, and the winery’s PR saw fit to issue a statement regarding the price-rise.
“… there are quite a few years since 2000 where Hill of Grace has either not been released (’00, ’03, ’11) or will be released in very small amounts (’13, ’14), so to protect the future of this heritage wine we have implemented a small price rise – as you will have seen on the press release yesterday the RRP will be $699 (as compared to $650 last year)”.
The 40-fold jump is really just keeping pace with other great wines of the wider world. At least HOG has a 53-year history of production, unlike many other similarly pricey wines which have a very short history, such as Torbreck’s The Laird ($750 – tastings). The first Laird was the 2005. What these wines have in common, however, is that they’re both single-vineyard wines made from old vines with distinguished histories of yielding outstanding fruit and great wines.
The Laird’s price has actually fallen, from $900 for the 2008 (tasting) to $750 for the 2010. (The 2009 was not released.) No doubt this reflects the recent change of ownership and the exit of founder Dave Powell from the winery.
The grapes for The Laird come from a vineyard at Marananga, formerly owned by Malcolm Seppelt, which Torbreck purchased outright last year. While The Laird 2010 is not my favourite style of shiraz, it is a great wine of its type, and it’s safe to assume it will be a fantastic drink when fully mature in 25 years or so. With Penfolds Grange, by way of comparison – again, not a wine I enjoy much when it’s young – we have a 60-year history that enables us to say that when fully mature, a great Grange is a magical experience. Under the new Torbreck ownership, The Laird is headed down a similar path.