What Is Lambrusco Wine: The Italian Sparkling Red

Let me let you into a secret. I have a love affair that happens every year from October to March. My bi-annual escapade warms me on a chilly night and is smooth on the palette and silky tasty on the tongue. They’re fantastic Burgundy, exceptional in Bordeaux, and OMG amazing in Tuscany. 

Before your minds wander too far, I am of course talking about red wine. If you’re anything like me, you’ll enjoy your red wine far more in the winter than in the hot summer months. Because I don’t know about you,  when I think of red wine I think of big, bold, beautiful wines that correspond so much better with long nights while I’m hibernating at home. I do love my reds so, that even when my friends are popping open the prosecco and reaching for the rosé, I still hanker after a glass of rouge. So, if red is not dead, what’s a girl to do?

Warm weather wines are well known; sales of rosé grow by an average of 8% every year, and continue to be a strong driver for the wine world, particularly in the US. But here’s the thing: with up to 120 grammes of sugar per serving of rosé, painting the town pink does nothing for my waistline. So I always opt for another kind of light and refreshing dry wine if I can find it. Enter Lambrusco, it’s your time to shine. 

What Is Lambrusco Wine?

Aaah the L-word. Lambrusco is a sparkling red wine hailing frm the north of Itlay. It is responsible for leading the revival of sparkling red wines, offering an interesting and stylish choice in the fashionable trattatorias of northern Italy. As you probably already know, regional food (and wine) are the beating heart of Italy’s culture, but we it’s particulary telling that Lambrusco comes from Emilia-Romagna. The region is responsible for such delicious delicacies such as parmesan, parma ham, and balsamic vinegar, so anything hailing from these hallowed grounds is undoubtedly worth a try. 

Records show evidence of Lambrusco being made as early as the bronze age, and the wine was always reasonably popular. However, Lambrusco got a bad rep in the wine boom of 1970 when unfortunately mass-produced bulk imported Lambrusco got a bad name in Europe and in the US. And as we all know, a bad reputation can take a while to shake off. 

However, a few clever winemakers are changing all that. Modern Lambrusco has a penetrating acidity that keeps it fresh on the palate, and most use the same tank fermentation process as Italy’s other celebrity fizz, Prosecco, so things are changing. There are over 60 varieties of Labrusco on the market, from dry to sweet, and have a colour spectrum that ranges from light red to deep inky purple. Today’s Lambruscos are made to be drunk young and fresh and as they’re not particularly high in alcohol (around 11-12 ABV) they make a perfect daytime or aperitivo wine. 

What Does Lambrusco Taste Like?

Gone are the days when people would equate Lambrusco with cheap, sweet red wine that tasted like a fizzy drink. Fast forward 40 or so years and Lambrusco has roared back onto the wine drinking sene with a vengeance. It had made a welcome-back as the delightful, sparkling red wine from the classical world. Today’s Lambrusco comes either as dry (secco), semi-sweet (semisecco), and sweet (dulce). The cheaper versions can lead towards being overly sweet, so don’t be afraid to splash out on a more expensive secco or semisecco. These latter two varieties enjoy berry flavours (think blackberry, boysenberry, raspberry, and strawberry as well as dark cherry), while some varietals lean towards floral, fruity flavours including violet, baking spice, pink grapefruit, orange zest, and pepper. Lambrusco wine is usually light bodied and low in tannin, with lots of bright acidity on the palette. 

Types of Lambrusco Wine

While Lambrusco still has a long way to go to shake of its tainted reputation, there are some types that deserve a place on your apertivo table. The four below wines offer the complete range of styles that will have you thirsty for more.

Lambrusco di Sorbara

Lambrusco di Sorbara is one of Emilia’s most recognisable wines: it is both fragrant and elegant, and is packed full of lively acidity. It has a beautiful pale pinky-rose colour and intense aroma of violet, red fruits, orange blossom, mandarin orange and even watermelon. The wine is delicate and floral and is delightfully refreshing. 

Lambrusco Grasparossa

A brilliant, bold Lambrusco that is packed full of flavour. Lambrusco GraspaRossa di Castelvetro DOC – to give it its full name – is a lovely, frothy red wine produced primarily from in and around the town of Castelvetro. As GraspaRossa is medium high in tannin, it has the strongest taste of the four. Both dry and semi-dry versions of this lively red are produced.

Lambrusco Maestri

One of the few varieties of Lambrusco that has made its way out of Italy. There are some excellent examples of Maestri from both Australia (Adelaide Hills) and Argentina (Mendoza), yet surprisingly single varietals are hard to find in Italy. We are at a  loss to understand why – with its soft, creamy bubbles, firm acidity and delicate notes of milk chocolate, it is by far one of the superior Lambrusos on the market.

Lambrusco Salamino

This varietal takes its name from the grape that grows in small salami shaped bunches. Hailing from the northernmost pasrt of Modena, Lambrusco Salamino is full of taste of the terroir – think highly perfumed (imagine cherries and violets) with a similar structure, creaminess, and hue as Lambrusco Grasparossa. Can be both full bodied and quite sweet.

How to Serve Lambrusco Wine?

Lambrusco breaks the mold when it comes to fine wine myths. Yes, this is a red wine that should always be served at white wine temperature (so, 8 to 12 degrees Celsius or around 45-55 degrees Fahrenheit). We suggest putting it in the fridge for an hour or so prior to serving. An ice bucket for around 15 minutes will also do the trick, if you have unexpected guests arriving! 

Unlike it’s cousins Prosecco and Champagne, Lambrusco is not traditionally served in a flute. A universal red wine glass is ideal, but in view of the wine’s vast flexibility, really any glass will do. In fact, some of the aforementioned trendy trattorias of northern Italy will even serve your glass of Lambrusco in a tumbler or jam jar! Purists may prefer to serve the wine in a long, thin glass in order to keep the bubbles longer and the wine cooler, but really, for us Lambrusco is a wine that needs to be enjoyed low key. So anything goes.

Lambrusco Food Parings

The Italians have a saying: “What grows together, goes together”, so unsurprisingly this wine pairs particularly well with Italian food. What’s more, even though Emilia-Romagna is the home of most cured meats (salami, prosciutto, mortadella, bresaola) it’s also well known for its pasta dishes, so don’t be afraid to break out this bubbly with ragu and lasagna. Cheesewise you might like to enjoy it with pecorino or Parmigiano Reggiano, Grano Padano. If you like to be a little more adventurous, you might want to try pairing your next bottle of Lambeusco with spicy Thai and Indian cuisine – the contrast of sweet and spice works extremely well. The bubbles cut through the grease in fried food and we also love it with a roast chicken on Sundays. And why not open the Lambrusco for pudding time too – its sweetness pairs particularly well with desserts, especially anything made with chocolate.

All in all Lambrusco is a fun and fruity wine that is enjoying a welcome return to style. Our one word of warning? It’s so easily drinkable you might find yourself finishing off the whole bottle! 

Think you know your Lambrusco from your sparkling Shiraz? Continue reading more about sparkling red wine.

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