There are several grapes grown in the seven regions that make up the Italian Alps’ winemaking area known as Alto Adige. Gewürztraminer is said to have originated here (from the town Tramin). Pinot blanc, sauvignon blanc, chardonnay, pinot grigio, and riesling are grown and bottled in this region as well. Some lesser known white wine grapes grown in this region include: sylvaner, veltliner, kerner, müller-thurgau, and moscato giallo. Most of these are known as aromatic, dry, refined whites with excellent minerality from the local terroir.
The red wines from the Alto Adige region include well known varietals such as merlot, pinot noir, and cabernet are grown in this region between the Alps and the Mediterranean sea. But the lesser-known local varietals are very interesting, and include schiava, moscata rosa, and lagrein (pronounced “lǝ -grān” or “lǝ-grīn”).
Lagrein is one of the leading red varietals of the region. If you don’t know the grape, you’re not alone. But that’s no reason not to try it!
A quick aside: You don’t have to be knowledgeable about wine to try something different. Sometimes it is refreshing to step outside your comfort zone and try new things. I would normally never seek out grape varietals that I don’t know for large dinner parties, but I took a chance while in Italy. Not knowing the Sudtirol region well, during our stay in Merano I asked the sommelier to suggest local wines that would pair well with our meal choices. One evening he brought forward a lagrein to suggest. My initial impression of the wine was not great, but it improved immediately with more air, paired beautifully with the northern Italian cuisine we were enjoying, and was an obvious excellent choice- a lesson I’ve never forgotten!
The character of the lagrein grape falls between a young pinot noir, syrah, and grenache. The colors of a typical wine will range from ruby red to deep violet and purple; the nose can be fruit, perfume, and spice; and the blackberry/blueberry fruit is sometimes followed with spices and pepper. Often the initial mouthfeel is then matched or dominated by strong acidity and powerful tannins with a medium to long, grippy finish.
Overall, it’s important to note that the lagrein grape has never been intended to be consumed on its own. With a naturally high acidity and tannin, this is a wine made for food. In general, due to higher expenses in both manufacturing and export, Alto Adige wines will cost from $16-45 in general. I doubt you’ll find these on the shelf in the average wine shop; I only found between one and five wines at the three top sellers I use in New York while I found no lagrein wines at smaller wine shops. But I do suggest that some time, you give a lagrein a try. You might be impressed!
When I recently had an opportunity to attend the Alto Adige 2013 Grand Tasting Tour, (with over 20 wineries participating) I remembered my experience with the lagrein varietal and made it a point to pay attention to the lagrein wines at the event.
In addition to tasting with the winemakers, I also took notes on several lagrein wines during a direct comparison tasting. Please understand that these notes are taken in haste; at these tastings, there is no real opportunity to linger and ponder the wine or taste it several times, with different pairings or over multiple days, hence some brevity in description. A star in front of the name shows it is recommended. The manufacturer’s suggested retail price is listed after each wine for your reference.
*Bolzano Lagrein Riserva “Prestige” 2010, $42
Has a nice balance and depth. Ruby-purple color with cherry vanilla nose. Strong blackberry and cherry again on the palate with a fleshy finish.
*Castell Sellegg, Lagrein 2011, $35
My favorite from this group tasting. Violet in color, perfume nose with great forward fruit, strong acidity and tannin. An excellent representation and a well made wine. Highly recommended.
Franz Haas Lagrein 2010, $36
My least favorite of the group with almost no bouquet and a weak flavor in comparison to the other lagreins. Could pair nicely with gentle cheeses, salad, light appetizers. Has a wonderful, eye-catching label, but very pricey in my opinion for the mild nose and flavor.
St. Pauls Lagrein 2011, $18
Nice purple color, sharp fruit nose. Very hot on the palate (13.5% alcohol) with bitter finish. Would be best served slightly chilled. Acids and tannin overpower the fruit, but shows better with food.
Tenuta Lensch Lagrein 2009, $20
An interesting wine that showed quite differently than the other lagreins in its initial harshness. Perhaps significant air would make a difference, I found this wine a challenge to appreciate.
*Elena Walch Lagrein Riserva Castel Ringberg 2008
This was the first lagrein that demonstrated a clear and significant step up in quality from the first tier of lagrein wines I tasted. Aged in large oak barrel, there is a gentle wood underneath. Still quite tart, and tannic, this wine has good fruit, body, and structure that show depth and complexity when paired.