A new year, a fresh start, a positive outlook. I welcome 2021 and am kicking things off with one of my favorite Italian red grapes: Lagrein. If you are fond of medium to fuller-bodied wine such as Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon, I bet you’ll enjoy Lagrein. Below I share information about where this grape grows in Italy and a few favorite producers.
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Lagrein is something different for the new year, a red grape that makes deeply colored, distinctively fruity wines sometimes earthy, spicy and/or rustic.
This grape is thought to be* an ancient variety native to the northeastern Italian region called Alto Adige, (a.k.a. Sudtirol or South Tyrol).
Highly thought of as early as 1097, back then local government ordinances decided on annual harvest dates for the grape. And various emperors and nobles forbade those of lesser statute from drinking Lagrein wines; they thought it exceptional and only appropriate for the lips of nobility.
Perhaps those nobles chose a wine to mirror their personas- big, bold and yes, tannic. Contrarily, during an insurgence in 1526 in what’s now Alto Adige, the ‘regulars’ revolted demanding the right to drink Lagrein. Modern winemaking techniques kind of did the same with the ability to round out the course tannins, smoothing the wine to a larger audience.
This all happened in and around what’s now the capital city of Alto Adige, Bolzano, nestled in the Alps and Dolomites.
Paradoxically you might think it a cooler region, I did. Yes, winter equals chilling weather and snow yet Bolzano sits in a sandy, gravel Basin where three valleys and their rivers meet. The basin absorbs heat and the warmer Ora wind blowing north from Lake Garda make this one of Italy’s hottest towns in summer.
Given this weather, what Kathrin Werth of Weingut Muri-Greis told me makes sense. Until the 1990s, 80% of Lagrein was made into rosé because it often didn’t achieve full ripeness. The switch to a monovarietal red wine happened more recently. And given climate change (and advances in winemaking) that makes sense too. The warming climate helps Lagrein to fully ripen- it needs that heat!
Heat or not, it’s a challenging grape to grow with fertility issues and a dislike of rainy springs. Thank gosh for science; recently developed clones help with its peculiarities and the resulting wines can be just gorgeous in color (deeply hued), have one of the highest anthocyanin concentrations among Italian grapes, and on the palate, well just brilliant.
I’m sharing all this because I adore Lagrein and have the opportunity to share it with you via the Italian Food, Wine and Travel wine writing group; we kick off the new year with favorite Italian reds or whites for 2021. Scrolling to the bottom gives you details on our Twitter chat and links to great articles that may reveal other wines you want to try.
As far as Lagrein wines, they are mostly labeled with DOC Alto Adige Lagrein (or Trentino Lagrein DOC, more on that below) and sometimes include the words “Südtirol” and/or the English equivalent “South Tyrol”. DOC rules require 95% Lagrein with up to 5% any other regionally approved grape(s). Skilled winemakers know how to soften those tannins and prefer using 100% Lagrein to make single-varietal wines.
When it comes to structural components, if agile acidity exists, Lagrein has it. Every Lagrein I tasted thus far displays a bright, wake you up, concentrated freshness and round mouth feel that immediately softens exposing silky fine tannins. Aromas and flavors vary depending on location and winemaking but know it produces medium to full-bodied fruity wines, sometimes with hints of floral (violet), spice, smoke, and/or good bitterness.
Finally, you might see label information and other verbiage showing ‘Trentino-Alto Adige’. Trentino is the region (and Trento the main town) just south of Alto Adige. Lumping them together… it’s a complicated story. I talked about this with locals on a trip who confirmed most want to remain separate because the areas have very different influences. Trentino is very much Italian while Alto Adige more Germanic. Depending on where you are, one or the other language comes first on everything.
One last thing before sharing a few recommended producers, how about the pronunciation? Lagrein is a German word sitting in an Italian region. Germans say “la-grr-eye-n”. Italians say “la-grr-ay-n”. I’m sure a few variants exist too.
Three producers to try, all wines are 100% Lagrein
Disclosure: The Muri-Greis wines are media samples. No compensation was received and all thoughts are my own.
Behind the ancient walls of Weingut Muri-Greis in Bolzano one stretches back to the 1100s when a fortress was built for the Counts of Bolzano. It eventually became a monastery active in viticulture then Benedictine monks took it over in 1845 and continued making wine. Muri-Greis is now a privately owned winery. Current winemaker Christian Werth came in 1988 with a new outlook and focus on Lagrein.
In the vineyard, Muri-Greis practices traditional Integrated Pest Management (IPM), a holistic approach to sustainable crop protection that focuses on managing insects, weeds and diseases through a combination of cultural, physical, biological and chemical methods that are cost effective, environmentally sound and socially acceptable. IPM is a system of prevention, monitoring, and intervention when necessary.
Muri-Greis Lagrein Kretzer (Rosé)
This deeper colored rosé is like digging into a bowl of chilled red berries sprinkled with thyme. A lovely fruit-acid balance with a crisp and clean finish revealing faint minty lemon.
Average retail price: $14
Muri-Greis DOC Alto Adige Lagrein
Abundant blackberry, cherry, plum and violet aromas. It shows a less ripe version of these fruits on a juicy round palate with a nice acid arch which mellows to silky, fine tannins. The medium finish is underscored with hints of appealing menthol and iodine.
This is my enjoy any evening, cuddle up with your lover wine and so affordable!
Average retail price: $16 – $18
Muri-Greis DOC Alto Adige Lagrein Riserva Abtei Muri
More complex than the previous wine with ripe blackberry, cherry and cassis shadowed by dried tobacco, black pepper, licorice, eucalyptus and forest floor. Beautifully balanced structurally with a velvety character and integrated fine yet firm tannins. After 30 minutes the tannins softened and violet notes surfaced.
Five years old and drinking beautifully. So enjoyed a basil gnocchi with lardons and mushrooms dish with this wine. The plates were empty before I knew it. That’s a good sign!
Average retail price: $33 – $40
~ Schreckbichl Colterenzio ~
Schreckbichl (the German name) /Colterenzio (Italian) is a top quality cooperative winery north of Bolzano. They produce a number of wines including, you got it, Lagrein! I highly recommend visiting to gain a general sense of how co-op wineries operate. You can read more about Colterenzio in this article.
Lagrein Südtirol Alto Adige DOC
Aromas were medium-plus intensity blackberry, violet, cinnamon and cocoa nibs. A noteworthy structure and spry acidity mean this wine will not only age well but also pair nicely with a variety of foods. Average retail price: $15
~ Elena Walch ~
Elena’s daughters Julia and Karoline are the fifth generation of the family now running the winery. They have a number of impressive sustainable practices from vineyard to bottle at their location south of Bolzano. This wine is from one of their top vineyards, Castel Ringberg in the town Caldero.
Vigna Castel Ringberg Lagrein Riserva
Aromas and flavors included mixed forest berries, cranberry, worn leather, forest spices, vanilla, and cocoa nibs. Big and round on the palate, a balanced body just north of medium with fine grained, velvety tannins. It has an initial “Hello I’m here!” kick that quickly mellows into a gorgeous wine worthy of fireside sipping and dining. Average retail price: 40€
While Lagrein can be more robust, it’s rather food friendly too. I’ll reach for hard, aged cheeses, pasta dishes with tomato-based sauces, risotto (especially with mushrooms or meats), meats and stews, grilled tuna and tuna dishes like Polpette di Tonno (meatballs), grilled vegetables, vegetarian tarts (mushrooms help bridge flavors) and bean dishes. The Riserva wines are a meat-eaters dream. You have many choices!
Italian Food, Wine, Travel Group
Favorite Italian Reds or Whites for 2021
I am agog about getting things rolling again this year! I know the following articles will give you many ideas about Italian travels. Thanks to Jennifer at Vino Travels for hosting!
Join us on Twitter chatting today, Saturday, January 22nd at 8am PT and 17:00 CET using hashtag #ItalianFWT. Please enjoy group articles below.
- Wendy at A Day in the Life on the Farm features A Lovely Bottle of Taurasi paired with a Delicious Meal of Beef Tips Marsala.
- Robin at Crushed Grape Chronicles serves up Bacon and Butternut Pasta with a Langhe DOC Nebbiolo.
- Susannah at Avvinare is Taking a Closer Look at Vernaccia di San Gimignano.
- Camilla at the Culinary Adventures with Camilla is Capping off the Old Year with Cappelleti in Brodo + G.D. Vajra Barolo Albe 2016.
- Here at Savor the Harvest: Lagrein Reigns in Alto Adige.
- Terri at Our Good Life cooks up An Italian favorite: Chianti Classico with Baked Salmon and Stuffed Mushroom Caps.
- Linda at My Full Wine Glass asks What If You Could Blend Your Own Pinot Grigio?
- Li at The Wining Hour is Keeping it Fresh and Fun with Fiano.
- Cindy at Grape Experiences will bring us on A Return to Piemonte with Marenco Scrapona Moscato d’Asti 2019 and Bagna Cauda.
- Gwendolyn at Wine Predator will be Going with Lugana.
- Katarina at Grapevine Adventures will be sharing 3 Wines to Get 2021 off on the Right Foot.
- Jen, our host, at Vino Travels is Starting the New Year off Right with Chianti Classico.
*There continue to be conflicting views on the parentage of Lagrein as well as its native home according to Ian D’Agata in his Wine Grapes of Italy book. And according to Swiss grape geneticist Jose Vouillamoz’s DNA research: “Lagrein is a cousin of Syrah, grandchild of Pinot Noir, sister to Marzemino – and one of its parents is definitely Teroldego”, states Vouillamoz.
Information and Sources:
- Native Wine Grapes of Italy, Ian D’Agata
- Weingut Muri-Greis
- Muri Greis US Importers: Polaner Selections and Alberello Wines
- Conterenzio US Importers: US Importers: Tenth Harvest and Grapex
- Elena Walch
- Elena Walch US Distributor: Chambers & Chambers and Cutting Edge Selections
- Alto Adige Wines
- Need help planning a trip to Alto Adige? Throne and Vine has all you need.