Published by Sally on May 30, 2010

Lagrein is a deeply-coloured red grape variety indigenous to Alto Adige in Italy’s far north, where just 400 hectares are planted. Such is the small scale of production in this region, that those 400 hectares comprise 8% of the total Alto Adige vineyard area.

Muri-Gries' lagrein vineyards

Muri-Gries' lagrein vineyards

The grape prefers warmer sites, with sandy and gravelly soils, so production is naturally centred around the bowl of Bolzano, at the bottom of the valley, which concentrates the sun during the day from the surrounding mountains.

Good drainage in gravelly soils is said to help retain the grape’s naturally high acidity. Thick skins give a great deal of colour; indeed historically, lagrein was blended into other wines from the region to bolster their colour.  Plentiful tannins need careful attention in the winery otherwise they tend to be slightly bitter. Markus Heinel, the winemaker at J. Hofstätter said this was because “the stalks always stay green, even when they’re ripe.” One check on phenolic ripeness for other grape varieties is when the pips and stalks become brown. The trend to greater phenolic ripeness has greatly helped to tame the tannins in this often rustic variety.

Heinel added: “there are two vineyard styles, one with short stems which are fruitier and made without oak; the other has long stems with more colour and tannin, made in reserve styles.”

Santa Maddalena, overlooking Bolzano

Santa Maddalena, overlooking Bolzano

As well as varietal wines, lagrein is regularly a minor player in Alto Adige’s Santa Maddalena DOC, where it can add a modicum of substance to the light, gentle, uncomplicated, local schiava (aka vernatsch) grape variety. Santa Maddalena is located in the hills immediately to the east of Bolzano.

Muri-Gries is a 15th century monastery-cum-winery which focused on lagrein in the 1980s, making single variety wines, and is now a leading producer of top lagrein.  They were the first to recognise real potential in this specialist grape variety, including from specific types of the variety from their own vineyard.  Around 80% of Muri-Gries red production is now lagrein.

Cantina Convento Muri-Gries, Abtei Lagrein Riserva 2007, Alto Adige DOC
13.5%.   First vintage 1989. 16 months in barrique, 40% new. Tasted May 2010.
Dark translucent ruby/purple colour.  Dark chocolate and coffee bean aromas with smooth attack. Refined, fine-grained tannin frame onto which aromatic, sweetly-ripe, dark, blue- and black-berried fruits and Victoria plums hang.  Has a deceptive depth of flavour with a refreshing core which creates an elegant and rounded balance.  Very good.

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