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Lagrein, More Than a “Meat & 3 Veg” Wine

By:  Dan Traucki of Wine Assist.

There are many hundreds of different wine grape varieties in the world. Most of them are Vitis Vinifera with a few American, Vitis Lambrusca and a one or two Vitis Aestivalis added, primarily in hybrid varieties which have been created to suit harsh cold climate conditions.

Therefore it is rather sad that over 95% of the wine made in the “New World” ( USA, Canada, Australia, South America & South Africa) come from a small handful of “traditional” grape varieties – Chardonnay, Semillon, Riesling, Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz, Pinot Noir, Merlot and most recently Sauvignon Blanc.

It took the arrival of hundreds of thousands of migrants from all over the world to broaden the Australian eating habits to the point that now it is challenging (other than at a truck stop perhaps) to go to a restaurant and have a “Meat & 3 Veg” meal. Today we are blessed with some of the most delicious, diverse and cosmopolitan food in the world.

Over the past decade the number of wineries planting new “Alternative” grape varieties has expanded massively; and with the Aussie dollar at long time high’s, the cost of imported wine has plummeted. As a result many more Aussie wine drinkers are experimenting with wines made from alternative varieties or imported from overseas. Sure some of them are pretty ordinary, as were some of the early Asian restaurants (especially in the suburbs) but the good ones more than make up for this and broaden the Aussie palate forever.

Wines and varieties from Italy and Spain are starting to become entrenched into our wine psyche with the sales of varieties such as Sangiovese and Tempranillo climbing rapidly, for both imported and locally grown wines.

Thus while there will always be a big market and demand for great Shiraz or Cabernet, the demand for mediocre wines from traditional varieties will wane and instead there will be considerable demand for other exciting wines made from “new” varieties which many people have not yet heard of.

One really exciting Italian variety which I believe has a great future is Lagrein. Originating in the Trentino – Alto Adige area of northern Italy this variety is presumed to have come from the Lagarina Valley in that area. Being a high altitude cool climate area, the wines are more austere and minerally than when grown in its new home, the warmer grape growing areas of Australia. The characteristic aromas of this Italian varietal are berries, cherries and violets. On the palate, it has a velvety body with soft acidity and pairs well with red meats or cheeses

Lagrein is a very vigorous variety which needs good management in order to avoid over-cropping and the resultant tannic, acidic and thin green tasting wines. Left to their own devices in the vineyard, the vines go feral with significant vegetative growth, drooping canes and lateral shoots. Somewhat like Grenache, too much water and you end up with cask quality lolly water.

However, when properly managed in the vineyard, Lagrein produces a deep colored, deliciously flavored, tannic, high acid, low ph wine which makes it ideal for blending with low tannin or low color varieties so as to enhance those wines. A modicum of Lagrein can certainly enhance a lighter colored, low acid wine. An excellent example of this is the Heartland Dolcetto Lagrein. It is a beautiful, mouth filling wine with oodles of dark berry flavors along with a lingering finish.

As a straight varietal wine Lagrein exhibits beautiful earthy, dark cherry, plummy flavors with dark chocolate and even the occasional hint of liquorice, a mineral edge and floral acidity. It is a full bodied wine without being “heavy.” This makes it a fabulous “food wine” especially for richer heartier dishes where the wine’s acidity and higher tannins help to cut through the richness of the dish.

Of the Italian Lagrein that I have had the opportunity to try so far the ones that impressed were the Alois Lageder Lagrein which was full bodied and muscley with a grippy, earthy finish – a fantastic food wine.

The other wine that left a strong impression was the Manincor Lagrein Rubatsch which whilst still powerful was slightly more restrained and silky than the Alois Lageder.

The only winery I was able to find that is making a Lagrein in the USA is Praxis Cellars on California’s Central Coast. Their Praxis 2008 Lagrein – which I have not had a chance to try, won a Gold Medal last year but alas their web site does not specify where it was won.

In Australia, at present there are around 25 wineries growing Lagrein, in addition to which, the Riverland Vine Improvement Committee (RVIC) in South Australia who are a not for profit organization and Australia’s largest propagator of certified grape vine cuttings and rootstocks for growers has started to make small batches of wines from some of the “new” varieties they grow for propagation. One of these wines is Lagrein, which incidentally their 2010 vintage won a Gold Medal at the 2011 Australian Alternative Varieties Wine Show (AAVWS) in Mildura, whilst their 2012 vintage now marketed under the Cirami Estate label won the “Best Italian Varietal Trophy” in the 2012 AAVWS.

This wine is a bit lighter in style than the other Lagrein I have tasted because it comes from very young vines. However having said that, it has interesting green tea aromas, beautiful dark almost bitter cherries on the palate, which is robust and mouth-filling with a tight crisp finish. This wine is  OH SO drinkable. What an innovative and brilliant way to advertise for their services, by getting the growers to taste the wine they could make from the variety if they plant RVIC cuttings.

Another winery making consistently good Lagrein as well as being the only producer of a Sparkling Lagrein that I have been able to track down is Hartzbarn Wines in the Barossa Valley of South Australia.

The Hartzbarn 2005 Lagrein is drinking superbly at present with its amazingly deep red color (looks like a 2-3 year old Shiraz) masses of tight plummy fruit and a long lingering slightly acid finish. It was simply brilliant with a good helping of Osso Bucco.  Their Sparkling Lagrein explodes onto ones palate in tiny bubbles of flavor which make it almost impossible to put the glass down until it is completely empty.

So if you have not tried a Lagrein yet? What are you waiting for? Track one down and treat your palate to a wonderful array of flavors. Come to think of it, I think I will have another glass of Lagrein!

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    Dan Traucki

    Dan Traucki
    Wine Assist P/L Wine Industry Consultants South Australia Dan Traucki JP, Wine Industry Consultant, and Director of Wine Assist Pty Ltd, has nearly 26 years experience in the wine industry. He regularly writes articles for wine industry magazines, such as Wine Business Magazine and occasionally for Australian Grapegrower & Winemaker Magazine. Read More About Dan