Lambrusco is the name of a red wine grape and Italian wine. Yeah….so what? Well, it’s one of the most underrated wines available in today’s market. With a history extending back to the ancient times of the Etruscans, it’s a wine that should be given due respect since it has been around over 2000 years. Unfortunately, many people (including myself) still associate Lambrusco with the soda pop wine of the 1970’s. Well, just like me you need to get over that as it really has evolved and is actually quite complex. I attended a seminar at the 2015 Wine Bloggers Conference that was given by Bill Whiting, Director of Wine Education for Banfi Wines. Bill provided great insight into Lambrusco (the grape and the wine) and helped change my entire way of thinking about it. So that being said, what is Lambrusco today?
Lambrusco is a family of grapes unique to the Emilia-Romanga region in northern Italy that is used to produce sparkling red wine. Emilia-Romagna ranks 4th for wine production in Italy with 60% of the wines produced being red. The three main provinces in Emilia-Romagna for growing Lambrusco are Modena, Parma, and Reggio nell’Emilia.
There are over 60 subvarieties of Lambrusco grapes. Different clones yield different attributes and will thus determine the final style of the wine. Lambrusco Sorbara is considered the highest quality clone and it’s known for its perfume aromas, harmony and richness. Lambrusco Salamino gets its name from the small, thin compact clusters. Salamino is the most widely planted and most floral variety of Lambrusco and can be aged a few years due to its firm structure. Lambrusco Grasporossa is the fullest bodied Lambrusco and it produces wines of dark color, intense fruitiness and softness which make them a great accompaniment to dessert. Lambrusco Marani is known for its muscularity in terms of tannins and acidity. Lambrusco Maestri is usually used for blending as it is full bodied and fruitty. Lambrusco Montericco is perfumed, soft and supple but it has almost disappeared. These are only a few of the types of Lambrusco grapes but you get my drift as in it’s a grape that has a lot of diversity. Ancellotta (Lancellotta) is another type of Italian red grape that is used as a blending grape in making Lambrusco as 15% is permitted.
Lambrusco wines come in a plethora of styles ranging from dry (secco) to off dry/sweet (amabile) to fully sweet (dulce). The color of the wine can range from light cherry color to dark cherry, or almost opaque depending on the type of Lambrusco grapes used. Most Lambrusco wines are produced by the charmat method which means they go do not go through a secondary fermentation in the bottle. The few that are produced by method ancestral (secondary bottle fermentation) will have a “FB” on the label to denote it was bottle fermented. Lambrusco wines are known for their high acidity and lightly sparkling style.
Below are the wines tasted at The Fizzyology of Lambrusco:
Albinea Canali Lambrusco
This is from the most historical winery in Reggio Emilia. It was founded in 1936. It’s a cooperative made up of seventy growers. The wine is made from 100% Lambrusco Sorbara and is considered a “CRU” Lambrusco. “FB” appears on the bottle which means it fermentation took place inside the bottle as it was made in the ancestral method. It’s light cherry in color with aromas of sweet wild strawberry, bread crust and earth. It’s dry, light on the palate and bursting with delicate, fresh, strawberry fruit. The wine has 11% alcohol. Only 1,700 six packs (10,200 bottles) were made which by Italian standards is small production. Only 200 six packs were bought into the USA so this wine is rare! All this quality for under $20 means its a steal!
Albinea Canali Ottocentonero Lambrusco
From Emiglio-Romanga. This wine is 50% Lambrusco Salamino, 40% Lambrusco Grasporossa, and 10% Lancellotta. The color was dark, inky, and dense. The Lancellotta gave the dark color, while the Salamino contributed the aromas, and the Grassapossa gave the wine its fruitiness, structure and acidity. The alcohol is 11.5 % Only 1500 six packs of this were produced of which 150 made it into the USA. Again it’s another rare wine! It retails for $16.
In 1950 nine wine producers united to form Cantine Cooperative Riunite. The brand was introduced to America in 1967. Riunite quickly became one of the most well known and loved brands of wine with its catchy advertisements and creative tag lines such as Riunite on Ice …so Nice. You can find the old TV commercials on Youtube and they are well worth a visit for an introduction to America’s wine drinking history. Between 1980 and 1985 Riunite exported over 11 million cases annually. They were the first winery in Europe to be granted “Certified Quality Status”. Today Riunite is a group of 800 dedicated growers and the leading producer of Lambrusco and sparkling wines from Emilia-Romagna.
This wine is “Not to red. Not to white. Riunite Rose is simply just right.”
Riunite Lambrusco Rose
Made from Lambrusco Salamino and Lambrusco Marani. Salamino gives the wine its perfumes and Marani gives the wine acidity. Grapefruit dominates the nose. It’s a clean, light, refreshing wine. On a summer day it is way too easy to sit on the patio and consume an entire bottle on one’s own! Thank God for the 6% alcohol. At $6.99 a bottle that retail price is so nice!
This is the wine that put Italy on the map. Italy’s best known wine brand is found in 70 countries and is the most purchased Italian red in retail chains. It hasn’t changed since the 1960’s. 5 varieties of Lambrusco can be found in this wine including Maestri, Marani, Salamino, Montericco, and Lancellotta. This wine is all fruit on the nose. It tastes os fresh raspberry, red cherry, is off dry and has a delicate sweet fizziness. The alcohol is 8%. It retails for $6.99 a bottle .
This is new wine produced especially for Banfi Wines. Lambrusco Grasparossa and Lambrusco Salamino are the 2 kinds of Lambrusco grapes in this wine. The color is dark ruby. Flavors of ripe raspberries and bright cherry dominate this full bodied, intense, concentrated, balanced wine and lead to a juicy, long finish. The alcohol is 8%. There is extremely small production of this wine which means a high price ……of $14.99 a bottle. The label alone is outstanding!
Lambrusco is perfect for all kinds of occasions. Due to the low alcohol its easy to pair with food. Charcuterie and cheese platters are a natural pairing. In summer time it is a great wine to serve at picnics, and BBQ’s. It goes well with pizza, hotdogs, burgers, tex mex, pasta and BBQ chicken. If your tasting one of the sweet styles then red velvet cupcakes, and any dessert with chocolate will go well. It’s perfect for sipping during football season. I can’t think of many wines that show such versatility in food pairing.
Many thanks to Bill Whiting for enlightening me on the many attributes of Lambrusco. The Italians can’t get enough of Lambrusco for the simple reason that it’s absolutely delicious and so easy to pair with food. Where else can you get a “CRU” wine for under $20? I invite you all to rediscover Lambrusco.