Open That Bottle Night: 1999 Henschke Hill of Grace

By John ~ February 27th, 2013.

This year’s Open That Bottle Night was last Saturday, February 23. Open That Bottle Night, created by former Wall Street Journal wine columnists Dorothy Gaiter and John Brecher, is the one night a year that we are all encouraged to get out that bottle of wine that is so special that no special occasion seems special enough to actually open it. That’s exactly what LaGayle and I did when we sat down for dinner and opened a bottle of 1999 Henschke Hill of Grace Shiraz from the Eden Valley in the Barossa region of South Australia that I had been saving for just such an occasion.

Our visit to the Henschke winery and cellar door (aka tasting room) in 2005 was the highlight of our Australian wine tour for the Wine Peeps team. We visited during the middle of crush, yet our hosts could not have been more accommodating. Henschke was our first stop that morning, and yet they insisted that we taste through their entire lineup of 15+ wines, some retailing for over $70 US, and they didn’t even charge a tasting fee to anyone, whether you were in the industry or not. Thank goodness we were spitting, or there wouldn’t have been a second stop that day.

During our visit we learned that 170 years ago Johann Christian Henschke came from Silesia [Prussia] to settle and farm at Keyneton in the Eden Valley. The Henschke family has been making wine since 1862, with each generation building on the foundations of their forbearers.

By the time third-generation Paul Alfred Henschke took over the reins in 1914, the famous Hill of Grace shiraz vines were already over 50 years old. They were planted just across the road from a beautiful stone Lutheran Church euphoniously named Gnadenberg, meaning “Hill of Grace”. Since our family is Lutheran, seeing the lovely church and its connection to the vineyard gave the wine even more significance for us.

Cyril Henschke, the fourth-generation to head the operation, made the first single vineyard wines from these 140-year-old vines in 1958.  Now, fifth-generation Stephen Henschke and his wife, Prue, along with their children Johann, Justine, and Andreas are the current custodians passionately upholding the family name and reputation in the wine business.

Since Henschke Hill of Grace Shiraz has great aging potential, I wanted to buy a bottle that already had some age on it so that we could enjoy it sooner. I bought several bottles, one of them being this 1999 vintage, which is considered to be one of their better (although probably not their best) vintages. Once I had it in the cellar, all we needed was an occasion to drink it. Enter Open That Bottle Night.

So Saturday night we sat down to a wonderful dinner of mixed greens tossed with fresh fruit and blackberry ginger vinegar, pan seared flat iron steak, garlic mashed sweet potatoes, and crisp oven baked spinach garnished with parmesan cheese that LaGayle had prepared to pair with the Hill of Grace and opened that special bottle. I’m happy to report that it did not disappoint!

1999 Henschke Hill of Grace (Eden Valley, Australia): 100% Shiraz. Deep, inky purple. Brilliant with very little dilution in color on the rim despite the fact that it is 14 years old. Earth tones, spice, fruit, vanilla, and some floral notes on the nose. Medium to full-bodied with good concentration. Lots of black pepper, black fruits, some red berries, and smoked meat come through on the palate. Not as overtly tannic or as alcoholic (14% ABV) as most big wines. Very smooth. Tastes much younger than a 14 year old wine. Extremely well-balanced with a long finish.
Quality: 4.5 stars (out of 5)
QPR: 1 bang for your buck  (out of 5)
Where to buy: Hart Davis Hart Wine Co. (Chicago, Illinois), $300; Available elsewhere, $300 to $400

While our goal at Wine Peeps is to find excellent wines that are also excellent values, it sure can be fun to splurge every once in a while.

If you missed this year’s OTBN, go ahead and open your special bottle anyway. Or mark your calendar for next year’s OTBN on Saturday, February 22, 2014 (always the last Saturday in February).


Filed under: Australian Wine, Red Wine, Shiraz/Syrah, Wines Over $25

Reader's Comments

  1. AJP | March 5th, 2013 at 2:29 pm

    We opened a Rusty Grape 2005 Malbec. Had been saving it for a while. Good stuff!

  2. John | March 5th, 2013 at 2:39 pm

    Thanks for sharing. Isn’t OTBN fun!