The ancient monastery of Muri-Gries, located just south of the Brenner Pass in Südtirol is the source for a bevy of clean, complex and classy wines made from the traditional grapes of this beautiful region. Muri-Gries remains a working Benedictine monastery, which was originally built in the late eleventh century as a fortress. In the fourteenth century, the fortress was donated to a local group of monks and converted into a monastery. Brothers of the Benedictine order arrived here from neighboring Switzerland in 1845 to take up residence in the recently abandoned site, and immediately brought their more sophisticated viticultural approach to the monastery’s wines. Muri-Gries began to produce DOC wines in 1947, and since then the monastery has won local fame for the high quality of its wines, and is now becoming well-known to Italian wine-loving insiders throughout Europe and the US.
The red wine grape of Lagrein is a traditional local variety of the Süd Tyrol (a cousin of Syrah), which produces a deep and complex wine that is at once both broad-shouldered and elegant. This is the workhorse red varietal of the monastery, and in the hands of the estate’s current winemaker, Christian Werth, this beautiful varietal is beginning to gain an international following for its compelling character and impressive complexity. The Lagrein vineyards are meticulously taken care of by hand.
Lagrein produces a very classy red wine that offers up a unique aromatic mélange of black cherries and dark berries, as well as chocolate, fresh herb tones, earth and at times a slightly resinous topnote that adds an additional layer of complexity. On the palate Lagrein is full-bodied; a deep wine that is surprisingly supple and voluptuous, with modest, well-integrated tannins and lovely framing acids that add succulence and focus in the mouth. While the flavors run a bit towards its cousin, Syrah, the velvety palate impression, coupled with zesty acids, makes Lagrein rather unique in the world of Italian red wine. Muri-Gries produces two distinct bottlings of Lagrein, a “normale” made for earlier consumption, and a Riserva that will age gracefully for ten to fifteen years.
In addition to their stunning examples of Lagrein, the monks and Werth also produce a bevy of other lovely wines, including a superb Moscato Rosa (done in a sweeter style that can double as an aperitif or a dessert wine), a dry Rosé also made from Lagrein, and two excellent dry white wines: a stunning and very serious example of Pinot Grigio, and a more minerally and soil-driven Müller-Thurgau bottling. The monastery of Muri-Gries is a throwback to the times when all of the great European viticultural areas were pioneered by monks of various orders, and in their uncompromising commitment to quality one can almost hear an echo of the walls of the Clos Vougeot being constructed by the Cistercians. This is a great source for superb Italian wines that offer stunning value: they are not to be missed.