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A Spicy Red from Northern Italy
By Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Nov 6, 2012
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Alois Lageder, Sudtirol/Alto Adige (Italy) Lagrein 2010 (Dalla Terra, $24):  Lagrein is one of the great, unsung native red grape varieties of Northern Italy.  Stylistically, I classify its wines as “spicy reds,” of which there are many in Italy, including Dolcetto, Freisa, and Montepulciano -- but Lagrein defines the style for its lean structure, its firm tannin and its often exuberant aromas and flavors of dark fruit and spice.

Lagrein grows mainly in the Alto Adige section of the Trentino-Alto Adige region, where it occupies about eight percent of the vineyards.  It ranks second in that region among red varieties, but far behind Schiava, the leading red grape.  Schiava in the right hands can make an excellent wine, but its average quality is less impressive than Lagrein’s.  Wines made from Lagrein generally have more weight, concentration and structure than Schiava wines.

This Lagrein comes from Alois Lageder, who has long been a standard-bearer for Alto Adige wines in this country.  His is one of the largest private wineries in the region, producing a range of varietal whites and reds from the Dolimiti IGT and Alto Adige DOC appellations as well as single-vineyard wines.

When you taste this wine, your initial impression will probably be that it is a very fruity and flavorful red.  Your second impression is likely to be that it is a very dry wine, both in its lack of sweetness and in its fairly dry texture.  This juxtaposition of vivid fruitiness and true dryness is unusual, and intriguing.  Most of the dry red wines we see these days are fruity but, although they might lack residual sugar, they have high enough alcohol that they give an impression of sweetness in the mouth.  This wine, from fully ripe but not overripe fruit, has only 12.5 percent alcohol, which accentuates its edgy dryness.

This wine has aromas and flavors that suggest juicy black cherry, dark wild berries, bitter chocolate and flintiness, along with a spicy note that registers somewhere between black pepper and Indian spices.  It’s medium-bodied and lean in structure with enough tannin to give it character and grip.  The flavor of the wine lingers long after you swallow.

The larger the glass that you use for this wine, the softer and plusher the wine will taste, without ever losing its characteristic edginess and energy.  It’s a great match for simple meats such as steaks and rare roasts, as well as for spicy ham and salami, and for hard cheeses of all sorts.  It also nicely accompanies pasta with tomato sauce.

I have enjoyed some remarkable aged Lagreins, but I recommend drinking this Lagrein now through the next three years or so, while its fruitiness -- so operative in the dynamic of the wine’s taste -- is vibrant.

For another take on Lagrein, look for the Alois Lageder Lagrein Rosé (about $17), which offers the fruitiness without Lagrein’s trademark tannin.

90 Points