Over the holiday weekend I went down to Langhorne Creek to hit a few cellar doors, and in addition to bringing home a few bottles, I had a glass of this wine with a nice platter. The wine of today is the Rusticana Langhorne Creek Zinfandel 2009.
This is a bit of an odd combination, in that I’m looking at both a wine from Langhorne Creek and a Zinfandel. What’s odd is that I’ve covered neither before. I don’t say that in the same way it would be odd if I hadn’t covered a wine from Bordeaux or a Chardonnay, but still, both are reasonably well known to me, so much so that I put it down to overlooking them. First, the region.
Langhorne Creek is a region of South Australia, roughly 65km southeast of Adelaide. It’s odd to me that I haven’t written about one of its wines before because it was one of the first wine regions I ever visited. First things first: there is no creek that goes by the name Langhorne; rather there is the Bremer River. In the 1840s there was a cattleman named Alfred Langhorne, and he gave his name to a property called Langhorne’s Station, a cattle destination. Where the cattle crossed the river became known as Langhorne’s Crossing, which has in turn evolved into Langhorne Creek.
Grape vines have been cultivated in the region since the mid 19th century, with the founding of Bleasdale by Frank Potts, which is the only winery to have operated continuously since then. Even today there exist vines that date to the 19th century. The region is historically known for its red wines, with Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz which make up roughly 70% of production. However, there are a number of lesser planted varieties which do well in the region, with the Bleasdale Malbecs coming to mind immediately as one of the longest established. Zonte’s Footstep makes wine from a dozen varieties, and has likely that number again growing in test rows so see how they take to the terroir, but they are far from the only producers with interesting varieties. If you look closely, there are plantings of Lagrein, Nebbiolo, Petit Verdot, Viognier, Chenin Blanc, and many others, including some Touriga Nacional.
Langhorne Creek is a temperate Mediterranean climate, with close proximity to Lake Alexandrina which forms the southern border of the region moderating temperatures. Rain comes in the winter and temperatures during the growing seasons are somewhat cooler than McLaren Vale to the west. However, what sets Langhorne Creek apart most from other regions is the soil. The original vineyards of the area are set in an alluvial flood plain. The soil is rich and fertile with a thick layer of topsoil that has built up over time through deposits from the lake and rivers. The area is still prone to floods, though there are more controlled systems of irrigation in use as well.
However, I have to say that for having just driven through it, there’s not a whole lot there other than vines. While there are a handful of cellar doors and a few restaurants, the area is traditionally more associated with grape growing than winemaking. Between that and the fact that it’s further from Adelaide than McLaren Vale, it hasn’t been as big a draw as some of the better known regions that surround Adelaide.
Zinfandel is an old favourite of mine from when I used to live in California, before I had undertaken any wine studies. It’s believed to originate in Croatia, though with a somewhat convoluted history that had it being cultivated under that name in California and as Primitivo in southern Italy. As is typically the case with such confusion, the University of California, Davis, settled things with DNA analysis. There is a winery in McLaren Vale, Kangarilla Road, that produces both a Zinfandel and a Primitivo and the difference between the two wines is down to different regions and different winemaking techniques. A bit gimmicky, but appealing to a wine/grape geek such as myself.
A red grape, it has thin-skinned berries and suffers from uneven ripening in its compact bunches. The uneven ripening is particularly tricky with Zinfandel, as soon after individual grapes are ripe, they start to raisin, meaning there can be unripe and shriveled grapes in the same bunch. Also, as with so many varieties, it can be at its worst in hot climates with high yields, but can produce wines of high quality with low yields under cooler conditions with a long time to ripen. (I could buy another nice bottle of Krug if I had a dollar for every time I read that in a description of a variety.) It tends to perform at its best on well drained hillside sites with good drainage, and under warm but not too warm conditions.
Rusticana Wines’ first vintage was in 2003 from vines across 25 acres that date back to the early 1990s. They make Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon, Durif and this Zinfandel from their own vines, and produce a Sauvignon Blanc and a Pinot Grigio from locally sourced grapes. Their wine is made by a consultant winemaker operating out of a local winery. Really though, the couple that run the business are the proprietors of Newman’s Horseradish, a South Australian icon since 1947. They moved the horseradish business from Tea Tree Gully to Langhorne Creek in 1985 and it seems that somewhere along the way they picked up land/vines and decided that it was a better business making and selling wine than just selling grapes, which is both fair enough and not uncommon.
This wine was a dark, brick red in the glass with quick, thick legs. On the nose, it was clean, with a developing character of medium plus intensity. I got sweet spice, red currant, dried red fruit, and potpourri on the nose. On the palate it was dry, though with fruit sweetness (not residual sugar), medium acidity, medium fine tannins, with medium plus body, intensity, and alcohol. I picked up dried red fruit, white pepper, and gingerbread. It had a medium minus length, with a plum finish.
This is a good wine – certainly no faults, and with good intensity and acidity. All their reds, with the exception of one Shiraz bottling, were above 15% ABV for the vintage they were pouring, but I’m the type of guy who isn’t put off by high alcohol wines. I enjoyed it and bought a bottle which I’m sure will benefit from a year or two in the cellar. I also picked up a bottle of their Durif, which I likewise enjoyed last night, but alas I’m trying to avoid writing about the same winery twice if I can avoid it.