Growing old gracefully

(Image: Huon Hooke) (Photo: )

This picture may be taking unfair advantage of perspective, but it’s only enhancing something very evident: that Hill of Grace bottles have grown taller and taller with the passing of time. Cynics would say the bottles have gotten bigger as the price has gone up.

At a recent private dinner, the ’82, ’84, ‘85, ’87, ‘94, ‘95, ‘04 and ’05 were tasted, and indeed, consumed. With gusto.

The six bottles under cork demonstrated what all lovers of aged wine know: that there are no great old wines, only great old bottles (the unspoken meaning being that the condition of an old wine depends on a good cork).

The findings on the night overturned the usual order of things in a few respects. The ’94 is usually a top wine but this time, the ’95 was outstanding and the ’94 disappointing. As well, the ’85 – which has rated highly in the past – was very Bretty and not at all attractive. Our bottle of ’82 was starting to tire a little, mainly affecting the nose, but the palate was still together and delicious: fine, elegant, seamlessly textured and very complex. The ’84 was wonderful and got better and better in the glass.

The youngest pair were screw-capped and in pristine condition, both great wines, with my preference on the night swaying slightly towards the ’05. These are sublime wines of great character and charm, concentration and power as well as fine, supple tannins which melt in the mouth. Hill of Grace is certainly at a consistently higher level these days than ever before. It needs to be, at AUD $825 a bottle for the latest vintage, the 2012. The high price is both a discipline and a justification. A discipline because I doubt Henschke would ever offer a sub-standard Hill of Grace. They above all realise it has to perform. The price demands it.

A justification because the wine these days justifies the price. If compared to many of the super-expensive wines of the wider world (think California, Bordeaux, Brunello), Hill of Grace is one of the few that hold their place. The screw-cap is part of the equation. As Henschke see it, the screw-cap is a quality measure, just like good barrels, low yields, and careful winemaking.

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