Lambrusco: The Ultra-fruity Grape From Emilia
Emilia-Romagna is such a fascinating Italian region. It boasts the best restaurants in the whole country. “Osteria Francescana”, owned by the famous Chef Massimo Bottura, has been rated as the best restaurant in the world for two years (in 2016 and 2018). Food and famous Chefs aren’t making things easy for winemakers. They have to go the extra mile to draw people’s attention to their wines. Never forget though that the first Italian white wine granted as DOCG, in 1987, comes from here: Albana Di Romagna DOCG. Nowadays, with the main focus on food, Emilia-Romagna is well-known to be more about quantity than quality in terms of wine. However, Emilian winemakers make outstanding and unique products as well.
Like each and every single Italian region, Emilia-Romagna makes its own traditional dishes. You might want to know that Bologna, its capital, is called “the fat one” among the other nicknames. In fact, if you go there for one week, you might gain weight without even realizing it. The delicious “Gnocchi Fritti” is everywhere. To makes things harder, you will smell the aromatic “Mortadella”, the bright pink cold cut, while walking down any street, looking for one of the 7 secrets. We once started looking for them all. The game was pretty fun and we were doing great, but we suddenly became sinners and fell in temptation. We ended up eating and drinking wine with locals. And after some small talks, it turned out that the only secret we were really looking for was the refreshing Lambrusco. We are The Wine Jokers after all.
That’s why we want to give some information about the three most famous types of Lambruscos.
The name “Lambrusco” means “wild grape” in Italian. There are several Italian varieties called “Lambrusca” or “Lambrusco”, especially in Piedmont and Emilia-Romagna. We weren’t even aware of the species from Piedmont, the land of Nebbiolo. We thought that this was an indigenous grape from Emilia-Romagna. But after researching and gathering information in the “Wine Grapes” book, we realized that we didn’t know that much about this grape variety. Lambrusca Di Alessandria, Lambrusca Vittona, Lambruschetto are all from Piedmont. Lambrusco di Sorbara, Lambrusco Grasparossa, and Lambrusco Salamino are the ones from Emilia instead.
Lambrusco is always made in stainless steel tanks and mostly with “Metodo Martinotti” (aka “Charmat Method”), the same style of Prosecco to give you an idea. In fact, this style is more suitable for ultra-fruity grapes, where the acidity is the main drive. However, there are pioners who are producing remarkable wines using the “Metodo Tradizionale” (aka “Traditional Method”). As you might know, the Traditional Method is the one used to make champagne. “Cantina della Volta”, for instance, has managed to stand out from the crowd in the field of fine sparkling wines. Christian Bellei implemented an innovative approach to the production of Lambrusco di Sorbara, using the Traditional Method. This is obviously just an example, but today several wineries are following suit.
Here, we’ll talk about the ones from Emilia since they are the most famous ones.
Lambrusco Di Sorbara (1,460 ha)
It’s a typical variety of the area between the Secchia and Panaro rivers, in the province of Modena. It takes its name from the small village of Sorbara, in the commune of Bomporto.
The wines made from this grape are usually dry or off-dry and should be drunk young. They are deep cherry red, lightly sparkling, and have zesty red fruit flavors. Needless to say, acidity plays an important role in these wines. Their beautiful freshness is pivotal to wash down the palate after eating the heavy pork-based Emilian dishes.
Among the best producers are:
Thanks to producers like these ones, Lambrusco is considered to be a distinctive high-quality sparkling wine that expresses the Emilian terroir and its dynamic personality as well.
Lambrusco Grasparossa (1,897 ha)
Traditionally cultivated in the commune of Castel Veltro, where Lambrusco Grasparossa was first mentioned in 1867. Nowadays, it’s the dominant variety (minimum 85%) of the sparkling Lambrusco Grasparossa di Castel Veltro DOC.
Perhaps less known than the previous one, this specie of Lambrusco is more masculine. It makes fuller-bodied, higher in alcohol and more tannic Lambruscos. For comparison’s sake, it’s like the Gamays from Morgon: when we say masculine, we still believe that the wines are in line with the main characteristics of the grape variety overall, but a structural component is popping up more than “usual”. In this case, the high acidity and the remarkable freshness are the main focuses, but the tannin and alcohol levels are coming out a bit more than usual. I hope this is clear.
Among the best producers are:
Lambrusco Salamino (4,273 ha)
The most widely planted of the Lambrusco varieties. It takes its name from the cylindrical shape of its bunches, which looks like a small salami. It originates from the commune of Santa Croce di Carpi, in the province of Modena. It’s also planted, to a limited extent, on the island of Sardegna. It’s the main grape variety in the Lambrusco Salamino di Santa Croce DOC (minimum 90% with up to 10% Ancellotta) and in the Lambrusco Salamino version of the Reggiano DOC (minimum 85%).
Its wines are intensely colored with fruity aromas and, in the best examples, their natural level of high tannin is well balanced with an impressive acidity. This is the most full-bodied and aromatic of all the Lambruscos.
The only producer we tried is “Tre Medaglie” which makes Lambrusco in all the styles: dry, off-dry, and even a sweet version.
Lambrusco: Other Emilian Varieties
The above mentioned Lambrusco varieties are the ones you must be definitely aware of. But for those who are still a bit “thirsty of knowledge”, here is a list of less-known Lambrusco species you might want to hear about:
Most of these species are used in blends. Hence, coming across a wine based entirely on one of these varieties isn’t easy. We wish we could try all of them once because we’re sure that all of them are worth it and, somehow, unique.
As you can see the “Lambrusco world” is so fascinating and dynamic. Would you expect something different though? We’re in Emilia-Romagna after all. The “Riviera Romagnola” influences people’s moods and everyone is open-minded and friendly here. And this aspect is present even in Emilian wines. It’s as if winemakers are influencing their vineyards with their positivity and endless attitude to live life to its fullest. The result is a refreshing and thirst-quenching wine that it isn’t easy to forget after the first sip. It’s like a vicious circle: winemakers influence their vineyards and Lambrusco influences people’s mood afterword. This natural process leading to positive things will go on forever here in Emilia-Romagna.
Here local people have always been able to make something great with the resources nature gave them. They took the Theodore Roosevelt quote seriously: “Do what you can, with what you have, where you are”. Therefore, the “Riviera Romagnola” has been attracting tourists from all over the world without having sea and beaches as wonderful as the South of Italy ones. And we honestly think that sipping a cold glass of Lambrusco during the golden hour in front of the beach here in Emilia-Romagna is as priceless as drinking Rosè wine in Saint-Tropez.