The wine’s dark acidic days are in the past thanks to a new breed of producers.
First published in The Irish Times, Saturday February 3rd, 2018.
Fancy a glass of chilled, fizzy, acidic red wine? I suspect not. It doesn’t sound very enticing, particularly on a cold February day. As one who finds it hard to love that Australian speciality, sparkling (red) Shiraz, until recently I have always avoided Lambrusco like the plague.
Lambrusco is a sweet, red, fizzy wine that weaned a generation of Americans on to wine as well as providing cheap alcohol for thirsty students in Ireland. Tesco offers a version of this, a 5.5 per cent wine for a mere €4.99. Lambrusco made a fortune for its first American importer, who invested the profits in the vast Banfi estate in Tuscany. It kept some of the farmers of Emilia-Romagna (where it is made) happy but gained the region an unenviable reputation.
But Lambrusco has changed. Driven by a small group of ambitious producers, it now offers a string of interesting, complex, dry, lightly sparkling wines. They are low in alcohol, fresh and quite unique. Not only that, the surrounding Emilia-Romagna produces some delicious still, red wines, and some very tasty dry whites too. All of them are amazingly food-friendly, especially when matched with the local cuisine.
On a recent trip to a wine fair in Bologna, I tasted my way through some excellent sparkling wines, Lambrusco included, red, white and rosé. Some were lightly frizzante or “pét-nat”, others fully sparkling. With their violet aromas, vivid delicate fruits, ranging from crunchy dark cherries to wild strawberries, the best examples are genuinely mouthwatering and utterly charming. Confusingly, Lambrusco is not a region, nor a single grape variety. It is a group of grape varieties, eight to 10, depending on who you talk to, that come in various shades of colour, as well as being the name of the wine.
Like many regions of Italy, Emilia-Romagna has a huge number of denominazione or appellations. The region claims to be the true home of Sangiovese (before those Tuscans got their hands on it), generally made in an intriguing soft, almost Pinot Noir-like style that can be excellent when done well.
I also visited the city’s many excellent wine bars. Bologna is a bustling student city, with one of Europe’s oldest universities, and the wine bars were the perfect place for sipping a glass of light, frothy, fizzy red wine with a plate of cold meats and cheese, despite the fact it was November. To follow, the restaurants offer rich satisfying food – Bologna is not known as La Grassa or “the fat” for nothing. The region produces some of Italy’s great foods, including Parma ham, Parmesan and balsamic vinegar, as well as being the home of ragù alla Bolognese. The latter goes down a treat with a glass of good Lambrusco.
Reggiano Rosso 2016, Emilia-Romagna
A blend of local grapes including Lambrusco, this is a lovely light wine with juicy dark fruits; an Italian version of Beaujolais? Drink with charcuterie/salami or pasta dishes. We had ours with penne, broccoli and sausage, a Rachel Roddy recipe.
Stockists: Marks & Spencer
Medici Ermete IGT Sangiovese Rubicone, Emilia-Romagna
Light, soft, easy, dark cherry fruits with a rounded finish; elegant and refreshing at the same time. Try it with home-made pasta with pancetta and Parmesan or spaghetti carbonara.
Stockists: Sheridan’s Cheesemongers; SIYPS.com; Ashe’s, Annascaul
Reggiano Lambrusco Secco Sparkling
Light and dry with lovely floral aromas, crisp, lean blackcurrant fruits, plenty of fine bubbles, finishing with a flourish. Go local and serve with shavings of parmesan, perhaps some Parma ham, Mortadella and a few grissini.
Stockists: Marks & Spencer
Medici Ermete Concerto Reggiano Lambrusco Frizzante
A charming, light, refreshing, gently sparkling red wine with invigorating blackcurrant and dark cherry fruits, finishing dry. Excellent modern Lambrusco. Try it before a meal with a few cheesy nibbles or some good salami.
Stockists: Green Man Wines, Terenure; Sheridan’s Cheesemongers; SIYPS.com