Lagrein | Native Italian red wine grape, the most important red variety in the Alto Adige region of northern Italy, that region’s answer to Cabernet Sauvignon (Italian Wine Unplugged, 2017, p111).
National Registry Code: 112 (D’Agata, 2014, p323).
The name | Probably derives from the Val Lagarina or Vallagarina, a valley in Trentino (Italian Wine Unplugged, 2017, p111.). Another less likely theory suggests a Greek origin, linking Lagrein to a variety used to make the lagaritanos wine from around the city of Lagaria on the Ionian sea coast of Basilicata. However, research by Vouillamoz & Grando showed that Marzemino and Lagrein are offspring of Teroldego and another unidentified and possibly now extinct parent, likely a progeny of Pinot Noir, which would make Pinot Noir a grandparent of both Lagrein and Marzemino (D’Agata, 2014, p323). This would seem to confirm Lagrein’s non-Greek origin. Another conflicting theory (Cipriani, Spadotto et al. 2010) proposes Lagrein as a natural crossing between Teroldego and Schiava Gentile from Alto Adige.
History | In 1526 in what is modern-day Alto Adige in Italy there was a popular insurgence against the nobles and their troops. Local farmers, led by Michale Gasmayr, had a list of demands, one of which was the right to drink Lagrein, a practice reserved for the nobility, the courts and the church (D’Agata, 2014, p.323).
Viticulture | Site selection is important as Lagrein needs warmth to ripe fully. Planting Lagrein in northern Italy, given Alto Adige’s cool climate makes sense, says Ian D’Agata (2014, p324) because in Alto Adige the vineyards are planted in south-facing valleys with daytime summer temperatures in the mid- to high 30s°C, adding that Bolzano ranks with Palermo in Sicily as Italy’s hottest city in summer.
It performs best on rocky or gravelly soils which warm quickly and radiate solar heat back onto the grapes (Italian Wine Unplugged, 2017, p111). The best Lagrein wines come from calcareous, gravelly soils which heat up, as Lagrein likes warm temperatures…a late ripener, Lagrein needs all the sun it can get (D’Agata, 2014, p324). Its stamping ground is the countryside around Bolzano in Alto Adige where it is the region’s most important grape variety. Official dates of harvest for Lagrein in the region date back to 1097 and the monks at the abbey of Gries, the latter considered the regional grand cru site for the variety (D’Agata, 2014, p.323). In 1370, Emperor Charles IV banned his troops from drinking Lagrein, allowing them the lighter, less alcoholic wines from the Schiava group of varieties.
Biotypes & clones | There appears to be a large number of Lagrein biotypes (D’Agata, 2014, p.324) but two main ones are planted with either a long- or short-stalked bunch. Clones derived from these biotypes focused on lower sugar potential (pyramid-shaped) such as SMA 63 SMA 65, LB 511, and LB 523, rather than on the smaller, cylindrically-shaped LB 509 and SMA 66 (the two short-stalked ones), which were less generous producers. Clone SMA 63 is said to producer around 50% less heavy bunches and 30% less bunches overall than the other clones.
Low yields | One of the reasons Lagrein remains more or less confined to Trentino and Alto Adige is due to its flowers having little pollen and many female flowers are morphologically imperfect. Already reduced productivity is compounded by rainy spring weather leading to coulure and variable annual yields (D’Agata, 2014, p.324).
Where grown | Trentino-Alto Adige: Alto Adige DOC Lagrein. | Südtirol DOC. | Trentino DOC. | Valdadige | Etschtaler DOC.
Vineyard area, production |
Wine styles | Dry, still red (‘rosso’ or ‘dunkel’ in Italian and German respectively) or pink (‘rosato’ or Kretzer). Lagrein produces big, full-bodied, almost impenetrably deep coloured wines and can have harsh, bitter, unpleasant tannins, although recent changes in winemaking such as cooler ferments, shorter macerations and ageing in small oak barrels have helped but without eliminating a characteristic touch of bitterness in the aftertaste (D’Agata, 2014, p324-5). The rosét style can be ‘especially good’ (D’Agata, 2014, p324-5).
Tasting note | Lagrein has one of the highest total anthocyanin concentrations of all Italian grape varieties, making the wines deeply coloured (D’Agata, 2014, p324). Lagrein gives full-bodied, tannic reds with a bitter finish (Italian Wine Unplugged, 2017, p111). The wines are deeply-coloured thanks to Lagrein’s high level of anthocyanins (Italian Wine Unplugged, 2017, p111).
With food |
Ian D’Agata, Native wine grapes of Italy (University of California Press, 2014), p.323-325.
Italian Wine Unplugged (Positive Press, 2017), p111.