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Lagrein- More than a 'Meat and 3 Veg' Wine

Posted: Tuesday, 19 March 2013 13:18

Lagrein-More than a 'Meat and 3 Veg' Wine

Mar 19: Originating in the Trentino - Alto Adige area of northern Italy, Lagrein is one of the indigenous Italian varieties that is being increasingly cultivated in Australia thanks to the presence of several immigrants who are passionate about the Alternative grape varieties rather than the 95% traditional varieties, writes Dan Traucki who specialises in this category of grapes

With hundreds of grape varieties available to make wine, it is rather sad that over 95% of the wine made in the Southern Hemisphere comes 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 in Australia with some of the most delicious, diverse and cosmopolitan food in the world.

Expansion of Alternative varietals

Over the past decade the number of wineries planting new “Alternative” grape varieties has expanded massively; and with the Aussie dollar at a long time high, 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. 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.

Lagrein-a good Alternative

There will always be a big market and demand for great Shiraz or Cabernet but 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 here in Australia, is Lagrein.

Originating in the Trentino - Alto Adige area of northern Italy, this variety is presumed to have come from the Lagarina Valley (Vallagarina) 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 (an Australian term used for sweet carbonated soft drinks, some time with a low alcohol content hidden under the sugary flavour-editor).

However, when properly managed in the vineyard, Lagrein produces a deep coloured, deliciously flavoured, tannic, high acid, low ph wine which makes it ideal for blending with low tannin or low colour varieties so as to enhance those wines. A modicum of Lagrein can certainly enhance a lighter coloured, low acid wine. Alternatively, a big Lagrein wine can be lightened up or softened by the addition of a less powerful variety.

An excellent example of this is the Jacob’s Creek Limited Release 2007 Lagrein Dolcetto. It is a beautiful, big, flavour packed wine which at 6 years old still needs plenty of breathing time to open up and show at its best. It is a mouth filling wine with oodles of cherry and blackberry flavours along with hints of chocolate with a tight lingering finish. (Although JC is the ubiquitous, leading Pernod Ricard imported brand from Australia, this wine is not a part of their import portfolio yet-editor)

Good Food wine

As a straight varietal wine Lagrein exhibits beautiful earthy, dark cherry, plummy flavours 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.

Lagrein–the original

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 muscly with a grippy, earthy finish – a fantastic food wine. The other wine that left a strong impression was the Manincor Lagrein Rubatsch. It was quite powerful but still slightly more restrained and silky than the Alois Lageder.

Lagrein in Australia

At present there are around 25 wineries growing Lagrein in Australia. Additionally, the Riverland Vine Improvement Committee (RVIC) in South Australia who are 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; the 2010 vintage won a Gold Medal at the 2011 Australian Alternative Varieties Wine Show (AAVWS) in Mildura in northwestern Victoria.  Their 2012 vintage is now marketed under the Cirami Estate label and 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, 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!

Lagrein can sparkle too

Another winery making consistently good Lagrein as well as being the only producer that I have been able to track down, of a Sparkling Lagrein is Hartzbarn Wines at Moculta in the Barossa Valley. The Hartzbarn 2005 Lagrein is drinking superbly at present with its amazingly deep red colour (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 plate of Osso Bucco. 

Their Sparkling Lagrein explodes onto ones palate in tiny bubbles of flavour 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 flavours. Come to think of it, I think I will have another glass of Lagrein!! From Australia or Italy.

Dan Traucki

Formerly an accountant, Dan has been in the wine industry for over 25 years in a variety of roles including 10+ years at Orlando Wyndham - home of Jacobs Creek. He was the GM of a 400,000-case a year winery and CEO of a grape growing company with 1,350 acres of vineyards. He runs his own company for the last 10 years. Wine Assist helps Australian wineries to export globally. During this period, he has conducted wine classes in India, Singapore, China and Hong Kong, as well as for new Chinese migrants to Australia. In a world full of specialists he claims to be a wine generalist.

Tags: Trentino, Jacob’s Creek, Riverland Vine Improvement Committee (RVIC) , Australian Alternative Varieties Wine Show, AAVWS, Barossa Valley, Dan Traucki, Wine Assist


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