Lambrusco Is Anything But A One-Dimensional Wine

Food & Drink

No need to lump all Lambrusco under one purple umbrella: these wines demonstrate a diversity of styles. With notes from John Foy.

If you read last week’s introduction to Lambrusco, you’ll be primed for this week’s tasting notes. My tasting pal with the palate extraordinaire, John Foy, owner of The Wine Odyssey, provided his notes and thoughts, for enjoying this summer-into fall wine sparkler, starting with how to chill out with this Italian sparkler.

“Lambrusco should not be served as cold as Champagne; there is a world of difference between Champagne’s Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier, and the grapes composing Lambrusco,” says Foy. “Chill it as you would Beaujolais, this will keep the harmony of fruit, acidity and tannins.” Recommended serving temperature: about 50°-60° F.

Then, properly chilled, you need the right glass.

“A flute is too tight, confining Lambrusco’s rich blackberry, pomegranate, raspberry and cherry aromas and flavors,” Foy says. And don’t look to a Bordeaux or Burgundy glass, either, both of which “allow the wine to expand, but also quickly flatten the bubbles.”

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He recommends instead a 12- to 14-ounce slightly balloon-shaped glass. “It offers the depth and width Lambrusco needs to stretch out, keeps the eye appeal of the bubbles and maintains the fizzy, crisp, lively acidity.”

Dry, and featuring clean “crunchy” red and black fruit flavors, it’s also versatile with many foods enjoyed in summer into fall: grilled meats and vegetables, sturdy pastas. Foy, a former restaurateur, says Lambrusco “a comforting partner to red-sauced pasta, Gorgonzola, prosciutto, salami, and, of course, pizza.”

Though much Lambrusco is made in the Charmat tank method, as John notes, “the traditional method still has its place in Lambrusco.” We independently sampled the Lini 910 2006 Metodo Classico Rosso Lambrusco, the most recent vintage from Oreste Lini, a fourth-generation family-owned winery founded by in 1910 and now made with a definite artisanal point of view. Made of 85% Lambrusco Salamino and 15% Lambrusco Ancellotta, it’s aged three years. The apparent residual sugar (12 grams) does not detract from this mighty tasty wine with very fresh black raspberry and blueberry flavors. Dry, despite the RS, with good structure, slightly herbal, with a mild fizz, and at 11% alcohol, we say drink all day. $16.99 —L.B.

Hailing from the Reggio appellation, and a perennial Gambero Rosso “Tre Bicchieri” award-winner, Foy sampled Medici Ermete’s Concerto Reggio Lambrusco, the first single-vineyard Lambrusco and the winery’s crown jewel. The 2018, produced from 100% Salamino grapes, has the black-tea and black-fruit aromas and flavors that are markers of well-made Lambrusco. Its composition is carried on a light body bound by acidity and tannins that glide to a balanced, dry finish ($19-21, great value). The producer pushes Lambrusco further into the modern era with its Phermento Lambrusco di Modena Secco, first made in 2016 by Alberto Medici, the fifth-generation family member. Tapping into the trendy pét-nat movement, Medici used the ancestral method for Phermento, resulting in a cloudy, bright-pink-colored brut nature frizzante wine. Made from only Sorbara grapes in the Modena area of Emilia Romagna, the 2018 Phermento expresses a very mild cherry scent, matched by the delicate cherry and strawberry flavors with a bone-dry finish. Its high acidity lends itself to pairings with a plate of prosciutto di Parma and salami ($27).—J.F.

The old-school label and bottle design for the 2019 Cleto Chiarli “Vecchia Modena Premium” Lambrusco di Sorbara DOC are reproductions the oldest existing bottle containing Lambrusco circa 1892, which is is still in the Chiarli archives. But this wine was anything but stodgy! A light and fizzy, fun and zippy wine with tart red crunchy fruits: cherry, cranberry, fresh market strawberries and an elevated tangerine tone. $16 —L.B.

In the old days around Modena, the workers found refreshment in a light, pink, effervescent wine made from the runoff of grapes that were piled into delivery carts. The Chiarli family pays homage to this tradition with its nonvintage Brut di Noir Rosé Spumante V.S.Q. Based on the Lambrusco Grasparossa grape variety, this wine gets its delightful pink hue from just a short period of skin contact, with 15% Pinot Nero. The Brut de Noir Rosé is a fully sparkling wine, produced in a single fermentation in an autoclave—a piece of technology unavailable to those thirsty farmers of the past. $16—J.F.

Cleto Chiarli 2019 Lambrusco Grasparossa di Castelvetro “Centenario” DOC Amabile. When the Chiarli family debuted Centenario, it was considered “a new wine for a new age,” made in the amabile style—literally meaning “lovable.” The designation is for a slightly sweeter wine (this one has 48 g/l). Here, 100% Lambrusco Grasparossa, a grape variety with deep color and high natural acidity, counters the sugar content. If you like a red fruity blend, this is your Lambrusco—almost a bit of a giddy throwback to Riunite. The floral and black pepper aromas give way to a fresh, fruity and floral expression on the palate. $13— L.B.

2019 Lambrusco Grasparossa di Castelvetro “Vigneto Cialdini” DOC. This is Chiarli’s top-of-the-line Lambrusco Grasparossa made in the brut range, with a slight detectable sweetness (still, only 12 g/l). Compared to its sister “Centanario,” it features higher acid but isn’t as bright in fruit, showing more dried cherry and subdued florals. This is a very polished older sister, where as its sibling was a like teenager still sorting itself out. $17 —L.B.

Venturini Baldini Montelocco Lambrusco Emilia IGP Semi Sec was old school and cool! Earthy barnyard aroma, dark sour cherry—more edgy than a Chianti style of cherry— bark-like, very dry and spicy. The nose suggests black pepper almost like a Northern Rhone Syrah. Lots of earthy bitterness, like charred bark, with chocolate cherry. Lovely mineral streak. Terrific with salume, hard cheeses or a grilled eggplant with charred skin—yes! $16.99 —L.B.

Venturini Baldini Marchese Manodori, Reggiano Lambrusco Frizzante DOC (NV). A blend of Marani, Maestri, Salamino and Grasparossa grapes (organic), this is, at 12%, a slightly weightier style—likely due to the clay content of the soils in which they’re planted. The nose shows purple flowers and baking spices, and dark red fruits, like late-summer strawberries and raspberries are accompanied by defined tannins and structure. $18.99—L.B.

With additional thanks to Beth Cotenoff, DipWSET (@bethrica) for tasting evaluation.

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