The other night I invited a few friends over to help me celebrate the completion of some of my recent wine projects. It’s been such a busy spring that I have been forced to neglect my blog. But I’m back! And ready to cover lots of new stuff. If you have been wondering what the heck I’ve been up to during the past few months, well I’ll tell you.
Back in January I wrote an article for the Alto Adige USA website about some of the most outstanding Sauvignon blanc from Alto Adige.
Shortly thereafter, Local Wine Events informed me that they wanted to add
my article about Roero Arneis to their collection of articles on their website and then sent it out in their newsletter this past May.
I also completed an article about the Colli Tortonesi DOC, which will be published in July in the magazine, Sommelier Journal, and online at the Sommelier Journal website. (Colli Tortonesi is the Piemontese region special for its Timorasso, and also for other fabulous, however fairly underdiscovered, wines from interesting grapes like Croatina.) While I was working on those writing projects, I spent my evenings teaching a class on wines from the Mediterranean. I covered a diverse set of wines (with food pairings) from a different country each night, including Portugal, Spain, France, Italy, and Greece.*
But that’s all done! So to rejoice, I thought it would be fun to have a simple dinner party with friends and toast with some Lagrein wines I acquired while I was in Alto Adige last fall doing research for the aforementioned Sauvignon blanc article. And admittedly, I also needed some new subject matter for the deserted enotecaMarcella.
Lagrein (also known in Italian as Lagarino) is thought to come from the Lagarina Valley, which delineates the lower course of the Adige River in northeastern Italy near the town of Rovereto. Lagrein also does well in the northern stretches of the Alto Adige and shares some warm, western-facing slopes with Pinot noir on the range of mountains just east of Lago di Caldaro, running up to the city of Bolzano. Lagrein vineyards thrive around the city of Bolzano as well, where the elevation is lower and the soils are mainly gravel, sand, and porphyry (volcanic rock). The vine covers a little over 1,000 acres in Alto Adige, which is about 8% of the province’s total vineyard acreage.
I had three Alto Adige wines to add to the evening, along with a bottle from the California producer, Palmina. They are a Santa Barbara county winery renowned for producing California wines made from grapes native to Italy. In fact, almost everything they grow is Italian (except for a tiny bit of Syrah, used in a blend.) I hadn’t yet tried their Lagrein and thought this would be the perfect opportunity.
(As a side note: most of the time in Alto Adige, aka Süd Tirol, all names appear in both Italian and German. In this article I will list both names, separated by a “/” where both names are commonly used. If only one name is used, I’ll only list that one. For example, Caldaro/Kaltern, a town on the main wine road.)
To start the tasting, my friend, Rob, generously contributed the Erste e Neue Gröbnerhof and the Foradori Teroldego, both splendid comparisons to the other 100% Lagrein wines on the table.
Erste e Neue Gröbnerhof St Magdalener 2010. Schiava 93%, Lagrein 7%. Alto Adige DOC (Santa Maddalena/St. Magdalener subzone). The soil is mainly gravel and sand and the pergola-trained vines yield about 8 tons per hectare. Fermentation completes in stainless steel and malolactic occurs in 90 hectoliter barrels. Transparent light cranberry color. Perfumed with black pepper, raspberry, pomegranate, and peach. Pleasant on the palate with light tannins, more pepper, and a touch of sweet strawberry. ★★☆
Foradori Teroldego 2010. Teroldego 100%. Teroldego Vigneti delle Dolomiti IGT. The soil in these vineyards is alluvial, gravel, and sand. Fermentation occurs in open stainless-steel tanks and the wine is aged for 15 months in large barrel and stainless steel tanks. …Well, this is where my opinion and subjectivity take over. To me this one was too leathery and had some brettanomyces taint but no one else seemed to share my sentiment. Although I did notice that it certainly was not the first to be finished! I know I’ve enjoyed this wine in the past so I welcome any others’ input on this wine…
Manincor Lagrein Rubatsch 2010. Lagrein 100%. Alto Adige DOC. Two-thirds of the grapes come from Terlano/Terlan (the Rubatsch vineyard) and one-third from Caldaro/Kaltern (the Seehof vineyard). Rubatsch is SW facing at 250m and the soils are sand and porphyry. Seehof also sits at about 250m in altitude and has soils consisting of sand, clay, and gravel. The sand and porphyry soils give Lagrein its perfume and subtleties while clay and gravel contribute to structure and tannins. Two weeks of fermentation take place in open-top oak vats before it aged in 10% new French oak barrels for 14 months. The Manincor Lagrein Rubatsch is a deep purple color and gives off a big bouquet of herbs, ash, and sweet, wild blackberries. It is the fruitiest of the three Italian Lagrein with a more unctuous mouthfeel (like the syrup of blackberries) but balanced by the nuances of herbs, black pepper, and a bright acidity with a touch of gravel. ★★☆
Cantina Caldaro/Kellerei Kaltern Lagrein 2010. Lagrein 100%. Alto Adige DOC. The altitude of the Lago di Caldaro vineyards ranges between 230-350m. The wine is aged for 2 weeks in a combination of small French oak barrels and large barrels. Dark opaque ruby in color, with radiant aromas. The herbal quality in this Lagrein, expressed by a pleasant scent of slightly green banana peel, frames ripe scents of blackberry, raspberry, and smoke. While a little hot on the palate it is still agreeable with lots of blueberry fruit and good acidity. ★★
Peter Zemmer Lagrein 2010. Lagrein 100%. Alto Adige DOC. The vineyards are located in calcareous soils surrounding the winery in the village of Cortina, just south of Lago di Caldaro. After a 7 day fermentation, 70% of the wine ages for a few months in large oak barrels, and 30% ages in 2-3 year-old small French oak barrels. Ruby-magenta in the glass, the nose is clean and harmonious with a touch of grass, outlined by dark and ripe blackberry fruit. On the palate and into the finish, the Peter Zemmer Lagrein is peppery, yet soft with good fruit and fully integrated tannins. My favorite of the evening! ★★★
Palmina Honea Vineyard Lagrein 2009. Santa Ynez Valley (Santa Barbara County, California). This hillside vineyard lies in the east-west valley of Santa Ynez, on the central coast of California, not far from the Pacific Ocean. The California coastal valley conditions can be compared to those of the Alto Adige since there is a balance of cold temperatures (from the Pacific Ocean, as opposed to the northern Alpine winds) and warm breezes (from the central valley, not the Adriatic Sea). This balance of cold and warm influences, along with calcareous soil, creates an ideal environment for producing a fine Lagrein. The Palmina Lagrein is inky, magenta, purple. Herbal and smoky scents mix with a hint of metallic character. While the oak is discernible, it is not overpowering. In the mouth the Palmina Lagrein is fruity and rich but balanced by sweet spices, earthy moss, and a prominent acidity. ★★
Two of my guests and good friends, Jordana and Nick, contributed another California Lagrein, Tre Anelli Central Coast Lagrein, one I hadn’t heard of so that was a treat. They also made an impressive and unique bruschetta dish. Atop pieces of grilled bread, sat mixed greens lightly dressed, along with slices of mozzarella, and slices of ripe mango. One might expect a white wine to be the best pairing for that dish, but honestly the grassy and herbal characteristics of the Lagrein totally complemented the greens and peppery dressing. The inherent acidity of the Alto Adige wines also worked well to complement the mango on the bruschetta. The Schiava blend, the Erste e Neue, went amazingly well with the dish.
Tre Anelli Central Coast Lagrein 2007. Paso Robles (French Camp Vienyard, Paso Robles County, California). The color of this wine is also an inky purple, like the Palmina. The nose is great—while blackberry jam and raisin come forth, those are offset by mellow earthy elements of leather saddle and moss. On the palate it is mainly hot and fruity but still impressive for a 6 year old wine from Paso Robles. ★
Thanks also to Josh and Claire who contributed a delicious avocado, quinoa, and fava bean salad. This dish, as well, gave us some more flavor pairings to discuss. The creamy textures of the salad, like the fava beans and avocado, helped counteract the Lagrein tannins. The other more acidic and spicy ingredients (lemon juice, radish, and cumin) worked in harmony with the qualities Lagrein. I was curious where the recipe came from so I asked. Josh told me it comes from the cookbook, Plenty, by Yotam Ottolenghi. I highly recommend this book. It is amazing.
As for me, I made a traditional Alto Adige pancetta and herb gnocchi dish, a recipe from the book, Vino Italiano, by Joseph Bastianich and David Lynch. And my husband, Jeff, whipped up a tasty brown butter and herb gnocchi for the vegetarian folk. Both of which went traditionally well with the Lagrein (and its cousins).
Thanks to all my friends and Jeff for your contributions to this celebratory and relaxing evening! While I definitely enhanced my knowledge of the Lagrein grape itself, I also learned what a great food pairing wine it is! In fact, I have to admit that I was reading the suggested list of food pairings for the Tre Anelli Lagrein online, where they list fish, poultry, grilled meat, pancetta, pork tenderloin, and all manner of cheeses. And I thought to myself, “Well I don’t know who wrote that. They must not know what they’re talking about. How could one wine pair with all that?”
But now I think I see where they were coming from!
* I didn’t write anything about the wines from this class but I will say that the Italian standouts included:
Peter Zemmer Pinot grigio 2011, Andrea Mutti Timorasso 2009, Azelia Barolo 2008, Barbi Brunello di Montalcino 2007, and Fattoria di Milziade Antano Montefalco di Sagrantino 2007.