The days are getting warmer and over here, attention turns towards refreshing rosé and sparkling wines. Including the fizzy Lambrusco wines from Italy. Never heard of them? No worries. Here is all you need to know about these lesser-known Italian bubbles and why you should definitely going to try them.
There is no question: Italy is synonymous with some of the best wines in the world.
Wine is produced throughout the whole country, from north to south and east to west and some of the oldest wine-producing areas in the world can be found in Italy.
However, internationally Italian wines are still largely connected to two regions and their leading grape varieties: Tuscany (Sangiovese) and Piedmont (Barbera and Nebbiolo). Those in the know might add wines from Sicily and Puglia. Plus, obviously the widely popular Prosecco which is mostly produced in Veneto.
But with somewhere around 2,000 different native grapes grown across Italy, you can imagine there are many more exciting wines worth being explored.
Lambrusco, the fizzy wines coming predominantly from the Emilia-Romagna region, are rarely known outside of Italy. And those familiar with the name might perhaps still putting them into ‘the cheap, sweetish bulk wine that no one wants’ category.
Including, until more recently, yours truly.
Thankfully, I have been re-introduced to the variety during an online tasting last year and I could not have been more positively surprised.
About sparkling red wine
Made for a long time already, red sparkling wine remains kind of an oddity. Though it has been on the rise in popularity lately, not least because of red bubbles produced in Australia that have caught the interest of the international wine scene.
What most people often don’t know, however, is that Australia was not the first to make red sparkling wine. This honour goes to Italy. In fact, Italy remains the country with the highest numbers of sparkling red varieties produced.
But what makes sparkling red wines different?
Sparkling red wine is a sparkling wine with a red colour. It is made in the same way as white or rosé sparkling wines (using either the traditional method or the tank method). The red colour is achieved thanks to the grape juice getting in contact with the skins of red grapes.
So it’s only the colour?
Not quite. Although there are different types of sparkling red wines, generally speaking sparkling red wines are complex, fruit forward wines with aromas of red fruits and spices, velvety tannins, a certain degree of sweetness and upon pouring an effervescent mousse.
What is Lambrusco – an introduction
Lambrusco is still among the lesser-known Italian wines although it can be easily considered to be the most famous sparkling red.
The wine has in fact a long history – there is evidence the grapes were already cultivated by the Etruscans and it also played an important role during Roman times.
Made with Lambrusco grapes, one of the oldest grape varieties grown in Italy, it comes in different styles from sweet to dry and from light to deep red. Plus, Lambrusco is also made as rosé. Today, a large part of Lambrusco is dry (secco), with typically less than 15 g of sugar per litre. The sweeter versions are called off-dry (semi-secco) to semi-sweet (amabile) and sweet (dolce).
Within the Lambrusco grape family, you will find lots of different types (around 60) but only around 10 varieties are used for wine making. Among those are the most popular varieties for Lambrusco: Lambrusco Grasparossa, Lambrusco Maestri, Lambrusco Marani, Lambrusco Montericco, Lambrusco Salamino, and Lambrusco Sorbara.
Lambrusco grapes can be actually found across various Italian regions, but the wine is officially only made in the Emilia-Romagna region, with the exception of a small part coming from neighbouring Lombardy.
The city of Mantua along with the provinces of Modena, Reggio Emilia and Parma are the heartland of Lambrusco. In total, there are eight Lambrusco DOC (denominazione di origine controllata) regions: Colli di Parma Lambrusco, Lambrusco Grasparossa di Castelvetro, Lambrusco di Sorbara, Lambrusco Salamino di Santa Croce, Reggiano Lambrusco, Colli di Scandiano e Canossa Lambrusco, Modena Lambrusco, and Lambrusco Mantovano. The letter is the only one outside of Emilia-Romagna and produces predominantly dry and semi-dry styles of Lambrusco.
But wait, is Lambrusco a sparkling wine or not?
When it comes to Lambrusco, opinions are often divided whether it qualifies as sparkling wine or not.
Some say yes, but others are still of the opinion, it is a red wine that is fizzy.
Yet, considering how Lambrusco is made, you can truly put Lambrusco into the sparkling wine compartment, although a quite particular one.
Most Lambrusco is made according to the Charmat method, which means a double fermentation in large steal tanks and bottled under pressure. The same method is used for most Prosecco as well as the sparkling Cremant wines from France.
However, more recently, a growing number of wineries produce Lambrusco according to the Traditional Method (also referred to as the Champagne Method) with the second fermentation taking place in the bottle. That’s indeed the way how Champagne is made.
How to best enjoy Lambrusco
Lambrusco is a wine best enjoyed young.
Serve it slightly chilled at around 8-10°C. I usually put mine in the fridge about an hour before serving. When it gets too cold it will lose its flavour.
Lambrusco and food pairing
One reason I have turned into a fan of Lambrusco is its huge versatility. It is extremely food-friendly and can pair with almost everything.
That said, if you are just starting to get familiar with the variety, my suggestion would be to follow the old wine and food pairing rule: What grows together, goes together.
Lambrusco is unbeatable with the local delicacies of the Emilia-Romagna region. The area stands for some of the most famous and internationally popular Italian foods, led by Parmigano Reggiano, Prosciutto di Parma, balsamic vinegar from Modena and Tortellini in brodo.
You can’t go wrong pairing Lambrusco with the local cold meats: Prosciutto di Parma, salumi, pork, and Italian-style sausages with fennel. Likewise, the local Parmigiano Reggiano and Grana Padano cheeses will pair perfectly. And while not originating from Emilia-Romagna, Lambrusco is the perfect wine paired with pizza.
Beyond the local food, in particular Lambrusco di Sorbana pairs very well with creamy pasta, lasagne, seafood, and soft cheeses. Or try it with the classic melon, ham and vinegar combo.
Lambrusco Grasparossa also works very well with grilled chicken, lamb or even a steak. In addition, it also holds its ground with fattier meats such as duck or goose.
The sweeter Lambrusco wines are great with spicy Asian food but also with fresh fruit like peaches and nectarines.
Three Lambrusco worth trying
If you wonder where to start, below I have listed three different types of Lambrusco that make to a great introduction to the variety.
Cantina della Volta – Lambrusco di Modena Trentasei Spumante Brut
Whilst officially founded in 2010, Cantina della Volta is the result of more than 100 years of winemaking experience of the Bellei family and owner Christian Bellei is the 4th generation of winemakers in his family. The winery is based in the original cellar build by Christian’s great-grandfather on the banks of the historic Naviglio di Bomporto canal.
Despite the family’s long tradition making Lambrusco – the winery is located in the heart of the Lambrusco di Sorbana area – both Christian and his father Giuseppe have studied winemaking according to the traditional method in Epernay, the heart of the French Champagne region.
As a result, Cantina dell Volta was one of the first to make Lambrusco according to the classic champenoise method starting in 2010.
Cantina della Volta today produces a range of different Lambrusco, with the Trentasei Spumante Brut still the flagship wine of the estate.
In the glass, an intense ruby-red colour.
On the nose, aromas of cherry, currants and wild rose.
On the palate, full-bodied, creamy and elegant with compact notes of red fruits with a delicate floral and clove taste. Balanced acidity.
Ariola – Lambrusco Spumante Dry Grand Cru Marcello
Founded in 2003, Ariola winery nonetheless benefits from a long winemaking tradition that started on its land in 1956 by the Forte Rigoni family.
Ariola winery is located within the ‘Colli di Parma DOC’ region in the hills between Felino and Langhirano.
Lambrusco Marcello takes its name from Ariola founder, Marcello. It is made from 100% Lambrusco Maestri grapes. The wine was awarded the gold medal at the International Wine Challenge of London in 2011 whilst in the same year it achieve a score of 98/100 at Luca Maroni’s Yearbook of the Best Italian Wines.
Lambrusco Marcello is produced according to the charmat method, meaning second fermentation takes place in a steel tank.
In the glass, a very intense dark crimson with purple reflections.
On the nose, fragrant and fruity, with aromas of sour cherries, wild berries and a hint of rose.
On the palate, well-structured, pleasantly fruity and balanced minerality.
Corte Manzini – Fior di Lambrusco rosé
The small winery was founded in 1978 by brothers Lodovico, Lorenzo, Giordano and Ruggero Manzini and today is one of the leading producers of Lambrusco in the area of Lambrusco Grasparossa DOC, located close to the town of Castelvetro.
The winery’s Lambrusco wines are made according to the Charmat method, with second fermentation taking place in a steel tank.
Fior di Lambrusco rosé is made from more than 50-year-old Lambrusco Grasparossa vines. Grapes are picked by hand and macerated on the mash at 0°C for 24 hours, which gives the wine its delicate pink colour.
In the glass, an intensive pink.
On the nose, aromas of cherries and raspberry with a flowery note.
On the palate, medium-bodied, fruit-forward with notes of red berries and a good minerality.
If you have never tried Lambrusco, I really recommend it’s time you do.
Though the wines certainly are nowhere to rival a Champagne, if you are looking for something a bit different, Lambrusco will offer what you are looking for. These red bubbles are easy-to-drink, affordable and extremely food-friendly – thus the perfect alternative for any weeknight dinner.