For the love of Lagrein
Wangolina winemaker Anita Goode remembers the moment the lagrein bug bit in 2015. She was standing in Wirrega vineyard, not far from Bordertown, perusing tempranillo with vineyard manager Jeff Flint who offered to show her the lagrein vines nearby. One bite and she was hooked.“I was taken with the way they tasted,” Anita says. “They had thick skins, deep colour, good flavour and bright fruit character.
It was the kind of ‘Ding!’ moment where you see the potential from the fruit.” Interest peaked, she set about creating Wangolina’s inaugural 2016 Lagrein. It was a hit.
“We did a trial run through cellar door – just to see what the perception of it would be,” she says. The team was pleasantly surprised by its popularity. “It really took us by surprise. We ended up selling out a lot faster than expected.” It was a plush little number. Tasting notes weave an alluring tale of ripe black cherry, plum, blackcurrant jubes, liquorice, and fennel seed aromas. The palate boasts rich blood plums, boysenberries, mocha, fennel seed, black olive, and chewy tannins.
The sensory combination bagged the 2016 Lagrein a trophy at the 2017 Limestone Coast Wine Show. It was also named Chief of Judges Jane Faulkner’s Wine to Watch. “I was rapt that someone is making this Northern Italian variety,” Jane told The Naracoorte Herald reporters. “In the glass it has the most insane colour, so obviously you get a bit seduced by this. It’s a very cool wine and I love the fact that someone is going out there and having a crack at it.”
Sirromet Wines’ Mike Hayes (2017 Australian Society of Viticulture and Oenology Winemaker of the Year) is also a fan.
“Having somebody with that sort of knowledge and passion say, ‘This is something you need to investigate harder’ always gives you a little boost of confidence that you’ve made the right choice,” Anita says. “He wouldn’t tell you something was good if it wasn’t.”
She’s right. Mike says it how it is. It was the public’s reaction, however, that really fuelled the fire. “It was really interesting to see how popular that wine was through cellar door – especially considering it is such a rare and unknown variety. It’s a little different; quite a dense, rich style of wine.” So what is lagrein?
The red variety hails from the far north east of Italy’s Trentino Alto-Adige region where most of the vineyards are planted approximately 550 meters above sea level. Down below, it’s all sand and coarse glacial gravel. The variety took its time to make its way Down Under.
The first known commercial plantings were by Cobaw Ridge in Victoria’s Macedon Ranges. In a Winetitles piece written by winemaker Alan Cooper, he describes his first sip of lagrein as a “Wow” moment. Based off that small batch wine tasting in 1992, he top grafted a few hundred vines using cuttings from pal Dr Peter May (then deputy principal of Melbourne’s Burnley Horticulture College). The adventurous Dr May writes at great length about his backyard experiments with lagrein. It’s worth a look if you’re into the science behind the alternative variety.
Slowly, it began to turn heads. Cobaw Ridge’s 2002 Lagrein scored 91 points in James Halliday in his 2005 Australian Wine Companion and since then, the variety has popped up across the nation. “A lot of lagrein is also grown in Langhorne Creek, the Riverland and Heatcote.” Anita says. “The Mundulla area is probably the coolest of those areas and it seems to feel quite at home there. It has really good tannins, beautiful colour and has this richness and intensity about the resulting wines that just feels like it belongs there.”
Anita remembers her first ever sip of the good stuff (Heartland’s Dolcetto Lagrein) many moons ago. The Langhorne Creek brand now has eleven vintages of the wine (and counting). It was Heartland’s Ben Glaetzer and his Dolcetto Lagrein that inspired Geoff Hardy to plant the variety at the Wirrega vineyard in 2005. It’s a special part of the world, located just outside of Mundulla on the Limestone Coast. The patch of land (once an inland sea) was first planted with vines in 1993 and now hosts a motley crew of international and eclectic emerging varieties. “I think Mundulla is one of the most underrated areas for grape growing in Australia,” Anita says. “It’s kind of like Langhorne Creek in that it’s not a really hot climate but it has a bit of warmth to it and has really good quality water available.” Warm, dry days and very cold nights help them ripen slowly and steadily. Great natural acid retention and soft tannin structures are perks.
Slowly, but steadily, its popularity is growing. During the Australian Alternative Varieties Wine Show 2018 (AAVWS), 10 wineries submitted lagrein. Among them were Bremerton Wines, Alejandro, Symphony Hill Wines (two entries), Next Crop Wines, SAMU, Hofer Family Wines, Cirami Estate, Vinteloper, and Serafino Wines. Gold went to SAMU and Next Crop Wines. The judges described it as a strong class. “Wines with brightness, powdery tannins and balanced acidity and well-handled phenolics stood out.”
Wangolina didn’t produce a lagrein in 2017 (the chilly conditions weren’t suited to it) which is why Anita is particularly excited about the release of her 2018 creation. The approach in the winery is to respect and enhance the variety’s natural characteristics. “We try and keep it fairly simple,” Anita says. “Mainly because it has quite strong tannin so we like to not work it too heavily. We keep pump overs light so we’re not over extracting anything. We don’t want to make it heavy and jammy.”
Anita doesn’t pick it too ripe. “We’re picking it on the lighter end of what people pick red wines at these days. This means it’s actually able to express some of its pretty characters and develop its own structure.”
Only 300 dozen were bottled as part of the A Series range and at $28 it’s a steal. With crisp autumn weather on the horizon, it goes particularly well with pork belly.