Lambrusco Wine Guide
Talking about Lambrusco wine is very difficult, you need a lot of caution, it is a very vast topic, so much so that the Lambrusco grape itself is a large family of vines and not a single specimen.
Production areas of Lambrusco
The most famous wines are Lambrusco Grasparossa, Lambrusco di Sorbara, Salamino, Marani and Lambrusco Maestri. Each has found different habitats, some in the hills, some in the plains, some in the lovely food valley of Parma.
Let’s say immediately that Lambrusco is the typical wine of Modena (Grasparossa and Sorbara), Reggio Emilia and also Parma. You can also find it in Mantua, in Veneto and even in Puglia, but let’s stay in Emilia for now, even better forever.
How Lambrusco was born: the ancestral method
Until a few decades ago Lambrusco was a peasant, simple, rustic wine: the bunches were pressed, the must start to ferment thanks to the yeasts present on the skins, then it was bottled with still unfermented sugar inside and the fermentation started again spontaneously when the winter ended and the yeasts woke up from hibernation. And here the wine became sparkling thanks to the so-called ancestral method that is so cool today.
Was this old fashioned Lambrusco a good wine?
Maybe or maybe not, but one thing is sure: it was a real wine made by farmers.
Was it perfect?
Sure not! There were sediments and dead yeasts in the bottom, the bottles burst like firecrackers if they were not handled with care or if they were placed in hot cellars. So we don’t want to demonize the industrialization of Lambrusco: technology has helped a lot.
And the ancestral method of Lambrusco is nothing but the old method champenoise used to make Champagne when it was not yet blossomed and adjusted with the liqueur d’expedition.
In fact, once upon a time, Lambrusco was a slightly sparkling, cloudy, very fragrant and sharp wine. And this one was also the old method to make Prosecco or to make Prosecco Col Fondo, not filtered. In Emilia, 80 years ago the residue of exhausted yeasts was used to make a soup with bread to eat for breakfast when every calorie was important for living.
Then came the American Revolution, in the sense that the large social wineries discovered that Lambrusco was an excellent recreational drink, alcoholically very approachable, pleasant, and they began to produce it on a large scale, obviously slightly sweet.
It was the beginning of new amazing business for many, the death for the artisanal Lambrusco. The damage has now been done, but many small producers have continued to produce good quality wines. They no longer use the ancestral Lambrusco method: these wine are crystalline, filtered and more stylized, but they are a completely different world.
Think for example of Cristian Bellei, who produces real masterpieces, Spumante Metodo Classico wines with Lambrusco: crazy pink wines with amazing flavors and infinite finesse. So for a moment forget about the industrial Lambrusco you can buy in bulk for 5 dollars. that cheap, sad cloying drink is not the real Lambrusco.
Lambrusco is always the son of a vine and therefore with low yields, dense strains and careful processing it can give excellent wines.
The history of Lambrusco wine
It seems that the Etruscans started to cultivate it in the Po Valley, however, it is only with the Romans that more intense cultivation develops. Cato speaks of wild vines and calls it “labrusca” and although it was widespread in the Po valley, there is no evidence that it is today’s Lambrusco. Indeed at the time, it must have been a hodgepodge, an intricate forest of wild vines that perhaps over time has become actual Lambrusco.
We are talking about millennia, migrations, wars and upheavals that have happened in between. Only in 1600, we started talking about Lambrusco wine to indicate the grape that is still cultivated today.
And now let’s see what are the types of Lambrusco.
Lambrusco di Sorbara
The finest of the family, it has a splendid rosy or cherry-red color, lots of amazing scents with small wild strawberries, geranium, rose petals, ethereal returns, and musk. The structure is delicate, but the acidity is stellar, sharp, not surprisingly it is also used to produce spumante metodo classico. He is the king of the plains, present in Bomporto, Nonantola, San Prospero and Sorbara north of the Via Emilia.
It finds its ideal habitat on the hills of Castelvetro and also as characteristics it is at the antipodes compared to Sorbara. It is dark, full, tannic, much less sharp, indeed round in its own way, fruity, with returns of plums, cherries, chocolate, mint, and strawberries. Also produced in sweet versions for dessert wines. The most astonishing Lambrusco comes from Pederzana winery, which produces a dry Amarone style Lambrusco Grasparossa passito. Just to contradict commonplaces.
The truth lies in the middle and Salamino has made this motto a lifestyle. In fact, it is the perfect synthesis of the two older brothers. It has precise and slender tannins, less intense than Grasparossa. The acidity tickles the palate, but gracefully, it’s not as abrasive as Sorbara although the scents and flavors are the same. If you have never tasted Lambrusco, start from a Salamino, it is the most affordable and then swings towards the two extremes.
Could Parma not have its own Lambrusco? Of course not! Lambrusco Maestri is more intense, an extreme wine: all its characteristics are exponentially pumped. It is very tannic, very acidic, very fruity, very dark, very punishing if don’t pair the right dish. Let’s say that it is the uncle grumpy of the group and it never backs off when there is a fight with cold cuts and greasy food. Don’t serve Maestri with oysters, but with cotechino, sure, it is fabulous!
The Lambrusco of Reggio Emilia and Mantua: dark, strong, acidic, more vinous than ethereal, but with a rocky structure. If you don’t know what to pair with the classic tortelli with ricotta or lasagna bolognese, give a call to the old Marani.
Lambrusco food pairings
In some way or another, the main virtue of Lambrusco is bright acidity, so combine fatty dishes, cold cuts, pasta with pesto, spicy Indian or Thai dishes, if you want. If you have uncorked a Grasparossa, also dare with meat, lamb kebabs, gnocchi with Bolognese, hamburgers, baked lasagna, truffle risotto, pasta Amatriciana; if you opt for Sorbara, you can easily pair fish, sushi and fish soup.