Tuesday, November 24, 2009

I Love Lagrein...

It's not the easiest wine to find, I'll admit. It's well off the familiar well-beaten wine path, for sure. And while it's not expensive, and most you do find are well worth the price, it's not exactly a bargain leader either. Most times when I tell people I love Lagrein I get a puzzled look. As in, "WTF is he talking about now?"

Lagrein is a deep, dark red wine from the Trentino-Alto Adige in North Italy, and only rarely found outside that region (although I did find a delicious one in a single-vineyard plot in the Willamette Valley in Oregon!) Supposedly descended from the also fairly obscure Teroldego grape from the same region, Lagrein tends to be what most wine geeks call 'rustic'---which means it's deeply colored, boldly flavored and might bite your tongue off with tannin.

To me, Lagrein is reminiscent of an old style Mendocino Petite Sirah, inky black, tart and astringent, loaded with scratchy tannins and black pepper, but also spicy and tangy and rich in brambly berry flavors.

One you might be able to find is one I recently tried: the Kellerei Tramin Lagrein Alto Adige DOC 2008 (imported by Winebow/LoCascio). It's not pricy, it's a great example of the variety and the region, and it is an altogether impressive wine.

While it's common knowledge amongst wine geeks that the basic co-op doesn't tend to make outstanding wines, you automatically can find many exceptions to the rule. Kellerei Tramin is one of the best exceptions, since it is headed by the estimable Willi Sturz, a 2004 Tre Bicchieri Winemaker of the Year, and one of the most dynamic and talented of northern Italian Sudtirol winemakers.

This Lagrein is a blend of several vineyards, so consider it a good representative of what Lagrein should be...which is, dark and inky black, tart with sour cherries, astringent with barely managed tannins, herbal, black pepper, and lean, tart puckery berry fruit. And for me there is always that hallmark flavor of deep roasted coffee. Maybe even a hint of tobacco that you used to be able to buy for pipe smoking, the black. damp, clumpy, aromatic stuff that tamped so well in the pipe and smelled like a damp forest floor---which may sound terrible to you but brings back tremendous Proustian memories for me.

And it can be a great food wine too. Last night, by popular request, I served the extended family (four generations) my thrown-together pasta sauce that became a favorite, sort of a weird puttanesca loaded down with way too many kalamata olives and capers and onions and garlic and spicy red peppers, simmered for a couple of days. The Lagrein was perfect with the pasta sauce. Bold flavor met bold flavor, and they got along just fine with each other! (The lone non-wine drinker of the group elected to have the Upright Rye beer I recently opined about on this blog; it did pretty well too.)

So if you're looking for something a little out of the ordinary to handle your wine jones, and you like your reds big and bold, give Lagrein a try. Specifically the Kellerei Tramin Lagrein; you can't go wrong with that one.

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