Lambrusco – time to give it a second chance

Lambrusco comes from the Emilia Romagna region of Italy – home of Parmesan cheese, Prosciutto ham, Balsamic vinegar, Sangiovese wine and Ferrari cars.  The capital Bologna is considered the food capital of Italy (and so arguably of the world) and the region’s most notorious and ancient wine is Lambrusco.

I say notorious because in the 1970/80s Lambrusco went on a global rampage – flooding the world with a sweet, fizzy pop of a wine produced in such volumes that the quality collapsed entirely followed by its sales and reputation.  But since then, its makers have worked hard to produce a new generation of drier, more complex wines, and Lambrusco is once again one of the great and today largely untried specialist wines of Italy.  And because still somewhat unloved, often available at remarkably good prices.

What sets Lambrusco apart is that it is a red wine, naturally frizzante (semi-sparkling with a light spritz of fine bubbles) and often of a low ABV – typically 8% to 11%.  This makes it of great interest to The Light Drinker in search of lighter red wines, which as we all know, are a very rare find.  It also makes it delicious.  At lower ABVs, a certain sweetness in nearly inevitable but in the Lambrusco the red grapes also bring a certain acidity and strong tannins which, combined with the spritz, serves to balance the potential sweetness and produce a dry to semi-dry wine which will sit comfortably on the pallet of many a red wine devotee.

The wines are also stunning to look at – deep purple in colour and delicious to taste – packed with red fruit flavours of cherry and plum.

For The Light Drinker, there is a small sub-selection of Lambrusci (is that the spelling?)  which come in at 8% ABV.  These are often labled Amabile (literally meaning sweet or agreeable) but this warning should not be taken too seriously.  Amabile, lies on a scale between Dolce (which really means sweet), semi-secco (off-dry)  and Secco (dry).  So perhaps semi-sweet.  And in a good Lambrusco there is so much to balance this that the wines are not cloying and are certainly not dessert wines in the way that say a Moscato is.  So my urging to the red wine drinker who dislikes sweet wines (and who even remembers the horrors of the past) is do give Lambrusco a go – I think you will not be disappointed.  Do try the Amabile first and, if that disappoints, you can always revert to the secco but it will probably have an 11% ABV (which is still better than your typical 14% red of today).

There are numerous DOC sub-regions (Denominazione di Origine Controllata) for Lambrusco wines and these really do matter; some produce much higher quality wines and some drier wines.  There are three which produce 8% ABV variants which are generally to be found in the UK.  These are (in my order of preference):

  1. Lambrusco Grasparossa di Castelvetro – this is one of the smaller DOCs and is highly regarded for its quality, producing dry, full bodied wines that are particularly bold in flavours of black currant and blueberries, supported by moderately high, mouth-drying tannin and a balancing creaminess from the Charmat sparkling production process (the same as used for Prosecco). One of our 4.5 star favourites is from here: the Cantina di Soliera Lambrusco Grasparossa di Castelvetro.
  2. Lambrusco Salamino – these are typically lighter in colour and body , more aromatic, more strawberries than plums, but still with the structure and tannins of the Grasparossa. The Ca’ de Monaci from Virgin Wines is a stunning example – full bodied, delightfully rich in flavour and with a long tannin finish.
  3. Lambrusco di Modena – these are more from the volume end of production and contain a broad mixture of grapes. Generally very good VFM, for example stocked at Lidl for just £5.99 per bottle or Tesco at £2.75 and just 5.5% proof. And really very drinkable.

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