Klaus Lentsch makes one of the most amazing Lagrein wines I’ve tried recently. 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.
So where is Alto Adige? 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 refreshingly bright way, vacillating between sun, rain, and snow (sometimes on the same day). Don’t let the latter two scare you away. Less frequent, they make way for abundant crops (apples and wine), clean mountain air, and outdoor adventures including hiking galore.
The capital Bolzano (Bozan in German) is squeaky clean and precise thanks to the Austrian Habsburg influence; they ruled the area in earlier times. Still today Italian takes a backseat to German when speaking but Italian coffee 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 last March where his Lagrein made an impression. Shortly thereafter, my long time friend Andrea asked to go traveling. Yes indeed! We agreed on Alto Adige; Lentsch was one of the first contacted.
Growing up on a maso (more on that below), he helped his winemaker uncle at age 14. That uncle not only gifted a wine tank for experimenting with grape juice but also a passion for winemaking and the Alto Adige culture. Unfortunately falling ill, Lentsch stepped in to make wine for the family estate at just 18.
Earlier on, making wine from start to finish then selling it to a winery who bottled it as their own was the norm. However in 1997 Lentsch made a move to make his own wine. It helped that his family had interest in growing the business. Yet eventually conflicting views led to a cordial separation and he purchased a small parcel. A second property purchased in 2013 is the location of his current winery.
The Lentsch Maso
Lentsch owns three ‘maso’, the local name for an agricultural farm. In his case they’re vineyards: 12 hectares (29 acres) in total.
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. It’s centrally located between his other maso: one in Valle Iscarso (the northern most winegrowing 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 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 difference with this model is guarantee. The law states two and a half hectares for grapes and apples, and seven hectares for milk producing cattle land at a minimum remain intact. This means a family can live off of working their land as a business.
It goes further too, helping maintain the mountain culture and landscape. You can see it high in the Alto Adige foothills and mountains; things are clean, brimming with people farming their land.
On Purchasing Vineyard Land
It’s almost impossible to buy land right 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 causes pause spending 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 product only when absolutely necessary. He’s not a big fan of labels and certifications but of the deeply engrained philosophy of respecting the land and taking care of it.
On Climate, Altitude and Terroir
Only 15% of the alpine landscape is cultivatable. Of that roughly 60% is white wine. Vineyards are planted on 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 the area. Northern areas have a cooler climate resulting in aromatic and mineral-driven wines with higher acidity.
Bolzano and south to the border with Trentino esperiences warmer temps. In fact Bolzano lies in a geological basic 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 diurnal temperature shift cools vineyards, helping maintain acid and aromatics. There’s a significant contrast between hot days and cool nights.
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. The Calcareous and dolomite rock are also found.
“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 with Goldmuskateller and Sauvignon Blanc wine is an aperitivo winner!
Lentsch is mostly a white wine estate also growing two super red varieties: Pinot Noir (Pinot Nero in Italy, Blauburgunder or Spätburgunder in Germanic countries) and Lagrein. All 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 the first Moscato Giallo. We’re talking aromatic and expressive: juicy citrus, yellow blossoms, lemon verbena, fresh ginger hints, crushed stones, subtly alive and very round on the palate with a long, light as a feather finish. Lovely now, this is also one to lay down. Lentsch has bottles with ten+ 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.
~ 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 wood.
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. Oh 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 ~
Grapes 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€
Weingut Klaus Lentsch makes Gewurtztrminer, Pinot Grigio and Sauvignon Blanc wines too.
Crushing it?!? Yes! They just finished crushing a successful 2019 harvest.
~~~ Other Tidbits ~~~
Alto Adige is number two behind Tuscany for farms dedicated to Agritourismo!
The Montinore Estate in Oregon produces a 100% Lagrein. Read what Robin at Crushed Grape Chronicals wrote about it in early 2019.