McHenry Hohnen Vintners

A tasting and dinner hosted by David Hohnen, Louis Latour Agencies and JW Lees/Willoughby's
Lowry Hotel, Manchester
6th October 2011



McHenry Hohnen was founded in 2003 by David Hohnen and his brother-in-law, Murray McHenry.  Drinkers of antipodean wine with long memories may remember the name David Hohnen for his long involvement with Cape Mentelle and for coming up with the idea for Cloudy Bay, which he established in the mid 1980s.  Not that David mentioned any of this history.  He came across as a quiet, thoughtful, self-effacing character who preferred to let those tasting his company's wines lead the tasting, apparently largely preferring to answer questions.  I have to say this made a pleasant change from being bombarded with technical data, picking dates, names of barrel makers etc.

McHenry Hohnen have four vineyards in the Margaret River region of Western Australia: Calgardup Brook, Rocky road, McHenry's and McLeod Creek. Winemaking is in the hands of David Hohnen's daughter Freya and her partner Ryan Walsh: they're the bosses, says David self-effacing (and possibly a bit disingenuously).  There's no attempt at organic viticulture, or its more extreme variants, but they do aim for what they call "great grandpa, common sense farming" with minimal intervention in the viticulture and winemaking. The French would speak of terroir: "in essence, we look to the soils to produce the wines.  We see no delineation between vineyard and winery"  Eighteen varieties are grown: on the one hand, Bordeaux varieties including semillon, sauvignon blanc, merlot and cabernet sauvignon reflect the region's heritage; on the other hand, varieties such as marsanne, roussanne, grenache, shiraz and tempranillo nod to the Mediterranean climate of the Margaret River region.

Oak is used on many of the wines, but it is virtually all old Burgundy barrels, as they don't want oak to play more than the most minimal part in a wine's flavour profile, but regard the oak barrique as the best environment for allowing a wine to mature.
David Hohnen
David Hohnen

It was interesting talking to David about localisation of food production, supply and consumption, as he now also farms a variety of livestock in small quantities, most of which  goes into regional restaurants and their own McHenry's Farmshop.  For some reason, this was a trend which I had never associated with Australia.

The Wines

2010 Semillon Sauvignon Blanc, 12.5%
This is a blend of 56% semillon and 44% sauvignon blanc, the majority of which was fermented in stainless steel. On tasting it, I had automatically assumed the proportions were reversed, as the sauvignon seemed a bit more dominant to me.
It has a nice, gentle, fruity nose with fresh peas and a hint of lime.  On the palate, it's attractive and nicely balanced, with lime and a clear tropicality to the fruit and good acidity lingering after.   About as far removed from the usual antipodean style of sauvignon, with nothing fierce or aggressive about it.  A very pleasant drink.  92/100

2008 3 Amigos White, 13.5%
The three amigos are marsanne (55%), and more or less equal proportions of roussanne and, unusually, chardonnay.  There's also a splash of viognier, but not enough to raise it to amigo level.
This has quite a restrained nose with some gently caramelised marzipan notes and peachy fruit.  In the mouth, it's fairly big and has a good weight. There's some spice and bite. Tasty and really quite savoury, though there's something about it that doesn't fully satisfy me. 88/100

2010 Rocky Road Chardonnay, 13.5%
There's lots of restraint on the nose here: some lemon and peach and a faint hint of butterscotch.  There's nice balance and poise on the palate, but also a rather engaging wildness in the background. 90/100

2010 Calgardup Brook Chardonnay, 13.5%
This has a much more tropical fruit nose than the Rocky Road, with hints of guava and something with a subtle lift to it.  On the palate, it's much rounder and fatter than the Rocky  Road, behaving much more like you might expect of an Ozzie chardonnay.  Overall, it seems rather simpler.  88/100

2010 Shiraz
Immediately the nose reveals a bright, very attractive shiraz, with a sort of red plum fruit character (if there is such a thing) and hints of a very good milk chocolate.  Light and fresh on the palate, with some almost strawberry fruit characters.  A lovely mouthfeel; fresh and classy, with the oak treatment very delicately handled.  It's far from a typical Australian shiraz, and all the better for that.  Some might find it a bit simple and lacking typicity, but I find it utterly delicious.  92/100
Interestingly, returning to this with the Lowry's unimpressive steak and chips, the food seemed to knock out the acidity and the wine seemed to lose a bit of its charm, becoming a bit more soupy-feeling.

2007 3 Amigos Red, 14.5%
Once again, the three amigos are actually four varieties which make up the blend: 43% shiraz, 35% grenache, 19% mataro and 3% marsanne.
There are some deep, dark fruit characters on the nose, but with a real floral lift in the middle.  Pretty sweet fruit on the palate.  This is a nice, rich blend that is all nicely integrated and, thanks to the sweetness of the fruit, fairly easy drinking.  Some good, fine-grained tannins appear on the finish.  87/100

2006 Tiger Country Tempranillo-Petit Verdot-Cabernet Sauvignon, 14%
This was the only wine on show that was bottled under cork.  Some good, bright fruits and a touch of bitter chocolate on the nose.  A lovely, velvety palate with nice savoury notes and fairly forward tannins.  For me this is somewhat reminiscent of Abadia Retuerta in the way it lends a Bordeaux-like air to the predominantly tempranillo blend.  89/100

2008 Rolling Stone, 14.5%
A blend of 28% malbec, 32% cabernet sauvignon, 30% petit verdot and 10% merlot.  This has a very attractive nose, that has something about it that I find quite intriguing.  There's sweetish dark fruit, along with some lovely floral notes (from the malbec?), a touch of bell pepper and black pepper.  Tasting it, it's simply jolly good.  It has a nice classy feel and good tannins that don't get in the way. 91/100

2008 Rocky Road Zinfandel, 14.5%
The Hohnen family have been involved with zinfandel since the variety was first introduced to the Margaret River region in 1972.  (David Hohnen did his formal viticultural and winemaking training in California in the late 1960s.)  The Zinfandel vines in the McHenry Hohnen vineyards originated in Lodi in California.
A notably light appearance on pouring. The nose has brambles, a bit of cocoa dust, some dried figs and a touch of eucalyptus giving it a nice lift.  The vines might be from Lodi originally, but that's about all it shares with the type of Lodi Zinfandel found most commonly in the UK.  This is light and subtly fragrant with great balance.  It carries its 14.5% alcohol very well indeed, as have all the reds now I think about it. Though the Zinfandel particularly so. 92/100

The staff at the Lowry were generally good, though I felt the food didn't really do the wines much credit at all.  I won't comment much, as I don't know what constraints the kitchen was working to, though whatever constraints there might have been, the chocolate dessert was pretty unpleasant in anybody's book.

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Last updated: 9 October 2011