Lagrein: Red Wine from Italy's Alto Adige Region is Great for Winter Recipes

Near the Austrian border in northern Italy, from the region of Alto Adige comes an excellent red wine called Lagrein (pronounced la-GRINE) that really hits the spot on a winters night dinner table.  Lagrein is also the name of the grape from which it is made.  As was discussed here, the area of Alto Adige is very close to the Austrian border and has a shared history with both Italy and Austria.  Hence, the German language is spoken frequently and either or both languages may appear on a wine label.  You can find it made as both a red wine, often called Dunkel in German and Scuro in Italian, or a Rosè, called Kretzer in German or Rosato in Italian. 

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The most northern of Italy’s regions, Alto Adige is surrounded by the Alps and the Dolomites.  One might think that producing a red wine in this northern mountainous area of Alto Adige might present troubles.  Lagrein grapes, in fact, do need very warm temperatures to ripen fully and paradoxically, have found the perfect home in the Bolzano basin of this region.  Bolzano is an area that is at the convergence of the Isarco and Adige Rivers, and as it turns out is one of the hottest summertime places in all of Italy.  Only Sicily has hotter average summertime temperatures.  There is a warm drying breeze called the Ora which starts near Lake Garda and blows thru Alto Adige’s valleys to Bolzano.  The valley floor forms a basin with sandy and gravel soils that hold the heat in the summer raising floor temperatures significantly above the surrounding hills.  The result is a perfect marriage of warm daytime temperatures, soil and climate which make splendid growing conditions for Lagrein.  When planted on these warmer sites, Lagrein grows prolifically requiring vigilant vineyard management.  Traditionally, these grapes were grown on the Pergola system (overhead, think an Italian Restaurant), but now most growers have switched to the more modern Guyot system.  There are about 700 acres of Lagrein grapes under vine in Alto Adige. 

Lagrein wine is dense and dark purple/ruby in color.  It has aromas of black raspberries and plums with spices such as cinnamon or nutmeg.  Yet, on the palate, it is a bit lighter than expected although it does come off as rustic, with a spry acidity that makes them great with food.  The flavors are more of raspberries and cranberries and some leathery qualities.  For many wine drinkers, especially those used to the Bordeaux varietals, Lagrein can be unsettling as the palate seems weak based on the visual expectations.  Yet, this is a wine with fascinating complexities that goes great with food. 

The grape is actually thought to have originated in nearby Trentino along the Lagarina River thus garnering the name.  Due to its dark color, some believe it to be a relative of the Syrah and/or the Teroldego (which is popular in Trentino) grapes.  The Lagrein grape is still grown in Trentino but those tend not to be as interesting as the ones from Alto Adige. 

For more than 25 years, The California Wine Club founders Bruce and Pam Boring have explored all corners of California’s wine country to find award-winning, handcrafted wine to share with the world. Each month, the club features a different small family winery and hand selects two of their best wines for members.