To celebrate World Lambrusco Day on June 21st, we’re inviting you to dip your toes into the world of this often misunderstood and underappreciated grape. Read on to learn more about the drink’s long history, its origin, main characteristics, and what it is that makes it so special.
A Short Introduction to Lambrusco
Lambrusco is a type of red grape originating from Italy in four areas in Emilia-Romagna and one in Lombardy, located mainly around the central provinces of Modena, Parma, Reggio Emilia and Mantua. The most valued wines made from this grape are sparkling reds, designed to be drunk young. It’s a wine with a long history and more than 60 varieties of Lambrusco have been identified to date. There are a large number of varieties ranging from dry to sweet, which can vary in colour from light red to dark purple.
The Origin of Lambrusco
The origin of the name Lambrusco is uncertain, but the main hypothesis is that the name derives from the Latin terms “labrum” (border) and “ruscum” (wild plant). The Romans adopted the term ‘lambrusca’ to designate the spontaneous or wild cultivation of this vine in the fields. By extension, the name came to represent not only the grape varieties but also the style of wine.
In the 19th century, among all the varieties cultivated, two in particular were favoured for their characteristics: Sorbara and Grasparossa. In 1970, together with Salamino della Santa Croce, they obtained the recognition of Denominazione di Origine Controllata (DOC), “controlled designation of origin”.
Commercial documents dating back to 1850 confirm the success of this drink thanks to its exports. Its popularity grew particularly quickly in the 1980s, its main markets being the United States and Northern Europe.
Historically, the wine was fermented in the bottle using the “méthode traditionelle”, a process that required a lot of care and attention. Today, however, most of these wines are made in bulk and undergo secondary fermentation in large steel tanks. This is known as the Charmat (tank) method, pioneered in northern Italy. It is also used in the production of Prosecco.
Denominations of Origin
Lambrusco has four protected DOC regions in the Emilia-Romagna region of Italy and one just to the north in the Lombardy region:
- Lambrusco Grasparossa di Castelvetro: Produced in the smallest producing region located south of the city of Modena. The resulting wine is typically dry, with a deep purple-red colour, a very pronounced fruity aroma and a considerable tannic structure.
- Lambrusco di Sorbara: A wine produced in the north of Modena, near the village of Sorbara. It’s generally considered to be the producer of the most fragrant, high-quality wines, due to the tendency of the vine to lose its flowers, which reduces fruit yields and concentrated flavours. This results in wines with bright acidity, which is also conveyed on the palate.
- Lambrusco Salamino di Santa Croce: Salamino is located west of the village Sorbara and wines from this region must be composed of at least 90% of the local Salamino grape. These wines are typically light in colour and body with a frizzante style. Both semi-sweet and dry wines are produced.
- Lambrusco Reggiano: This is the largest Lambrusco producing region and the source of most of the wines designated for DOC export. The 4 Lambrusco grapes that can be used are Maestri, Marani, Montericco, and Salamino. Up to 15% of Ancellotta grapes are allowed in DOC as well.
- Lambrusco Mantovano: It is the only Lambrusco producing region outside Emilia-Romagna. Montovano is grown in Lombardy and its specific characteristics vary depending on the blend and the producer.
Characteristics of Lambrusco
The pigment of the grape creates an attractive ruby colour in the wines. When they reach full maturity, the result is a wine with a very intense aroma and flavour.
The six most common grape varieties are Grasparossa, Maestri, Marani, Montericco, Salamino and Sorbara. The vines are often pruned well above the ground to prevent the development of mildew. The grape itself is not very sweet, but many of the commercial versions are sweetened by partial fermentation or with the addition of concentrated must. When there is no sweet fermentation, the grape is capable of producing excellent dry wine, with strawberry notes and a slightly bitter finish.
Depending on the style, flavour profile, tannins, acidity and colour, Lambrusco can range from lighter-bodied, low tannin and pale red to full-bodied dark wines. Most varieties have bright acidity. This Italian red wine is usually slightly bubbly, but is rarely made in a “Champagne” style “méthode traditionelle”. It is usually made with the Charmat method, where a second fermentation takes place in a pressurised tank.
The best pairings come from its native country, Italy. Top pairings include: Prosciutto di Parma (cured ham), roast turkey with cranberry sauce, aged meats, salty cheeses, and hearty pasta dishes.
We recommend serving a dry Lambrusco with a cheese platter that includes prosciutto, Parmigiano Reggiano, and bread to dip in balsamic vinegar. You can also try serving it with grilled meat or pizza.
Sweet Lambrusco goes best with fruit desserts such as cherry pie.
Serve the drink chilled in a wine glass, avoiding champagne flutes. This wine is made to be enjoyed young, so buy fresh wine and enjoy it as soon as possible.
We hope you’ve enjoyed this article and now we’ll leave you with a few of our best recommendations:
A full-bodied Lambrusco wine made from 100% Lambrusco Grasparossa grapes
Perfect as an apéritif, this silky and intense sparkling rosé also pairs well with pizza and fish dishes
Translated by Chelsea Cummings from Sara Rodrigo’s orginal Spanish article: ¿Qué es el vino Lambrusco?.