Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Henry's Drive Vignerons

Last week I was invited to a dinner with Kim Longbottom and Renae Hirsch from the Henry's Drive winery in Padthaway, Australia. If you are as unfamiliar with this region of Australia as I am, Padthaway is part of the Limestone Coast in the southeastern corner of Australia. Kim and her late husband Mark became the owners and operators of Henry's Drive Winery, although the property has been in the Longbottom family for 3 generations. They planted their first vines in 1992 and released their first vintage in 1996. Renae Hirsch has been the master wine maker for the past two years. Although she has followed in the footsteps of Sarah and Sparky Marquis (Molly Dooker wines) and Chris Ringland, Renae has impressed me with her own blends in the most recent vintages.

Henry's Drive has an interesting history that the Longbottom's have preserved with their winery. Back in the 19th century, the only mode of transportation was by horse-drawn coach. The coach service was owned by Mr. Henry John Hill and he drove the coach thru the exact property where Mark and Kim built their vineyard and winery. The coach routes back then were known as drives, thus the name Henry's Drive.

The history from this area and postal theme has also been carried over to the names of each of their wines: Parson's Flat for the early settlers of Padthaway; Henry's Drive for the coach operator; Dead Letter's Office for the postal workers who opened undeliverable mail; Pillar Box for the red mailboxes that first appeared in the 1850's when the first postage stamp was introduced by neighboring South Wales; Trial of John Montford who robbed the mail coach a few miles from Padthaway making off with 75 Australian pounds (approx $131); Morse Code for the first wireless communication system; and the Postmistress which is a topic for discussion while drinking their wines. Additionally, the labels for these wines match the names perfectly.

We started with the Postmistress Blanc de Blanc - this 2009 sparkling wine is made from 100% Chardonnay grapes sourced from a single family vineyard in Padthaway. This is a really nice wine to serve by itself or with an aperitif of scallops and oysters. A plate of fresh fruit/berries would be nice too but be careful that the sweetness from each don't turn into a battle. For a fraction of the price of Champagne, this sparkling wine is a great buy at $20. I generally don't like sparkling wines but this one changed my mind.

Next up was the Morse Code 2009 Chardonnay - this vintage is made from 100% chardonnay grapes also sourced from the Estate's Padthaway vineyards. This wine has nice fruit forward tastes of lemon and melon along with toasted spice and subtle oakiness. I'm a big fan of Brie and other creamy cheeses which would go well with this Chardonnay. Another good buy at $9.00. It will be released in the US by year end.

That was the extent of the white wines. Now we come to the big reds.

The entry level red was the Morse Code 2008 Shiraz made from 100% Shiraz grapes which had a nice red fruit flavor along with some spices and mint. The majority of this wine was unoaked which allowed the fruit to come forward. A nice introduction wine that retails for $9.

Probably the most recognized Henry's Drive wine would be the Pillar Box Red. The 2008 is a blend of 66% Shiraz, 25% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 9% Merlot which is dense and juicy with flavors of blackcurrant and cherries along with dried thyme and some oak. This is an easy drinking wine that retails for $12.

The 2007 Pillar Box Reserve Shiraz is a dark inky colored wine with intense blackcurrant and plum flavors along with some graphite, cedar and spices. The tannins were firm yet smooth. The Pillar Box Reserve Shiraz retails for $20.

My favorite was the 2007 Dead Letter Office Shiraz which is made from 100% Shiraz grapes from two wine regions - Padthaway and McLaren Vale. This Shiraz had a great nose of red fruits, red licorice and vanilla. The palate starts with lots of McLaren Vale berry and red currant fruits with some spicy notes while the Padthaway character comes thru on the mid-palate with spearmint and lavender. Throughout dinner, I kept tasting this wine and it continud to get better each time. This retails for $28, but is better than many wines that are priced higher than this.

My second favorite was probably the 2007 Trial of John Montford Cabernet. For Cabernet fans, give this a try. The 90% Cabernet Sauvignon was blended with 10% Cabernet Franc. You are hit quickly by the heavy cherry flavors along with some toasted spices. However, the Cabernet Franc mellows out the Cabernet Sauvignon some and adds a little violet to the nose and dried herbs to the palate. This had some chewy tannins but a nice long finish. This wine should only get better with age. The John Montford retails for $30.

The last three wines were Shiraz or Shiraz blends - The Henry's Drive 2007 Shiraz, Henry's Drive 2007 Reserve Shiraz and the 2006 Parson's Flat Shiraz/Cabernet Sauvignon. These are rather complex wines with dark berry fruits, spices and chocolate. The tannins were a little chewy yet. They ranged in price from $35-$50, which I feel is a little high for these wines.

Each of these red wines tasted are still very young and need to be put away for a few more years. As with other Australian wines, these reds ranged from 14.5% to 16% alcohol content. The terroir is expressed nicely in each of the wines. Kim and Renae have some complex wines but overall very well balanced. These bigger full-bodied reds will all pair well with hearty dishes of grilled meats, stews and goulashes, and strong cheeses. With the exception of the Pillar Box Red (122,000 cases), all the others are small productions of less than 6,000 cases. The Henry's Drive wines are worth searching out. I look forward to following Renae's progression and Kim's history lesson. All of the Henry's Drive wines are imported by Quintessential Wines from CA (see sidebar).

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