Lagrein

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Lagrein is an ancient grape variety that finds its home in the sunny vineyards of Trentino-Alto Adige in north eastern Italy. Its wines are strong and full bodied with plum and wild cherry flavours, and the variety is particularly well known for the deep, dense colour it imparts on wines. Lagrein has a characteristically north Italian fresh, acidic structure and a slightly astringent finish, making it best paired with food.

Lagrein is most probably native to the region, and is thought to take its name from the town of Val Lagarina in Trentino. It has certainly been grown in this area for hundreds of years, and is first mentioned in texts that date back as far as the 16th century. Other theories give Lagrein a Greek origin, suggesting that it is closely related to wines that were once made around the city of Lagaria in Greece. DNA testing has suggested Teroldego as a possible parent, supporting the theory that the variety is native to Italy's Alpine northwest.

Lagrein is often produced as a varietal wine, permitted under both the Trentino and Alto Adige DOC titles. The sun-baked slopes here provide an excellent terroir for the grape, and it is the most significant red wine variety in what is, admittedly, a region where white wines dominate. Lagrein is permitted for use as a blending component in many other wines made in Trentino-Alto Adige, mostly alongside Schiava, Teroldego or international varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot.

While the mountains of north east Italy are very much the variety's home, there are some plantings of Lagrein in the New World. Australia has embraced obscure regional grape varieties from Europe, of which Lagrein is very much one, and excellent examples are being made in cooler regions like Victoria's Macedon Ranges and the Adelaide Hills. There are also Lagrein wines being made in California.

Lagrein has posed a few issues for winemakers over the years, and in particular its tendency toward low, irregular yields and a harsh tannic structure in the finished wines. Modern viticultural and winemaking techniques have limited the effects of these two problems. Careful clone selection has helped ensure more consistent harvests, and shorter maceration times and barrel ageing has helped to curb some of the most astringent tannins.

When made well, Lagrein wines can offer an off-the-beaten-path alternative to full-bodied wines like those made from Cabernet Sauvignon. The best examples can be aged for several years, although they are best drunk within a few years of harvest.
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