On the first Saturday of each month, a handful of wine writers from around the world participate in #ItalianFWT — or Italian Food Wine Travel. That means the host comes up with a theme to prompt us to taste, learn, and write, then we all do so and share the results. For June our topic is Lambrusco – a fizzy red wine from Emilia-Romagna that is widely misunderstood in the U.S. Jennifer from Vino Travels is our host this month, and she introduced us to the theme in her invitation post.
Our group will meet on Twitter this Saturday, June 1st, at 11 am EDT, and we’d love for you to join us! All you need is the #ItalianFWT to follow the discussion. We welcome anyone who’s interested in the topic – food pairings, tasting notes, and travel tips are all part of the conversation. At the end of my post, you’ll find a list of all the participants and what they’ll be contributing to the chat. It’s always a good time!
Revisiting Lambrusco – It’s Time for an Update
Many wine drinkers are quick to dismiss Lambrusco as a sweet, fizzy, kids’ quaff. Fair criticism during the 70s and 80s, perhaps, but no longer. Today’s Lambrusco wines run the style gamut, from light, fresh, and aromatic, to highly-pigmented, tannic, and structured. And they can be dry, off-dry, semi-sweet, or sweet. It’s definitely time to re-examine our prejudices toward Lambrusco and look at it in an entirely new light.
The Lambrusco Grape: Family vs. Variety
The word Lambrusco actually represents an entire family of grapes calling Emilia-Romagna home. (There is some grown in other regions, but the bulk is found in this part of Central Italy.) Under the Lambrusco family crest, four varieties are responsible for the majority of wine made today:
Lambrusco di Sorbara
Perhaps the lightest and most floral of the family, Lambrusco di Sorbara favors the sandy soils around the city of Modena (of the famous balsamic vinegar.) While the most prevalent of the vines, its cultivation can be difficult, as it requires pollination from another Lambrusco variety. Sorbara wines are renowned for their intense aromas of violet (Cab Franc lovers, take note!)
Also known as Lambrusco Castelvetro, for the town where it grows most prevalently, Grasparossa prefers hillside vineyards and clay-based soils. Favorable placement at higher elevations allows this variety to ripen fully even in the coolest years. Wines made from Grasparossa are noticeably more tannic and concentrated than other Lambrusco wines, and many of its fans consider them superior in quality to others. These deeply colored wines, with their heady aromas of black cherry and fuller bodies are perfect accompaniments for robust meat dishes and hearty stews.
Plantings of this variety are on the upswing, with acreage under vine doubling in the last ten years. It is a reliable friend to the farmer, due to its hardiness and adaptability, probably big factors in its popularity. Growers far beyond Italy’s shores have experimented with Maestri as well, and it has found a welcoming home in Australia. The wines themselves brim with fruit aromas and flavors and tend to exhibit a creaminess and roundness on the palate. They are easily approachable, if not complex wines, and are meant to be enjoyed young.
Named for the sausage-shaped grape bunches it produces, Lambrusco Salamino may be the most aromatic of all the Lambrusco varieties. According to Ian D’Agata, author of Native Wine Grapes of Italy, Salamino wines “combine the grace and fragrance of Lambrusco di Sorbara with the power and body of Lambrusco Grasparossa.” These well-balanced beauties give off effusive aromas of red fruit and violets and have real tannic structure. Many Salamino wines are made in an off-dry or sweet style, which can be quite appealing.
2018 Francesco Vezzelli Lambrusco Grasparossa di Castelvetro Rive dei Ciliegi (11% abv; $19)
Francesco Vezzelli began growing grapes and making his own wine in 1958, when most other farmers sold their harvests to local cooperatives. He was clearly on to something: a decade later, his neighbors were estate-bottling their wines, and the overall quality of the wine significantly improved. While things have been slower to change in the United States, Italy was quick to embrace artisanal Lambrusco; it now appears on most restaurant lists and is considered a “serious” wine.
These days, Francesco’s son Roberto heads up the enterprise, which comprises just 16 hectares of vines on the slopes outside of Modena. In addition to the wine I tasted for this month’s event, Vezzelli produces several other traditional-style Lambrusco wines. On deck: a traditional method wine that will age for 18 months before release. Should be an interesting experiment!
Note: While I was unable to find the producer’s website, I did dig up an article in an Italian wine journal that had a small blurb about Vezzelli. I also got a bit of background from Moore Brothers, where I bought the wine.
Color: Deep ruby, with a soft, foamy mousse. See for yourself:
Nose: Black cherry, violets, and sweet cola.
Palate: Ripe black cherry, strawberry, and cola, with notes of balsamic vinegar on the finish. Minimal tannins, and the acidity is medium-low. It’s a light-bodied wine that’s quite enjoyable to drink.
Pairing: Homemade pizza (using whatever I had in the fridge!)
It was just after 8:00 pm and, after a long day of working and studying, I was starving. Luckily there were some useful ingredients in the refrigerator: defrosted ball of pizza dough; leftover turkey meatballs in sauce; half of a stuffed portobello mushroom; and a jar of Castelvetrano olives. Right on!
I rolled out the dough and slapped all of the above on top and sprinkled a little Pecorino-Romano all over; then it went into the oven. Minutes later, I poured myself a glass of Lambrusco, sliced the pizza, and plopped down on the couch to watch the basketball game.
Verdict: The Lambrusco and pizza got on like the proverbial house on fire. Sweet notes in the wine brought out the hint of sweetness in the sauce and the olives. There was just enough fizz to cleanse the palate, and the red fruit flavors were really agreeable. I can see why everyone recommends pizza and/or tomato-based sauces as perfect Lambrusco partners. Plus, it’s fun! Who doesn’t like watching bright red bubbles fill a glass?
My recommendation? Find a “serious” Lambrusco and give it a try on pizza night. It’ll be a lot better than you think!
Now that you’re on the Lambrusco bandwagon, check out what the rest of the Italian Food Wine & Travel group members have to say about it:
- Camilla from the Culinary Adventures with Camilla will be featuring “Every Wine Deserves a Second Look: Warmed Brie with Mulberry Chutney + Cleto Chiarli Lambrusco di Sorbara Vecchia Modena 2018″
- Jill at L’Occasion shares “La Collina Biodynamic Bubbles — Lambrusco!
- Wendy of A Day in the Life on the Farm highlights “Lambrusco? Really??”
- Deanna from Asian Test Kitchen will showcase “Top 5 Fast Food Pairings with Lambrusco”
- Jeff at Food Wine Click will share “Lambrusco Shines with Red Fizz and Fun“
- Cindy of Grape Experiences will feature “Italian Old-School Classics: Easy Drinking Lambrusco with Spicy Vegetarian Pensa Romana“
- Marcia of the Joy of Wine will be highlighting “Lambrusco – The Star of Emilia-Romagna”
- Linda from My Full Wine Glass will be sharing “Sipping Lambrusco in Strawberry Season”
- Pinny of Chinese Food and Wine Pairings is focused on “Picnicking with Scarpetta Frico Lambrusco”
- Lauren at The Swirling Dervish will be sharing “Revisiting Lambrusco with Francesco Vezzelli Rive dei Ciliegi”
- Nicole with Somm’s Table shares “Cooking to the Wine: Pezzuoli Lambrusco Grasparossa di Castelvetro with Antipasto Pizza“
- Gwendolyn of Wine Predator will be showcasing “Bugno Martino’s Organic Lambrusco Defy Expectations”
- Susannah of Avvinare will be featuring “Sparkling Lambrusco from Vitivinicola Rota”
- Our host Jennifer of Vino Travels is sharing “Over 150 years of Dedication to Lambrusco with Cleto Chiarli”