The word Lambrusco often conjures up images of the TV commercial jingle “Riunite on ice…that’s so nice” or the excessively sweet wine that our grandparents drank. While the brand Riunite put Lambrusco on the U.S. wine map many years ago, Lambrusco, a slightly sparkling low alcohol wine, has not been given the attention here in the U.S. that it deserves, until recently. Now, everyone is jumping on the bandwagon, akin to Hush Puppies’ popularity years ago, and needs a guide to understanding Lambrusco.
Lambrusco, one of the oldest styles of wines from Italy, is truly for everyone and one of the best wines for pairing with food. Simply put – it is awesome! It hails from northern Italy, specifically from Emilia Romagna, and Lombardy, two great wine areas. Those are the only two regions permitted by law where Lambrusco can be made. You will not see a Lambrusco from California or any other wine region. Wine production laws and labeling in Europe are more stringent than those in the U.S.
Lambrusco the Wine and Grape
Lambrusco is both the name of the grape varieties (there are many) and the name of the wine itself. Slightly effervescent, no two are alike; we are happy for this, as that would be just boring.
Most Lambruscos are blends of different Lambrusco varieties. The most popular are Lambrusco di Sorbara, Lambrusco Reggiano, Lambrusco Grasparossa and Lambrusco Salamino, and these are the names you will often see on the front or back labels, which sometimes can be hard to decipher. Wines made from Lambrusco Grasparossa are often the deepest in color, body and tannins; while wines produced from Lambrusco di Sorbara are often the softest and most delicate, with lower tannins. Tannins are components in wine that often give you that dry, velvety mouth-coating feeling.
Lambrusco is not a one-size fits all; it has different styles, from beautifully bone-dry (secco) to slightly sweet (semi-secco) to sweet (dolce). These words on the label, as well as the alcohol content, will give you some insight on their sweetness level. The sweeter style Lambruscos typically have an alcohol content of 11% or below. While the drier ones are above that.
Some of the best and most traditional style Lambruscos are red in color and can range in flavor profiles, from lighter red fruits of raspberries and strawberries to richer dark fruits of black cherry, plums and blueberries. However some producers like Lini, a fourth generation family in Emilia Romagna focused on the craft since 1910, also make dry Lambrusco in white and rosato styles. Another great aspect of Lambrusco is its pricepoint, which range from $10-$20 with ageable ones inching up to $40.
Lambrusco’s Food Pairings
Lambrusco is one of the best choices for food. Emilia Romagna is home to Bologna, Parma, Modena and Reggio, areas from where some of the best cheeses, cured meats and balsamic come. Naturally their foods – Parmigiano-Reggiano, Mortadella, Prosciutto di Parma and aged balsamic – match best with Lambrusco.
Other partners for dry red Lambrusco are lamb, game birds and filet mignon. Sweeter red Lambruscos are great for dark chocolate or tiramisu. White and rosato styles complement lighter dishes of shellfish, salads and beans.
I say – the best epicurean marriage is wine and food from the same region. Yet, Lambrusco has a place at the table with cuisine from any country. Here are a few of my favorites. Enjoy!
Fiorini Becco Rosso Lambrusco Grasparossa, Emilia Romagna – full bodied, medium dry, with prominent blackberry and Bing cherry notes. Fills the mouth beautifully. Amazing with Parmigiano and salami.
La Collina Rosa Luna Lambrusco dell Emilia Rosato, Emilia Romagna – a rosato style with beautiful off-dry notes of ripe, juicy strawberries and raspberries. Perfect for mixed greens with goat cheese, crushed hazelnuts & dried cherries.
Fondo Bozzole Incantabiss Lambrusco, Mantova, Lombardy – light to medium body and dry with dark cherry and plum notes. I love this with dark bitter chocolate and grissini!
Lini1910 Lambrusco 2006, Emilia Romagna – full bodied, deep and a top notch selection. This is a vintage, aged Lambrusco that takes Lambrusco to an entirely different level. Think of it like an aged Champagne but red.
You can buy them online at The Savory Grape or check your local wine shop in your area.