If you are of a certain age then even the name ‘Lambrusco’ will likely raise a smirk. Once the smirker’s composure has been restored then he/she will probably deny ever having tasted the stuff. One has one’s oenological credibility to consider, after all! Wouldn’t be seen quaffing anything so viticulturally base!
Where exactly is Lambrusco, my dear geographically-challenged reader might ask. It’s not a place but just a wine. Emilia Romagna and Mantova are often referred to as being in the ‘Lambrusco region’ but that just describes the wine typical of the area. Lambrusco is the name of both a red wine grape and an Italian wine made principally from the grape. They originate from around Emilia-Romagna and the central provinces of Modena, Parma, Reggio Emilia, and Mantua.
The grape isn’t a new variety but in fact has a long history. Archaeological findings show that the Etruscans cultivated these same grapes. The Romans enjoyed Lambrusco and prized it for the high grape yield of its vines.
Throughout the 1970s and 1980s that infamous sweet Lambrusco was one of biggest selling wines in the US and UK, and it was offered in both white and red. Both made with the same grapes but the must, or grape juice, for the white wine stayed in contact with the grape skins for less time than for the red.
It’s mostly sparkling wine but not usually made using the ‘Champagne method’ (metodo classico). It is typically made using the Charmat process (like prosecco) where a second fermentation is undertaken in a pressurized tank rather than in the bottle.
Most Lambruscos are made from more than one Lambrusco variety and often mixed with a number of approved blending grapes. The grape itself is not particularly sweet; many of the commercial Lambrusco wines are sweetened by either partial fermentation or with the addition of concentrated grape must. There are different levels of dryness or sweetness; the wine is noted for high acidity and flavours of blackberries, strawberries and cherries.
Reggiano is the largest Lambrusco-producing region and the origin of the majority of the exports of that DOC-designated wine. The four Lambrusco grapes used are Maestri, Marani, Montericco, and Salamino. Up to 15% of added Ancellotta grapes are allowed for this DOC, too.
It’s hardly surprising that these better quality Lambrusco wines differ from the cheap supermarket bottles with which we were afflicted a few decades ago. They’re more potent, having an alcoholic content of between 11 and 12 per cent, as opposed to four per cent for those over-sweet and half-hearted wines that gave Lambrusco such a bad name.
These days Lambrusco is much drier, with a touch of tannin, and well balanced, being rich and juicy as well as displaying freshness and fruitiness. It still has that deep crimson colour that looked so delicious all those years ago, but now that expectation is more often realised. It’s still sparkling and offering those same pink bubbles when poured, but it’s often the best Lambrusco that’s now exported and enjoyed by people outside Italy.
Lambrusco is attractive, refreshing and goes well with so many foods. It’s best served chilled with canapés, light summer salads and even cheese. It’s well worth another look; but beware – there are still bottles out there that too closely fit the profile of those previous horrors! It’s not always a matter of ‘you get what you pay for’; it’s perhaps worth going to a reputable wine merchant and even asking for a taste if you intend to buy a case or two.
‘A case or two?’ I can hear you cry with loud incredulity. Well, yes. A good Lambrusco is hard to beat when the sun shines, so set aside wine snobbery, buy some bottles and boast that you have discovered the next big wine trend.
Wine review by Chrissie Walker © 2018