Not Your Grandma’s Lambrusco
Lambrusco may be the most misunderstood of all Italian wines. From its tragic history in the US during the 70s and 80s to its super confusing name; it's a wine that doesn't garner love in the way it should.
Still, Lambrusco has a special place in my heart. This chilled sparkling red wine bursts with juicy berries and has lovely pink head. John and I love Lambrusco so much, we planned to serve it as our opening drink at our wedding ceremony.
The Lambrusco family of grapes dates back to Roman times. It may have even been mentioned in humanity’s oldest printed farming manual, Agri Cultura, in 160 BC.
The home of Lambrusco lies in northeast Italy along the wide and flat Po Valley. Great for most crops, but usually produces simpler wines. The many different Lambrusco vines are mostly gown in three central provinces of Emilia: Moderna, Parma, and Reggio nell’Emilia, but can be found all over the Po Valley and even as far as Piedmont.
In the heart of Emilia is the town of Bologna, which is one of the best food regions in Italy. Think rich, fatty Bolognese sauce; Balsamic vinegar, Prosciutto, and Parmesan-Reggiano. They all come from this region. Bologna means the fat one, and what better wine to represent this region than a light, fizzy wine that will go with everything and perhaps even aid in digestion of all that fatty food.
It can be produced from any number of methods including metodo classico (traditional method like Champagne) or metodo ancestrale (See our post on pet-net). With its resurgence in popularity, the new generation of producers are focusing on the dry style produced using the Charmat method. Charmat includes a two fermentation processes in large pressurized, modern tanks, resulting in a lightly sparkling wine, which the Italians call Frizzante.
There are 10 main varietals taking on the name, but here are the ones you should be on the lookout for:
1. Lambrusco di Sorbara - The lightest and most floral, often used to make rosé. Labeled as the varietal, which matches the DOC
2. Lambrusco Grasparossa – The boldest, with up to medium-high tannin and deep color. It’s often labeled as the DOC Lambrusco Grasparossa di Castelvetro
3. Lambrusco Salamino – Named after the grapes that grow in a cylindrical shape resembling salami (You know they love their meat). This aromatic Lambrusco has structure and can still be good in semi-secco (off-dry). Labeled as its DOCs Reggiano Lambrusco Salamino or Lambrusco Salamino di Santa Croce
These are all indigenous to Emilia and are not clones or sub-clones. Over 60 varieties of Lambrusco have been discovered throughout Italy. Lambrusco is often blended, and sometimes uses other grapes like Ancellotta for color or Cabernet Sauvignon for body.
Production, Classifications, & Styles
Of the 165 million bottles produced in 2013, less than 40 million were from one of the DOCs. Since they labeled them under the IGT Emilia, a desire to increase the quality have led to an update in the production rules of Emilia wine including a second fermentation within the IGT.
The DOCs have been designed based around distinct terroir and varietals used in each region. Seven of the Eight are within the Emilia IGT:
1. DOC Reggiano Lambrusco
2. DOC Lambrusco Salamino di Santa Croce
3. DOC Lambrusco di Sorbara
4. DOC Lambrusco Grasparossa do Castelvetro
5. DOC Colli di Parma Lambrusco
6. DOC Colli di Scandiano e Canosssa Lambrusco
7. DOC Modena
8. DOC Lambrusco Mantovano – resides in Lombardy IGT
The most highly rated Lambrusco is dry (secco), high in acid, and semi-sparkling (frizzante). This is what the locals drink, and they keep a good amount of it for themselves. And though we still get plenty of the sweet stuff, you should be able to find dry Lambrusco at any reputable wine shop.
Lambrusco's checkered past in the US
With the 1970's surge of wine drinking, Lambrusco became highly popular. Throughout the 70's and 80's, it was the biggest selling import wine in the US. Lambrusco was produced in white, pink, and “light” versions to sell in mass, like White Claw today. However, this mass produced style tasted more like soda and wine, and thus Lambrusco earned a bad reputation as a shitty, sweet, sparkling wine.
Lucky for you, Lambrusco wines have taken a turn for the better, and you can use this to your advantage and find amazing wines at very reasonable prices.
Wines to taste
Folicello Il Rosso 2018 - IGT Emilia - Ancestral method - 100% Lambrusco Grasparossa - $22
This wine is deep ruby, slightly effervescent with flavors of tart cherry, blackberry, lavender. It is high in acid and has medium minus tannin, 11% ABV, medium minus body, and a very nice medium finish.
Famiglia Carafoli L'Onesta N/V– DOC Lambrusco di Sorbara - charmat method- 70% Lambrusco di Sorbara/30% Lambrusco Salamino - $15
I smell and taste strawberry, cranberry, raspberry, orange blossom – juicy fruit bomb, like Slammin' Strawberry Big League Chew in a glass without all the sugar. This wine has medium plus acid, 11% ABV, low tannin, medium- body, and medium finish.
In the end
Please spend at least $10, with really good quality in the $15-$20 range. Stay away from Riunite and anything labeled as Dolce (sweet), as they will resemble the shit wine of the 80's.
Well I’m certainly craving some Italian food and plenty more of this incredibly food friendly wine. It goes great with spicy, fatty, rich, or no food at all next to the pool. Don’t forget to chill it first!
Sending love and bubbles,