Learning to Love Lagrein

The wine world is way too big and varied to stick with the same old grape varieties and regions every time you pop a cork. And while most of us enjoy a good Cabernet or Shiraz whenever the opportunity presents itself, living only on the Famous Grapes leads to a dull drinking life, indeed.
Which is where Lagrein, one of the great red grape varieties of Northern Italy, comes in.
Eric Asimov, wine columnist for The New York Times, put it well this past March, writing that Lagrein is “a grape that, like its counterpart Teroldego in nearby Trentino, is grown almost nowhere else. For such an unusual grape, though, it produces congenial, straightforward wines that can be deliciously plummy, earthy and chewy, dark and full-bodied but not heavy, with a pronounced minerally edge.”
Sounds nice, no?
It is, and it’s often a serious bargain in addition. This, of course, is typical of so many of the great lesser-known grape varieties of the world: They have to be solid bargains because if they weren’t, people really wouldn’t take a chance on them.
I recently had the chance to taste a selection of Lagreins, and was very impressed by their character, versatility with food, and, with some of the bottles, agability. My tasting notes are below. I cannot recommend these heartily enough.
Alois Lageder Lagrein Rosé 2010
This is a serious rosé, with aromas of spicy cherries that lead to a taut, mineral-tinged palate flecked with garrigue spices, tart cherries, and perfectly balancing acidity.
Elena Walch “Castel Ringberg” Lagrein Riserva 2006
A rich, deep, almost inky color, with a distinctive nose of dried flowers, brambly herbs, and dark berries, all limned with subtle warm vanilla pod. Flavors of savory herbs and silky blackberry and boysenberry compote are carried on a velvety texture. This riserva finishes with an almost salty note, lending this fascinating Lagrein a wholly unique expression to its spice. Classic food wine.
Cantina Terlan Lagrein Riserva “Gries” 2007
Aromatically, this is the wine equivalent of a nice, warm blanket: Comforting aromas of fraises de bois and perfect cherries, violets, rose petals, licorice, and love. It’s wildly complex and layered on the palate, with more crushed purple berry and cherry fruit, aromatically complex spice, violets, currant-gel candies, bittersweet chocolate truffles, and well-balanced acid and tannins. One of the best Lagreins I’ve ever tasted.
Cantina Tramin Lagrein 2009
What a lovely warm nose--it wraps around you with enveloping brown spices, dark cherries, and minerals. These turn to a palate of red and black raspberries, dark cherries, bittersweet chocolate, black licorice, and warm mulling spices. Delicious, and will be even better with a bit of a chill on it.

Note: For more on Trentino - Alto Adige, click this link to the excellent ItalianMade.com web site.