Tasting Langhorne Creek

Langhorne Creek seems fairly unassuming as you pass through it. It does not seem to be all that dominated by tourists doing tastings or the busyness of more popular wine areas. Situated on the eastern side of the Fleurieu Peninsula, South Australia, it is a little out of the way and generally the kind of place that you have to make a conscious effort to get to, unless, of course, you are traveling west from north eastern Victoria. We whizzed through on our way to McLaren Vale and I mused to myself that we will have to make a more comprehensive return visit. The opportunity arose last weekend and so we jumped in the old truck along with Inigo the pooch and a winemaker friend from California and headed off.

Langhorne Creek has viticulture history dating back to 1860 and traditionally was an area with only a handful of winemakers generally standing at around 440Ha of plantings. That is until the mass plantings of the 90’s when Orlando and Rosemount went nuts and planted an additional 6000Ha and now it is the 3rd largest plantings in SA. It’s staple varietals are shiraz and cab sav which is about 70% of plantings. As well as being one of the oldest wine regions in Australia, it is also the area that has provided more fruit for Jimmy Watson trophy winning wines than any other. With this in mind I was looking forward to the tasting.

The first stop was one of my favourite kind of tasting place. It’s called “The Winehouse” and is a cellar door acting on behalf of 5 of the smaller wineries that don’t have their own cellar door. It’s right on the main road, just out of town and is easy to find. The reason I love these kind of places is because you can taste lots of different wines without having to travel all the distances. The best of these kind of places that we have come across so far was “Taste Canowindra” which had over 50 wines on tasting and represented over 10 wineries. The Winehouse was definitely on par and the information stored in the head of the lady who ran it was fantastic. This place is a must to get the low down on the history and gossip of the region.

The labels represented here are Gipsie Jack, Ben Potts, Kimbolton Wines, John’s Blend and Heartland Wines. As usual, there is a certain amount of medal winners in there and prices range from $12 up to $32 and the quality varies along with the prices. My favourite overall label would have to be the Kimbolton, but as is the beauty of wine, all three of us came to different conclusions (Inigo chose to sit these tastings out).

20 tastings under our belt, we thought it was time for nibbles so it was off to Bremerton Wines. A beautifully presented cellar door, it had a welcoming, party atmosphere. Probably caused by the 30-somethings-hens-day-out-party-van that was in full flurry when we walked in, it was nevertheless, a place where you want to hang out just a little longer. A cheese and pate platter was ordered up and the tastings were leapt into with great abandon. But in all honesty they were a bit, well, boring. Their lower end range of whites followed the motions that a wine should but there was certainly no dancing tastebuds happening in my mouth. My notes for the day are filled with “boring”, “nothing going on”, “nice, but…”, “nothing special” and “OK”. I’ll give the gong for most exciting mouth party to their ’08 Malbec that made to the “I’ll have a glass of that with the food please” status, but didn’t stretch to a bottle purchase. I’ll also give an honorable mention to their “Wiggy”, sparkling chardonnay but at $28 I’ll stick to my Jansz thanks. Another 12 tastings down, us fed, the dog watered and it was time to hit the road.

I was excited by the idea of the next place – Bleasdale wines. The 2nd oldest family owned vineyards in Australia after Yalumba and some awesome looking old vines to pass on the way in. I’m talking about those thick, sinewy kind of vines that say, “hey, I’ve been on this planet longer than you buddy, so just shut up and drink”. Mmm, yum! So I can’t tell you how disappointed it was with pretty much every wine in there. There isn’t a single thing to talk about in the first 12 wines tasted. It is only when you get in to the reserve stuff that you start to get anything worth thinking about and even then I am going to sleep just thinking about them. Biggest let down of the day. All 3 of us disappointed, one wine chucked just from smelling it, we zipped on out of there.

We’d heard good things about Lake Breeze so we decided to head off there to give our tastebuds one last dance before heading home. A unique system that relies on the Bremmer River to flood and irrigate the vineyards in one large soaking hit, the vines on the way in looked very healthy. The cellar door man looked not quite as healthy and we couldn’t quite tell if he was stoned or just a very relaxed kind of guy. Anyway, he could still pour the wine so in to the mouth it went.

The reds were the winners here, most well developed but also most with a spicy finish. That would probably normally appeal to me, but after about 50 wines so far today, many of them with a spicy finish, the tongue was finally getting spiced to death. Favourite here was the ’05 Arthurs Reserve Cabernet/Petit Verdot $30, good mouth feel, enjoyed just rolling it around the mouth but after spitting it out the tongue slapped me upside the head for giving it spice again and just refused to play properly anymore.

All in agreeance that our tongues had picked up the bat and ball and stormed off home, we decided to push of back to McLaren Vale, the current home base, and put some icepacks on our slapped around mouth muscles. Discussions in the truck on the way home centred around, well, the lack of inspiring wines for the day and what to do that night. Unfortunately, Langhorne Creek will not be one of the tasting days that we will be talking positively about for eons to come. There are definitely good wines to be had here, but you are going to have to be a cellar hound to really enjoy them. They are medium bodied rather than hard hitting like Heathcote, they are spicy and fruity but very subtle in their tannins. It is the spice that the cellar hounds will like the most. This will mellow out with time and the wines will develop into something more. But remember everyone likes different things, so try it out for yourself if you get a chance.

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