Henry's Drive Morse Code Chardonnay, Pillar Box Rosé, The Trial of John Montford Cabernet

Henry’s Drive is an Australian powerhouse

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Australia’s Henry’s Drive is precisely the kind of winery that I love. Not only do they release excellent wines at reasonable prices one vintage after the next, they also have a number of tiers within their portfolio. What that means is that you can purchase one of their entry-level wines for under $10; offerings that are by and large terrific everyday values. Then, presuming you’re looking for something to bring to a friend’s home for a nice meal or for a special occasion, you can step up a tier or two and find something else in their range that seems appealing. I’ve had the opportunity to taste their wines on numerous occasions and am always impressed with them. They provide quality, diversity and value at every level of their portfolio. In addition to that, every year or so they add new releases that provide additional depth and diversity to what they produce.

It’s been my pleasure to taste their wines alongside their winemaker Renae Hirsch on several occasions, a fascinating way to get the inside scoop on the winery at large and specific vintage releases in particular. We most recently sat down at dinner in New York City and tasted through the entire current portfolio of their wines. Quite honestly, there isn’t one in the bunch that I wouldn’t heartily recommend. Here, however, are a handful of my favorites -- the ones I reach for on store shelves most often when I’m looking for killer Australian wines. I feel so very strongly about their portfolio that I find the need to present four examples this month, as opposed to the usual three selections.

The Henry’s Drive 2011 Morse Code Chardonnay was produced from fruit grown on the winery’s Estate Padthaway vineyards. Some of the wine was naturally fermented in new French oak, and about 20 percent was aged on the lees in French oak for over four months. Just fewer than 8,000 cases of this wine were produced, and it has a suggested retail price of $11.99. Fresh and inviting tropical fruit aromas burst forth from the nose of this Chardonnay. The palate shows off yellow delicious apple, continued tropical fruits and lychee fruit. Apricots, hints of Granny Smith apple and subtle spice notes emerge on the finish, along with a closing bit of creaminess that beckons you back to the glass for more. This is a wonderfully priced expression of Chardonnay that shows off lots of appealing fruit.

The Henry’s Drive 2010 Morse Code Shiraz was produced entirely using fruit sourced at their estate vineyards in Padthaway. This offering is 100 percent Shiraz. Fermentation on skins took place over a period of five days, followed by 12 months of aging; only a fraction of the fruit is barrel aged. About 40,000 cases of this wine were produced, and it has a suggested retail price of $11.99. This Shiraz has a big nose loaded with black and red fruits, as well as a subtler undercurrent of rose petals. Plum pudding spices, black raspberry, plum and blackberry are all present through the palate, which is incredibly appealing. Loads of spice notes, minerals and dusty mocha emerge on the finish, along with a hint of coffee. This wine -- which amounts to the entry-level Shiraz in their portfolio -- is an awesome value. It’s got big, engaging fruit flavors but it still shows restraint and it won’t knock you over the head or tire your senses.

The Henry’s Drive 2012 Pillar Box Rosé is a brand new offering in their portfolio. This wine, which has just reached U.S. shelves, is a blend of Sangiovese (72 percent) and Cabernet Franc (28 percent). This wine was produced using only free run juice. The Cabernet Franc was fermented in older French oak, and the lots were blended after fermentation was complete. About 850 cases of this inaugural vintage were produced, and it has a suggested retail price of $19.99. Bits of leather and cherry greet you as you take a whiff of this wine. Red fruits tell the story of the palate with cherry and strawberry leading the way. Spice, dried fruits and red flowers make up the finish, which has nice length. This is perfectly, even gloriously dry Rosé. Whether you drink this wine on its own or pair it with food you’re going to have a hard time resisting its charms. In my opinion this is precisely what Rosé should be. I’d seriously recommend picking up several bottles because the first batch is going to be gone very quickly.

The Henry’s Drive 2007 The Trial of John Montford Cabernet Sauvignon is produced using primarily the namesake grape (90 percent), with some Cabernet Franc (10 percent) blended in as well. All of the Cabernet Sauvignon comes from a single vineyard with 15 years of age on the vines. After the fruit was pressed, it was left to sit on the skins for five weeks to aid complexity and tannins. Barrel aging was accomplished over 14 months in a combination of French (80 percent) and American (20 percent) oak. The barrels utilized were a mix of new (40 percent), one year old (40 percent) and two years old (20 percent). Dark plum, violet and vanilla aromas are all part of the nose on this Cabernet Sauvignon. Blackberry flavors start through the palate, along with bits of fruitcake spice interspersing red raspberry characteristics. Bits of chocolate sauce lead the finish, but then give way to some earthiness and herby characteristics. This is a big, bold Cabernet Sauvignon with loads of lush fruit and plenty of depth. Pair it with bold foods.

This quartet of wines represents a small piece of the Henry’s Drive portfolio. While I’ve only covered one example of Shiraz here, they make a number of distinct expressions, each one well-heeled and worth the asking price. Dead Letter Office is one of the better known examples and a killer wine. They also have several excellent blends. Pillar Box Red, which is the first wine I recall tasting from their portfolio some years back, is still a slam-dunk-awesome value of a wine, and it sells for right around $10 in many markets. The bottom line is: if you like Australian wines you need to drink what Henry’s Drive has to offer. If you’re new to Australian wines, their portfolio offers perfect entrees at numerous price points so you can leap in wherever you’re comfortable.

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