Malcolm Jolley welcomes Nick Keukenmeester back to Toronto and tries Heartland’s Langhorne Creek wines.

Nick Kekenmeester’s career in the wine trade took him from Adelaide, Australia to London and back, via Toronto. Long time GFR readers will recall Keukenmeester’s series of videos for the Lifford Wine Agency in the early years of this decade. About five years ago Keukenmeester returned to South Australia for family reasons. Looking for a job, he went out for lunch with good old childhood friend, Ben Glaetzer, who had built a reputation of one the region’s top young winemakers. Within a few days, Keukenmeester found himself in a new role as a partner in Heartland Wines and a career on the production side of the wine trade. It was in this context that Nick Keukenmeester was in town recently, promoting Heartland’s range of Langhorne Creek red wines, with their agency The Vine, in anticipation of the release of the  2013 Shiraz on March 18 at the LCBO’s Vintage (LCBO# 661934 – $19.95).

Heartland Wines was set up by Ben Glaetzer, perhaps best known for making wine at Mitolo, and two Australian wine industry veterans. Its mission has become to showcase the wines of Langhorne Creek, a designated wine region which lies southeast of Adelaide and is climatically regulated by cool winds from the Great Australian Bight and Lake Alexandrina. Blenders of the wines from the big houses of South Australia prized fruit from Langhorne Creek, but were reluctant to acknowledge their origin, Keukenmeester explained to GFR, since they were based in better known regions like the Barossa or Clare Valleys and the McLaren Vale. That the region was unsung, also meant prices for fruit were comparatively lower. Ben Glaetzer knew this from experience and from his uncle, John Glaetzer, the legendary first winemaker for Wolf Blass who remains , who early on recognized the potential of the region. The point of the Heartland is to make Australian red wines that taste like Australian red wines (Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon) from some of the best grapes fruit in the country (including 150 year old pre-phylloxera Cabernet Sauvignon vines that thought to be the world’s oldest), grown around them at Langhorne Creek. So far so good, and so far so good quaity to price ratio: Heartland Wines are some of the better values out there as the region’s reputation, at least outside of  is still growing slowly… for now.

The 2003 Heartland Shiraz presents a spicy brush of white pepper, reminiscent of Syrah from the Northern Rhône, but the richness of its purple fruit place it firmly in Australia. “Old vines trump cool climate, Keukenmeester explained. It’s a well balanced, luxurious wine, that despite its relatively high perecentage of alcohol by volume (14.8%) is friendly to food (steak!) with a natural freshness. A great value for under $20.

Also in the LCBO Vintages are few bottles of the 2013 Heartland Stickleback Red (LCBO# 116547 – $14.95), a Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz driven blend made from younger vines. The Stickleback is lighter on the palate (with a touch of Grenache and Merlot), though it retains that peppery Shiraz note. This is a lovely very day dinner wine: it’s fresh and it wants food.

Watch this space for more Heartland Wines, being released into Vintages in April, including the 2013 Heartland Cabernet Sauvignon (April 1) and The 2014 Spice Trader, a Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon blend with a signature note of star anise (April 15).