1996 Henschke Cyril Henschke vs 1996 Petaluma Coonawarra

I recently had the good fortune to try a bottle of each of these, both of which have been classified by Langton’s as “Excellent”. Both are South Australian, come from the same vintage, are basically Cabernet blends, and have cork enclosures. So I thought it would be interesting to compare them.

Well, to my surprise, they turned out to be quite different wines.

While they were both sublimely smooth and perfectly enjoyable, with very fine tannins and typical aged Bordeaux characters, the Cyril Henschke clearly stood out as the superior wine, in virtually every aspect: colour, texture, body, complexity, palate range, and aftertaste.

The Petaluma, on the other hand, although lovely, lacked staying power. It seemed to have peaked and felt as though it wouldn’t hold up much longer. It had aged much faster than the Cyril Henschke.

I have had Petaluma Coonawarra many times, all of them almost always excellent, so I suspect that this bottle might be an exception, rather than the rule. The cork was very brittle and broke, so it was necessary to filter the broken bits. However, there was no TCA tainting, nor were there other forms of cork-related contamination. No Brett characters either. It is quite possible that the disintegrating cork facilitated oxidation at a faster rate than would otherwise be the case.

In contrast, the Cyril Henschke still had years ahead of it. There was so much power in the fruit, not in the sense of your typical big, full-bodied “new world” red; rather, it was a subtle kind of power. All the (100% new) French oak had been soaked up and it was in perfect balance. Despite quite a bit of encrustation, there were still plenty of primary fruit flavours counterpoised with complex secondary characters, and a softness on the palate that belies the power in the fruit. It is very much like the 2005 Cyril Henschke I had a few weeks ago, tempered with an additional 9 years’ bottle age. Both 1996 and 2005 were first-rate; in my humble opinion, deserve a rank at least on par with wines in the “Outstanding” category. They might be overshadowed by their “Exceptional” cousins (Mount Mary, Cullen, Penfolds 707, and Moss Wood), perhaps unfairly so based on so many great vintages since 1996.

Anyway, to me at least, Cyril Henschke has established itself as one of my favourite Australian reds.


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