The Wine Blog

Underrated Grapes Series: Lambrusco

August 9, 2011

By Julia van der Vink

Unlike us millenials who are into biodynamic wines fermented in clay pots until the sun strikes the tropic of Capricorn…my mother prefers to drink Bordeaux, thank you. She is also into Chianti, Brunello, White Burgundy, cool-climate Pinot, and an assortment of blends from the Northern Rhone Valley. Her preferences are sophisticated, but narrow. They were established by familiarity with region, and over time, they have become cemented by habit.

Introducing her to new styles of wine is my ongoing project. And it has required patience, elaborate behind-the-scenes manipulation, and baby steps. She’s recently begun a magnificent love affair with Riesling, (a huge win for me), but for the most part, despite the slew of “hip” and “new” wines I push at her, she rejects my advances.

Lagrein? “I don’t know, it feels too thin…”

Carignan? “I’m sorry Julia. That tastes like dirt.”

Biodynamic Garganega from Soave? Eye roll.

And then came Lambrusco.

Just when I was poised to raise the white flag of surrender, Lambrusco became my mother’s new drink of choice. I didn’t even see it coming.

Lambrusco is the best-known grape variety in the Emilia-Romagna region of Italy, where it produces bone-dry sparkling red, rosé, (and sometimes even white), wines that are lush, fruity, and delightfully acidic. As Lambrusco believers will point out, however, the grape lived through an unfortunate era of misunderstanding. Its serious reputation as a dry, sparkling red wine has been long-slandered by the saccharine jugs of Riunite Lambrusco that used to populate supermarket shelves in the 70’s—until White Zinfandel replaced Riunite as the mass-market swill of choice. As has always been the case, real Lambrusco can be excellent. The wines are playful enough to slurp all summer long, yet serious enough to serve with a filet mignon.

As producers go, I recommend the Lambrusco Rosso, Lambrusco Rosé and Lambrusco Bianco from Lini Oreste. Although Lambrusco Rosso is by far the grape’s most popular style, I recently enjoyed the rosé paired with my roommate’s industrial-strength beef lasagna. The nose has fresh bright notes of raspberry and red cherry. It is dry and fruit-forward on the palate with tart notes of cranberry and black plum, and a characteristic structure of frothy, fumbling bubbles that makes it feel more endearingly easy-going than most sparkling wines and Champagnes.

Lambrusco is extremely food friendly, with flushing acidity, and an overt, delectably briny finish. If possible, imagine a refreshingly tart and fruity mouthful of seawater. The rosé would also be a perfect pairing for grilled chicken or risotto. Lini’s darker Lambrusco Rosso is a touch heavier, and would pair well with a grilled steak or burger. The harder to find Lambrusco Bianco (my mom’s favorite) is lighter than the Rosé, and is an excellent pairing for any aperitif.

Lambrusco is served chilled, and is a perfect wine for summer. Fortunately the wines are fairly inexpensive (~$20). So go slug some Lambrusco, it will definitely surprise you. To quote my mother, “I drank Lambrusco, and then on the seventh day, God rested.”