Alto Adige is an idyllic fairy land filled with mountain views, delicious wine and local flavor. This small region, nestled in the Italian Alps bordering Austria may be better known for its aromatic white wines, including the heady Gewürztraminer, but, the indigenous red grape Lagrein is producing a number of well made wines worthy of a second look. Admittedly when I visited this region I wasn’t really focused on tasting reds. Looking back on tasting notes a dizzying amount of perfumed prose was scribbled in every margin to describe the many whites I sampled in the area. But, after a day of tasting whites I longed for a red to sip with my lunch served al fresco on that chilly fall day, pumpkin gnocchi with brown butter. My server brought me a few different local reds made from Lagrein to sample and as I sipped through the selection I was impressed with the quality and flavor. This wine added to an already memorable day spent in one of the most picturesque settings I’ve experienced in my travels. While wine shopping the other day I spotted a few bottles of Lagrein, it instantly transported me back to that perfect day spent in Alto Adige. I couldn’t wait to get home and fill my glass with vinous memories!
At one time Lagrein was mainly used to make “Lagrein Kretzer”, the only rosé wine with old traditions in the Alto Adige region. The remaining quantity of juice was vinified as very dark red wine that was often used to add more color and body to wines made from another indiginous red, the more fashionable Schiava. While the lighter bodied Schiava is a favorite in the region an interest in fuller bodied reds brought focus into developing Lagrein into a premium wine able to meet consumer demands in the 80s. Today with controlled yields and modern cellar practices Lagrein is producing a number of tasty reds with deep rich color, a plush mouth feel, silky tannins and a bright fresh acidity. They are the perfect pairing with the salty, smokey flavors in the local cured porktacular named Speck or any number of the regions cheeses.
My favorite Lagrein is produced by Elena Walch, an architect turned winemaker when she married into one of the most prestigious producers in the region. Elena’s Lagrein is luscious. Grown in limestone soils at Castel Ringberg (the estates best vineyard), situated high over Lake Caldaro, Walch’s Lagrein is cool fermented in steel then aged in large French oak barrels. It’s filled with flavors and aromas of violet, stewed plum, cooked cherry and a stoney earthy minerality. A long lingering finish and balanced acidity make this a fabulous wine to pair with many foods, especially a local cheese that is bathed in the same grape, Weinkase Lagrein.
Weinkase Lagrein translates to wine cheese, a no brainer for pairing. The Italian cooperative dairy that produces Lagrein cheese has 4,000 farmer members, with an average of nine cows each. I can only image the amazing pastures these lucky cows
must graze in. After creating wheels of a smooth, buttery cheese the cheesemakers drop it into vats of Lagrein wine along with garlic, onion, peppercorns and a variety of spices for several days, then it ages for an additional 6 weeks. The smell and flavor of this cheese reminds me of a giant Italian sub drenched in herb vinaigrette or even bratwurst with grilled onion. The smooth creamy paste melts in your mouth, it is slightly tangy yet buttery and satisfying. Tasters on more than one occasion have asked me if it contained some type of meat. It really is a must try! Be sure to pour a glass of Lagrein to pair with, it’s really a magical marriage made in Italian wine and cheese heaven, Alto Adige.