Body: Medium to full
Age: Most should be enjoyed within a few years of release. They are fruity in youth and gain more complexity with age – the best wines improve for up to ten years.
Lagrein (lah-grine) is a very interesting grape that has been going through something of a renaissance in recent years. It is native to Trentino-Alto Adige in northern Italy and is considered to be the oldest grape grown in the region, with an early reference dating from 1379.
Its most likely origin is in the Lagarina Valley in Trentino, from which it probably derived its name, although its presence there is very limited today. Recent DNA profiling has revealed that Lagrein is a cross between Teroldego and an unknown variety that may be closely related to Schiava Gentile.
Lagrein is a highly productive vine that produces vigorous growth. Careful vineyard management is therefore required to restrict yields in order to ensure good quality of fruit. Its berries are dark and thick-skinned, resulting in wines that are inky black in color with high tannin levels.
An interesting fact about Lagrein is that as the grapes ripen the stems or stalks stay green (you would normally expect them to turn brown). There are actually two main sub-varieties of Lagrein, one with long stems (grappolo lungo) and the other with short stems (grappolo corto). If appropriate action is not taken in the winery, these stems can significantly increase the level of tannin in the wine.
In addition to high tannin Lagrein also has naturally high acidity, which makes it a very good match for a wide range of foods. Given its dark color and tannic structure it is often added in small amounts to paler and softer varieties, such as Schiava and Pinot Noir, but it can also be found blended with Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. In the past Lagrein was mainly used for blending, as well as to produce rosé, and the small amount of red wine that was made was bitter and tannic.
However, in more recent years consumer demand for higher quality and more concentrated red wines has seen a transformation in the production of Lagrein. As yields were restricted and modern winemaking techniques were employed the quality, fruit concentration and unique character of Lagrein was revealed and demand consequently increased. The production of varietal wine has now moved centre stage and Lagrein has received well-deserved recognition as one of the best and most interesting indigenous Italian grape varieties.
These wines are very distinctive and full of personality. Aromas of black fruits, violets and spices (cinnamon and nutmeg) are present, and these wines can also exhibit vanilla, smoke and earthy fragrances as they age. On the palate flavors of fresh cherry, blackberry, blackcurrant and plum may be accompanied by dark chocolate, licorice, tobacco, leather and coffee, as well as mineral notes, followed by a refreshing, bitter cherry finish. The best examples are intriguing and, while complex, can also display a rustic quality. Surprisingly, the body of these wines is often much lighter on the palate than their almost black color would suggest.
Lagrein is very much a specialty of northern Italy, and especially Alto Adige. As a result, it may be difficult to find, but is available from many leading wine retailers.
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