Winemaker Dinner; Renae Hirsch of Henry's Drive

Last week I had the opportunity to taste through the Henry's Drive wines at dinner in New York City with their winemaker Renae Hirsch. Within the last year she's become the head Winemaker there. Throughout dinner Renae told us about Henry's Drive vineyards, their wine-making philosophy and a good deal about making wine in Australia in general. Most people are likely familiar with the Pillar Box series of wines. Pillar Box Red has been around quite a few years longer than its counterparts. What the Pillar Box wines have in common are the quality and value they represent at a very low price point. With 500 acres in their estate, Henry's Drive has control over quite a bit of fruit.

The wines of the evening were:

Pillar Box White- This blend of Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Verdelho can often be found on shelves for under $10. The 2007 was being tasted. I found it to be crisp and fresh with some tangy and mineral notes on the finish. A nice wine to sip on it's own, especially while it's still nice out.

Pillar Box Red- This blend of Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon & Merlot was my first exposure to the Henry's Drive wines a few years back. As with the white the 2007 was being poured. I found it to be jammy up front with gamey red notes on the mid-palate through the finish. White pepper notes stood out as one of the hallmarks of a nice tingly finish. In comparison to other vintages of this release I've had the 2007 struck me as smoother and a bit more layered. For around $10, this has been an excellent value for several years now and that continues with the current vintage

Pillar Box Reserve - Unlike the other two wines in the Pillar Box line, the reserve is 100% Shiraz. The fruit characteristics on this 2007 wine were very dark, much more so than the Pillar Box Red. It ‘s also less jammy, even smoother and featuring quite a bit of black pepper. Suggested retail price is $19.99

The Trial of John Montford- The 2006 release is 100% Cabernet Sauvignon. Wild blackberry and brambly earth notes fill the nose. Typically jammy as much Australian Cabernet can be. Not overly jammy though as it features excellent acidity which provides very nice balance. Smooth and fairly silky, this is an impressive effort for the $29.99 Suggested Retail price.

Dead Letter Office- This 2006 Shiraz has fruit from both Padthaway (33%) and Mclaren Vale (67%). Of the wines I tasted at this dinner this one struck me as the least immediately accessible. It needed more time to really open up than the rest. Decanting this for an hour ore more would be recommended. Otherwise another 6 months to a year of age should really help it come into its own. Once it did open up, lots of fresh red raspberry and bing cherry was accompanied by subtle spice and light vanilla notes. $26.99 Suggested retail price on this one.

Henry's Drive Shiraz - This 2006 Shiraz was sourced from older estate vineyards than the Pillar Box Reserve. It features a lot of dark berry fruit and an undercurrent of mocha on the finish accompanied by a clingy tart note that rides out on the back of the throat for awhile. $34.99 SRP.

Parson's Flat- 65% Shiraz 35% Cabernet Sauvignon make up this 2005 estate blend. Cab & Shiraz are natural partners in Australia, Perhaps as much as Cabernet & Merlot are in France. They work well in this blend. Berry, mocha and spice fill the nose and palate of this wine. It's was a bit reticent at first but opened up nicely as the evening progressed. Significant, velvety tannins are this offerings hallmark. It should be able to improve for several years and drink nicely for 4 or 5 after that. Nice effort. $39.99 SRP.

Henry's Drive Reserve Shiraz - This single vineyard wine from 2006 is filled with chocolate covered blackberry notes in the nose and early to mid-palate. The finish brings out significant spice and lingering notes of dried berry fruit. $49.99 SRP.

Tasting these wines with Persian food at Shalizar worked well. The potpourri of flavors on the table were well matched by what was being poured. The Henry's Drive wines are well made and fairly priced at their different tiers. What I like best about this portfolio of wines is that they manage to have a connective tissue or house style that ties them to each other, but they manage to be distinct in their own right. To my taste that house style is of wines filled with ripe, full flavored fruit that fill your senses but never overburden the palate or feel too "in your face." They are by and large balanced by good acidity and all work well with food. Most of their fruit is from their own Estate Vineyards which allows them to control quality year in and year out. That difference is especially felt in a wine like Pillar Box Red. Often wines in that price category vary wildly from year to year as many vintners are making them from whatever fruit they find on the market that year. By controlling almost all of their own fruit and buying the rest from friends they are assured of a quality level each year.

Speaking with Renae throughout the evening it's clear she's looking to continue the style in place at the winery and make the best wines the fruit allows her to each vintage. Whether you're looking to head out to a Barbecue and bring a fun wine such as one of the Pillar Box selections, explore Australian Shiraz a cut above or tuck something away to see how it ages, Henry's Drive has some fine, interesting and most importantly well made selections to offer.

Imported by: Quintessential Wines.

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