Klaus Lentsch makes the most amazing Lagrein. For those who don’t know him, he’s an Italian winemaker and businessman in the Alto Adige region of northern Italy. And if you’ve never heard of Lagrein, it’s a grape native to this area, where 97% of it grows.
Where is Alto Adige? It’s where the Southern Alps descend becoming the Dolomites, and contrasts are common. One of the country’s five autonomous regions (meaning largely self governing) it’s different in a refreshing way, vacillating between sun, rain, and snow, often on the same day. But don’t let that scare you away, that makes way for abundant crops (apples and wine), clean mountain air, and outdoor adventures, including hiking galore.
Bolzano (Bozan in German), Alto Adige’s capital town is squeaky clean and orderly thanks to the Austrian Habsburg influence; they ruled the area in earlier times. Still today Italian language takes a backseat to German, but don’t worry, Italian coffee still prevails, grazie mille!
Referred to as both Alto Adige (Italian) and Südtirol (German), the English-speaking world calls it South Tyrol.
Getting to Know Klaus Lentsch
I first met this northern Italian winemaker at Il Collettivo in London where his Lagrein made an impression. Shortly thereafter, my long-time friend Andrea asked to go traveling and we agreed on Alto Adige… and Lentsch was my first contact.
Growing up on a maso (more on that below), he started helping his winemaker uncle at age 14. That uncle not only gifted him a wine tank for experimenting with grape juice but also a passion for winemaking and the Alto Adige culture. When his uncle fell ill, Lentsch stepped in to make wine for the family estate at just 18.
Historically the estate made wine from start to finish, then sold it to a winery that bottled it as its own. Then in 1997 Lentsch started making his own wine. It helped that his family had an interest in growing the business. Eventually conflicting family views led to a cordial separation and he purchased a separate small parcel. A second property purchased in 2013 is the site of his current winery.
The Lentsch Maso
Lentsch owns three ‘maso’, the local name for an agricultural farm. In his case they’re vineyards, totaling 12 hectares (29 acres).
Maso Amperg lies in the middle of the vineyards of St. Pauls in the Oltradige district. This area just south of Bolzano, where Weingut Klaus Lentsch calls home, is considered the heart of Alto Adige grapegrowing and on the South Tyrolean Wine Route. It’s centrally located between his other maso: one in Valle Iscarso (the northern most wine growing area in Italy) and the other in Bassa Atesina just south. The later two contain vineyards only.
A Sustainable Scale
Seeing the look on my face when he said maso, Lentsch carried on.
It’s fairly common knowledge in the wine world that division of vineyard and winery properties amongst siblings happens frequently in places. Unfortunately many properties end up small, so small in some cases people are no longer able to support themselves. Owning just a row or two of a vineyard is hardly enough from which to make a living.
Alto Adige doesn’t allow this parceling of land, believing it more important to preserve a scale that’s sustainable. The Lentsch maso are complete units. If Lentsch wanted to sell land he’d have to sell property in its entirety. The law requires two and a half hectares for grapes and apples, and seven hectares for milk producing cattle at a minimum remain intact. This means a family can live off of working their land as a business.
This helps maintain the mountain culture and landscape. You can see it high in the Alto Adige foothills and mountains; things are clean and busy with people farming their land.
On Purchasing Vineyard Land
It’s almost impossible to buy land in Alto Adige now due to the expense. One hectare (2.2 acres) runs from 1.2 to 1.5 million euros depending on location in the region. Alto Adige wines don’t command Barolo or Brunello prices, which makes it difficult to justify these amounts. As a comparison in Austria one hectare is from 14,000 to 100,000€. The Mosel price is 50,000€ per hectare.
Lentsch works for the next generation. He is mindful, using a minimum of treatments only when absolutely necessary. He’s not a big fan of labels and certifications, but rather the deeply ingrained philosophy of respecting the land and taking care of it.
On Climate, Altitude and Terroir
Only fifteen percent of the alpine landscape is cultivatable. Of that, roughly sixty percent is white wine. Vineyards are planted on the gradual to very steep slopes of the many deep river valleys as high as 1,000 meters (3,300 feet).
Red and white varieties grow throughout Alto Adige. In general, northern areas have a cooler climate resulting in aromatic and mineral-driven wines with higher acidity.
Bolzano and south to the border with Trentino experience warmer temps. In fact Bolzano lies in a geological basin where trapped heat makes it one of the hottest areas in Italy!
Overall about 300 days of sunshine a year grace the region. After sunset, a large temperature shift cool the vineyards, helping maintain acid and aromatics in grapes. There’s a significant contrast between hot days and cool nights.
Also, varied soils mean a Grüner Veltliner, for example, grown in Valle Isarco with schist, gneiss, slate, and mica will taste different than one grown in Bolzano on volcanic porphyry or calcareous and dolomite rock.
“What I miss in this moment is the nose, it’s not completely ripe so I added a little Moscato and Sauvignon to give it a bit of perfume. Grüner when harvested earlier, has good minerality and elegance but it can be a bit dull, flat on the nose.”
At just 11€ this mostly Grüner, blended with Goldmuskateller and Sauvignon Blanc wine is an aperitivo winner!
Don’t Forget About Eppan!
Lentsch recently upgraded the winery located just outside St. Paul (San Paolo in Italian), a small village in the Eppan (Appiano) municipality twenty minutes south of Bolzano. When visiting, one must leave time for exploring Eppan and its small villages, including St. Michael within walking distance of the winery. After exploring winding alleyways, picturesque squares, and historic buildings, make time for lunch or dinner at Osteria Acquarol. Most products are sourced from local farms, and breads are baked onsite. The calm and inviting interior, and friendly yet attentive service sets the stage for spectacular meals.
Lentsch is mostly a white wine estate also growing two red varieties: Pinot Noir (Pinot Nero in Italy, Blauburgunder or Spätburgunder in Germanic countries) and Lagrein. All the wines we tasted were dry exuding mountain freshness. Here are my notes on a few.
~ Goldmuskateller (Moscato Giallo) Amperg 2017 ~
While I tasted a number of Muscat wines, this might be my first Moscato Giallo. We’re talking aromatic and expressive: juicy citrus, yellow blossoms, lemon verbena, fresh ginger hints, crushed stones, and subtly alive and round on the palate with a long, light as a feather finish. Lovely now, this is one to lay down a few years too. Lentsch has bottles with ten plus years of age in his cellar. For this wine please bring me a plate of oysters, a sushi platter, or vegetable curry with a pinch of heat! 12.5% abv | 11.90€
~ Weissburgunder (Pinot Bianco) Amperg 2018 ~
This is a grape that responds to oak aging yet Lentsch puts only 10% in used tonneau (a larger 900 liter barrel versus the standard 225 liter Bordeaux barrel). The result is a medium body, white blossoms, lemony citrus, green apple, minty, crushed stones and bright acidity on a lengthy finish. Reviewing my notes, I said “Sip, sip, sip again!” 13% abv | 10.50€
~ Eichberg Grüner Veltliner 2017 ~
10% of the juice for this wine goes into oak, the remainder in stainless tanks. It’s fresh and vibrant with pomelo, papaya, pineapple, saffron, and white pepper that lead to a bright and flinty, richly textured structure and unending length. 13% abv | 16€
Interesting to note just 16,000 hectares of Grüner are grown worldwide: 11,000 in Austria, 3,000 in the Czech Republic, and the remaining in other parts of the world, including Alto Adige.
~ Lagrein Riserva Amperg 2016 ~
Lagrein (pronounced “Lah-grine”) is native to Alto Adige where traditionally they blended it with another indigenous grape, Schiava, to smooth the tannins. Lentsch only produces a riserva, which per regulations, ages a minimum of two years in barrels.
This wine shows deep purple with a ruby colored rim. Admire the color, but get to the black cherry and fleshy plum aromas wrapped in dried lilac, forest spices and cocoa nibs. On my palate it felt soft, the tannins fine with bright acidity. I can imagine this wine pairing nicely with many foods from grilled or roasted vegetables to bean dishes and a variety of meats. 13% abv | 13.90€
~ Bachgart Blauburgunder 2016 ~
From the cooler Isarco Valley, this Pinot Noir is pale ruby in color. Aromas include strawberry and red plums underpinned with faint old leather, tobacco, and smoke. It’s fresh and vibrant on the palate yet soft, crushed velvet tannins give structure. 13% abv |18€
Other wines in his lineup include Gewürztraminer, Pinot Grigio and Sauvignon Blanc. And they just finished crushing a successful harvest, so there’s more in store for the 2019 vintage.
Is he crushing it? I say yes!
~~~ Alto Adige Tidbits ~~~
Alto Adige is number two behind Tuscany for farms dedicated to Agritourismo!