Thomas Jefferson said, “In matters of style, swim with the current; in matters of principle, stand like a rock.”
I love this quote, and it definitely applies to wine. Trends come and go, and wines that were once the epitome of a niche wine, like Madeira, which was used to toast the signing of the U.S. Constitution, fall out of favour through no fault of their own.
Consider German riesling, which was once among the highest-priced wines in the world and is now surprisingly good value for collectors. Lambrusco could be one of these wines, as well. It was one of the top-selling wines in the 1970s and ’80s, thanks to a catchy jingle and the right timing for consumers’ palates. “Riunite on ice, that’s nice” is a masterpiece of marketing.
Seriously, search online for the commercials and then realize that your parents (or you) were probably watching this commercial during episodes of CHiPs, The Six Million Dollar Man or The Mary Tyler Moore Show. Some of you reading this were probably conceived with the help of a little Riunite … but I digress.
How lambrusco is made
Lambrusco, or lambrusca, is wine made from lambrusco grapes (of which about 60 sub-varieties exist, but you’ll never need to know them). They’re typically from the northern Italian wine region of Emilia-Romagna. Typically, the wine made from them is red, it isn’t quite dry and it is effervescent. So, long before sparkling shiraz was a “new” thing, lambrusco was doing it.
While red, white and ros styles of lambrusco can be found, all are made from red grapes. As for the bubbles, most of these wines get them from the more cost-effective charmat method found in wines such as prosecco, rather than the more expensive Champagne method. The second fermentation takes place in large tanks rather than in the individual bottle, but this also allows a steady stream of wine to leave the winery for the market, rather than waiting for an individual release. Incidentally, most, if not virtually all, lambrusco doesn’t feature a vintage date on the bottle.
While inexpensive or entry-level lambrusco is typically labelled as just lambrusco, there are several DOCs (Denomination of Controlled Origin) that make lambrusco, including Lambrusco di Sorbara, Lambrusco Grasparossa di Castelvetro, Reggiano Lambrusco, Lambrusco Salamino di Santa Croce and Colli di Scandiano e di Canossa – all in the Emilia-Romagna region in northern Italy. A sixth DOC for lambrusco is just to the north in Lombardy, called Lambrusco Mantovano. While they might not roll off the tongue, these areas are known for producing lambrusco wines of note. With the exception of the wines of Reggiano, these wines tend to be dry to off-dry, meaning you’ll perceive some sweetness on the palate, while lambruscos from Reggiano tend to be amabile in style, which is a sweeter wine. This can all be a little confusing, but a good takeaway would be to recognize there are varying qualities of the wine, and they typically range from some to a lot of sweetness.
Lambrusco should always be served from very cool to cold – so pretty much right out of the ice or straight from the fridge. It doesn’t age well, so it should be purchased and enjoyed almost right away, while all those berry fruits are still youthful.
As for cuisine, lambrusco is simply perfect with picnic fare. Cured meats, hors d’oeuvres, pasta and cheese are excellent matches, though you probably won’t complain if you match it up with pizza (even vegetarian or seafood ones work), pork loin or sausages.
New, exciting producers are making small-batch wines of style and substance. Frankly, this is a highly seasonal wine, so you aren’t likely to find it on many restaurant lists, but, when you do, it means the restaurant understands lambrusco and it is bound to be magic when paired with something on the menu. Here in Calgary, we only have a handful of lambruscos to choose from, but it’s worth the effort to search for them, as they’re a perfect addition to a sunny day on your patio.
3 perfect pairings
Pulcinella: Coltiva Lambrusco dI Modena and salsiccia e Rapini Pizza
Lambrusco is an excellent match with cheese, meats and tomatoes, so what better way to celebrate that than with some of the best Napoli-style pizza in Calgary? Pair the Coltiva Lambrusco di Modena ($35) with any number of pizzas at Pulcinella, though my favourites are the Diavola and the Salsiccia e Rapini.
1147 Kensington Cres. N.W., 403-283-1166, pulcinella.ca
Toscana Grill: Medici Ermete Lambrusco and an Appetizer Platter
Discover the versatility of lambrusco by pairing the Medici Ermete Lambrusco “Concerto” ($40) with Toscana’s very tasty (and generous) Italian platter on the antipasti menu. Meatballs and sausage are a great way to start a meal, but the calamari is tasty, too. Perfect for sharing.
18, 8330 Macleod Tr. S.E., 403-255-1212, toscanagrill.ca
Posto Pizzeria and Bar: Lambrusco Sangria and Potato Crme Frache Pizza
The fresh flavours of good sangria lend themselves perfectly to a lambrusco wine base. Posto’s ($12) is bright and fruity with pineapple, oranges and a bit of ginger for some bite. Pair with the potato and crme frache pizza and ask for some chili oil – the spicy bite is perfect with the sweetness of the sangria.
1016 8 St. S.W., 403-263-4876, posto.ca
6 lambruscos to try this August
Lini 910 “Lambrusca” Lambrusco Rosso
A serious lambrusco that should be tried at least once by any Italian wine lover. Pure, ripe fruits of blackberry and raspberry with decidedly floral tones, with a touch of underbrush. Quite dry, it shows a little tannin, which goes well with the refreshing and palate-cleansing bubbles. Enjoy anytime you need a red wine that is just a little different. $20.
Lini 910 “In Correggio” Lambrusco Rosato
This ros is copper-pink in the glass and much drier and leaner than some of the others here. Fruits have a decidedly cherry cast, with cranberry and dried flowers rounding it out. The finish lasts a little longer, while the flavours get me thinking about pairing with pork loin, herb-roasted chicken or, well, just lunch. $24.
Cleto Chiarli “Premium” Vecchia Modena
A sparkling wine the colour of freshly juiced strawberries and – what do you know? – it smells like strawberries, too! Great fruits that make you want to be outside enjoying the fresh air. On the palate, it’s rare to get a sparkling wine that has this much fruit presence, with abundant strawberry and Fiji apples over a crisp, refreshing finish. The next time you are playing croquet or bocce, pick up some of this. $24.
Cleto Chiarli “Brut de Noir” Ros
More of a full-on sparkling wine than most lambruscos, this ros is a pretty cotton-candy pink in the glass. Soft, candied fruits show on the nose, with wonderful toasty and delicate fruit flavours through and through. It’s a heck of a bargain for sparkling wine fans. Enjoy anytime you want a nice bottle of ros. $21.
Chiarli “Gala” Grasparossa de Castelvetro Amabile
Lambrusco for the sweet tooth, it’s packing around 50 grams of sugar per litre – plenty for red wine, but far less than many alternatives. Fruits are fresh raspberries with softer spice notes and an earthiness not unlike that of wicker. Easy, casual wine perfect for pasta, homemade pizza or pastrami sandwiches. $12.
The classic that started the craze, and it’s still a perfectly refreshing wine. Smells a bit like a fresh ferment in a winery, with blackberry jam being made in the background. The bubbles are soft and the sweetness very pleasant. Maybe don’t serve it if the Queen comes for dinner, but, on a hot summer’s day, I’d choose this over a soft drink. Enjoy with charcuterie or lighter fare. $12.