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Wine Writers On Lambrusco (1978-2012)
FROM LAMBRUSCO INDUSTRIALE (1968-1994) TO
TOP-QUALITY REAL LAMBRUSCO (1995-2010)
A New History Of One Of The World's Most Ancient Pleasures
Paul Lukacs, 2012
RECOVERY AND REVIVAL
Tasting Italy. A Culinary Journey.
by Alice Vollenweider
First published in German in 1990. English translation in 2005. Paperback edition in 2011.
"Since 1533, when Catherine de Medici was accompanied by numerous cooks when she traveled to France to marry King Henri I, Italian cuisine has been considered the mother of all European fine cooking. Alice Vollenweider wrote her doctoral thesis on the influence of Italian cooking as reflected in language and has written numerous essays on contemporary Italian literature. In this combined travelogue, cookbook and literary guide, she provides delightful insights into the Italian way of life, which revolves around cooking and eating - the most sociable part of its culture. All the important regions of Italy are introduced by their food, and made even more palatable with many recipes and useful tips about people, places and pleasures."
Why Parmesan goes with almost everything
"I have always felt a particular affinity for the cuisine of Parma, with its emphasis on butter and cheese. As a student the only meal I knew how to cook was spaghetti, which I mixed with plenty of grated Parmesan and butter, and I remained faithful to this simple and effective combination later on, when I had learned how to cook. There is nothing I prefer to vegetables alla parmigiana; what would be better than broccoli, fennel, leek, cauliflower, and asparagus boiled in salted water and served with grated Parmesan and melted butter? Yet it surprised me when Lorenzo reached for the cheese grater one evening when we were having dinner together and sprinkled Parmesan on the spinach. He explained to me that in northern Italy, Parmesan and spinach go together just as much as Parmesan and spaghetti, indeed it is used as sort of universal condiment...
It is only when it melts that grated Parmesan develops its full flavour, whether in hot broth, risotto just before it is served, or on top of butter with hot butter poured over it. This also happens when a dish is finished off under the grill, a method I specially like with spinach...
What makes Parmesan different from other grating cheeses is that it melts without forming threads like Emmental or Gruyere. It simply dissolves in broth, minestrone or risotto and imparts a delicate, creamy consistency. But one of the basic rules of Italian cooking is that you should not buy grated Parmesan, but grate it yourself shortly before eating; when waiters in good restaurants grate Parmesan straight on to your risotto like truffle, they are not being pretentious, because this really does taste better than grated cheese that has been hanging around for hours or even days.
Parmesan is also an excellent dessert cheese; with the cheese knife you cut big flakes - in Italian they are called scaglie - from ripe straw-yellow Parmesan, and allow them to dissolve between tongue and palate, where they release their mild, aromatic flavour.
I first visited the town from which Parmesan gets its name on my way to Rome. I found a room in the Hotel Stendhal, opposite the imposing Palazzo della Pilotta, and phoned up Baldassare Molossi, a schoolfriend of Luigi Malerba, editor of the Gazzetta di Parma and the author of a book on Parma's cuisine. We arranged to meet in the "Aurora", a restaurant where I got to know the cooking of this town in theory and in practice, beginning with the starter, which simply consisted of the two finest local delicacies: the mild and flavourful Parma ham, served in the "Aurora" without the fat, and culatello, a specialty of the surrounding countryside.
It is the best part of the ham, weighing only four or five kilos, salted in a string net and transported to the Po valley to mature, where there is fog all through the winter. It is this damp climate, which lends the culatello its exquisite aromatic delicacy: Molossi told me that Gabriele D'Annunzio was addicted to it. Anyone who visits Parma should definitely try this speciality or, better still, take one home with them. In Parma, as in the whole province of Emilia, Lambrusco is drunk with food, a sparkling dry red wine that is responsible for the hearty appetite of the local gourmets; it makes the richest foods light and digestible.
In Emilia, a first course of pasta is practically compulsory. No other province has a greater wealth of special varieties of pasta....
Alberto Savinario's comment about Parmesan in his book about Milan hits the nail on the head: "Parmesan is a foundation cheese. What the double bass is to stringed instruments, Parmesan is to cheeses. The bottom note of Parmesan's deep, fatherly bass supports the lighter members of the cheese quartet, Taleggio and Crescenza, the violas and trebles of the family, the hoard of Robiolas and Stracchinos..." After a digression on Gruyere and Emmental he continues: "Parmesan is heavy, robust, reliable. Its special solid flavour is reflected in its shape, that of a waggon wheel. It is the 'giant Morgante' among cheeses. But Parmesan is not an only child; it has two brothers, Reggiano and Lodigiano - the three giants of the cheese world. The hieratic arrangement of this trinity of cheeses is striking - three brothers who have settled a short distance apart from each other on the same Roman road, running from north to south; each has a strong town as its base, like an army's garrison. Lodigiano is at home in Lodi, Reggiano in Reggio Emilia, and Parmesan in Parma." But since Savinio's book was published in 1944 the geographical disposition of north Italian cheese has changed; in the name of industrialisation, Parmesan is made today in a legally defined zone of the provinces of Parma, Reggio Emilia and Modena [now: Parmigiano-Reggiano] on the right bank of the Po, and the bulk of the hard cheese produced in northern Italy carries the generic designation Grana padano." --- Alice Vollenweider
Matt Kramer, The Wine Spectator, May 31, 2012
Hugh Johnson's Pocket Wine Book 2012
Lambrusco E-R DOC (or not) r p w dr s/sw *-** DYA Once extremely popular fizzy red from nr Modena, mainly in industrial, semi-sweet, non-DOC version. Sometimes vinified blanc de noirs. Best is secco, bottled-fermented or in tank. DOCS: L Grasparossa di Castelvetro, L Salamino di Santa Croce, L di Sorbara. Best: Bellei, Caprari, Casali, Cavicchioli, Graziano, Lini Oreste, Medici Ermete (esp Concerto), Rinaldo Rinaldini, Venturini Baldini.
- Hugh Johnson's Pocket Wine Book 2012
A Note: A number of producers have switched from DOC/P to IGT/P without lowering their quality standards; the number of DOCs has increased to "up to" 12 (including Lombardy); and a couple of very important top-quality new-comers are missing under 'Best'; Lini Oreste is better known as 'Lini 910'; Rinaldo Rinaldini goes by 'Moro and/or Paola Rinaldini' now; plus ER (Emilia Romagna) has officially (yes, officially!) dropped 'that' hyphen. Secco = dry/off-dry.
Oz Clarke's Pocket Wine Guide 2011
One region, dominated by the Po valley, but in vinous terms two very different entities. Emilia specializes in frothing wines like Lambrusco while Romagna is all Sangiovese and Trebbiano, including some top wines. See also PIACENTINI, ROMAGNA.
LAMBRUSCO Emilia-Romagna, Italy
'Lambrusco' refers to a family of black grape varieties. Today the cheap and cheerful stuff of the 1980s is all but forgotten, but there is genuine quality Lambrusco (especially Lambrusco di Sorbara and Grasparossa di Castelvetro), frothing and dry or off-dry, ideal as a partner with the rich local foods based on cheese and pork products. Best producers: Barbieri, Barbolini, F Bellei *, Casali, Cavicchioli *, Chiarli, Vittorio Graziano *, Oreste Lini, Stefano Spezia, Venturini Baldini.
- Oz Clarke's Pocket Wine Guide 2011
A Note: Emilia and Romagna are not only different in 'vinous terms' but these two regions have also very different cultural and historical backgrounds. The 'cheap and cheerful', super-sweet, commercial versions of the 1980s are back on the market. But this time, these industrial versions are sold in 'fancy food stores' at "only" $10.99 per bottle! Some important producers are missing under 'best producers'. Ca'Montanari, Il Saliceto, Paltrinieri, Moretto, and a few others should now be part of any 'recommended' list.
The Food Lover's Guide to Wine (2011)
A Note: 'White Lambrusco' is manufactured for export markets; Emilians do not drink it. Lambrusco is also great with BBQ and burgers. Lambrusco served cold is great in the summer but actually can be served all year-round.
_"We're delighted to know that you've seen our write-up on Lambrusco in our new book THE FOOD LOVER'S GUIDE TO WINE. Happy new year!"
Karen & Andrew
Color: red (also rose' and white)
Weight: light- to medium-bodied (and low in alcohol)
Dry/sweet: dry to semi-sweet
Acidity: medium to high
Tannin: low to medium
Flavors: fruity, with notes of black cherries, earth, flowers, grapes, plums, raspberries, strawberries, violets
Texture: semi-sparkling; rich, round, soft
Temperature: Serve cold, about 45 to 50 degrees
Pairings: berries, cheese (esp. Parmesan), cured meats, hors d'oeuvres, pasta, picnics, pizza
"When people get off the plane in Italy, they all want a certain thing - whether it is coffee, salumi, or pasta. I want Lambrusco.
On my first two trips to Italy, I was with the same person and we went to Emilia Romagna. We went straight to this deli and the first thing we had was a sampling of all the local Lambruscos.
Lambrusco can be variable in quality, but when you get a great one it is like finding a great Burgundy. The combination of Lambrusco with a really nutty Parmesan and great salumi is the coolest. It might be better than caviar and Champagne to me."
- Belinda Chang, The Modern (as quoted in 'The Food Lover's Guide to Wine by Karen Page with Andrew Dorenburg)
_Oldman's Brave New World of Wine: Pleasure, Value, and Adventure Beyond Wine's Usual Suspects (2010)
with the rich
(extra points if
it is drizzled
pasta in a
sauce, and -
L A M B R U S C O
Violet Elixir, Integrity Intact
"I bet few people pick this," I said to the bartender after I ordered a glass of Lambrusco to drink with a pulled pork sandwich at New York's Gramercy Tavern.
"Yes, true," she said. "But once one person orders it, everyone else wants it."
Such is the plight of Lambrusco. Like pigs-in-blankets, Dobermans, and my native New Jersey, it has an enduring image problem, which, in its case, is born of those incessant "Riunite on Ice" ads of the 1970s, wedged as they were between segments of The Mary Tyler Moore Show, forever freezing its status as something no better than a candied wine cooler and no hipper than Ron Burgundy's mustache. While this reputation is well deserved for sweet, mass-produced confections like Riunite, it doesn't do justice to the dry, artisanal Lambrusco increasingly winning over the libationally audacious.
But even when you locate quality Lambrusco, it often takes a few times before you can catch its drift, because it is a red with fizz, and, like revenge, should be served cold. Eventually, however, it becomes difficult to resist its violet foam and ripe, refreshing taste. Now picture the juice from those cherries tickling your palate with brisk acidity and a light sparkle. This is the essence of good Lambrusco, whose irrepressible fruitiness is often kept honest by a tilled-soil earthiness and a tongue-coating sensation of dryness.
Though commercial Lambrusco abounds, finding the good stuff takes some resourcefulness. Intrepid eateries, especially those with an appreciation for Lambrusco's native Emilia Romagna region of Italy, are starting to offer it. When I recently had a bottle at New York's Otto Enoteca, it was one of the least expensive options on the list and the perfect sidecar with the pizza quattro formaggi. With quantities in short supply on these shores, don't stress about finding a specific producer, as a good merchant will be able to steer you to a well-made bottle or track one down...
Lambrusco's sprightly charm and dry taste make it so versatile that the famously food-passionate locals of Modena depend on it like Linus cleaves to his blanket. While they would tell you that it goes with everything (and justifiably so), it has superpowers of irrigation with the rich and oily, including the locally prized prosciutto di Parma and other salumi, cheeses like homespun Parmigiano-Reggiano (extra points if it is drizzled with traditional balsamic vinegar from Modena), any pasta in a cream or Bolognese sauce, and - emphatically - pizza. You can even cross cultures and go Indian or Chinese, as Lambrusco's low alcohol and fruity ebullience make peace with spice food. My favorite use for Lambrusco, however, is after dinner, on a sultry summer night, preferably with bowls of chilled strawberries or cherries - the perfect setting for you and yours to exult in the seductively purple powers of this uncomplicated elixir."
BRAVEHEARTS ON LAMBRUSCO
"Real Lambrusco is young, fresh, sometimes earthy, and almost never sweet. The difference between sweet, commercial Lambrusco and the real kind is like the difference between a Budweiser and a micro-brew. The Budweiser goes down, but it's crap."
- William Mattiello, chef and owner, Via Emilia, New York, NY
"Lambruscos have been misrepresented by industrial versions that have the soda pop flavor they think Americans want, but real, dry Lambrusco goes so well with the fatty foods of the region - the acidity and the bubbles really cleanse the palate."
- Lidia Bastianich, chef and host of PBS's Lidia's Italy
"A fantastic food wine. Lambrusco has deep aromas of cherries, stones, spice, and a savory note that somehow just says 'Italy'. These are the ones to reach for the next time you indulge in a rich lasagna or Bolognese-sauced pasta."
- Mollie Battenhouse, sommelier and wine director, Maslow 6, New York, NY
"Lambrusco often shows an amaro - slightly bitter - character that Italians like in their wine. It is wine without residual sugar, so that savory, amaro character often comes to the fore."
- Lou Amdur, owner, Lou's Wine Bar, Los Angeles, CA
"I love Lambrusco because it's not an obvious choice. It's great to drink something purple, frothy, refreshing, but not sweet. I always feel like drinking it at the beginning of an evening - even before white wine. I'm so into Lambrusco that Scholium Project is even making its own barrel of Lambrusco [the barrel is called "Lambry" at the winery]."
- Abe Schoener, founder and winemaker, Scholium Project, Suisun Valley, CA
Matt Kramer's Making Sense of Italian Wine (2006)
A Note: Today, almost all Lambruscos are made from one or a combination of six Lambrusco varieties: Salamino, Grasparossa, Sorbara, Montericco, Maestri, Marani. Sorbara, Salamino, Grasparossa, Marani, Maesti, Montericco, etc. are not related to each other. The latest DNA research has shown that all of these Lambruscos are individual indigenous grape varieties.
In the many conversations we've had with Emilian producers, we've always been told: "We very rarely serve an 'amabile' and almost never a 'dolce'. This is backed-up by those producers who make wine mostly for local consumption. They don't carry a 'sweet' Lambrusco in their portfolio. (Of course, there's nothing "wrong" with drinking a quality Lambrusco 'dolce' just because it isn't popular in Emilia. Our point is that it is very unfortunate that most people know Lambrusco ONLY as a very sweet commercially produced industrial wine.)
Region: Emilia-Romagna (north-central Italy, between Milan and Florence)
Grapes: Lambrusco (red); several strains such as Lambrusco di Sorbara, Lambrusco Salamino, and what's generally acknowledged as the best strain, Lambrusco Grasparossa (so named because its stems and pedicles turn red in autumn)
The Tradition: Italy has a longstanding, and widespread, tradition of drinking red wines that are semi-sparkling, what the Italians call frizzante. When you pour them into a glass, they froth and then settle down into something very close to a "regular" wine. But frizzante wines nevertheless retain a slight, refreshing prickle in the mouth. Historically, many Italian reds (and even more whites) were made in both still and frizzante versions, such as Brachetto and Freisa in Piedmont and Aglianico in Campania in southern Italy, among many others.
The reason the previous generation liked frizzante red wines was the richness (or fattiness, anyway) of their food. Bubbles cut through rich food, whether it's a slice of salami or a lavish feast with cream sauces.
Knowing this, it's easy to see why Lambrusco - which can fairly be described as Italy's great frizzante red - has survived. Emilia-Romagna has what is indisputably Italy's richest, creamiest, fattiest cooking. (Need I say that it's scrumptious?) The frothy, brightly acidic, richly fruity Lambrusco is just the ticket - or rather, the knife - to take on the local dishes.
That said, the taste for frizzante extended to dessert as well. One of the Lambrusco's great traditions, still in effect today, is a dolce or sweet version. It, too, has its place on the table (especially with fruits and fruit tarts). And sometimes, on hot summer days, nothing beats a cool dolce Lambrusco.
How It's Changed: Because the various strains or clones of the Lambrusco grape variety are all generous in their yields, Lambrusco had two informing traditions: It was frequently made by farmers for their own consumption, and these same farmers saw no reason to lower their yields and thus reduce their yearly supply of their beloved Lambrusco wine.
Many local Lambrusco lovers in Modena and Bologna will go out to farms in the region to buy their yearly supply of artisanally made Lambrosc, as they say in dialect. These wines - unlike commercial bottlings made in big stainless steel tanks - are fermented in the bottle like French Champagnes. I've had some over the years. Sometimes they're terrific, reflecting low yields, good grapes, and fine winemaking. Other times they're, shall we say, rustic.
What this means is that Lambrusco has always been a wine, whether commercially produced or rustic, that has not enjoyed a demanding audience. It was expected to be cheap, frothy, and pleasant. It was not expected, as it were, to go to college.
This approach still remains today, with some wonderful, noteworthy exceptions. The great majority of Lambrusco wines today are made by one of the last seven winegrowers' cooperatives in the zone. All are professional; few create anything much beyond the commercial.
One of these is the Lambrusco that most wine-drinking Americans know: the Lambrusco brand-named Riunite, named after the wine-growers' cooperative of the same name (Cantine Cooperative Riunite) that creates the wine. It's made for its American importer Villa Banfi in vast quantities to Banfi's carefully calculated specifications.
Riunite is a sweetish or amabile version of Lambrusco; it's very light in color and weight - closer to soda pop than "real" Lambrusco. Nevertheless, Riunite is one of the world's best-selling and best-distributed wines. Although a far cry from its original model, the success of this very particular version of Lambrusco says something about the fundamental appeal of both the Lambrusco grape and the frizzante style.
- Matt Kamer's Making Sense of Italian Wine (2006)
Karen MacNeil: The Wine Bible (2001)
It's high time to issue a revised edition of the 'Wine Bible'.
While most of the information about Emilia Romagna was already outdated when the 'Wine Bible' was published, it is more than embarrassing to reprint stereotypes about this region and over and over and over again.
What we knew back in 2001 (and prior to 2001) about the wines of Emilia Romagna had been written by wine writers who still subscribed to a 'grape hierarchy': Cabernet and Nebbiolo were upper-class grapes, while Lambrusco and Albana were from the other side of the tracks.
By the way, the citizenry of Emilia Romagna has never been into 'thin' lambruscos, that honor goes to the citizenry of the USA who continue to crave overly sugary thin "lambruscos".
Paltinieri and Christian Bellei make outstanding Lambrusco Spumantes today and it is no longer difficult to find artisanal Lambruscos in the USA.
(A side note regarding Romagna: Albana Passito is one of greatest ageable dessert wines in the world and one of the top Tuscan sangiovese clones came from, yes, it's hard to believe,....Romagna.)
"What makes Emilia Romagna so culinary rich is also what makes much of the wine so comparatively poor."
"Running across the width of the region is the fertile Po river basin. Readily available water and nutrients may be great for food crops but for grapes it's a worrisome equation that results in high yields and thin, simple wines.
The citizenry of Emilia Romagna doesn't seem to mind. Go into any good restaurant and lambrusco is being gulped down with pride and abandon. Surprisingly, the fizzy purplish wine (only for foreign markets is it made into white and pink versions) often tastes quite good with the region's hearty sausages and pastas.
Moreover, the people of Emilia Romagna insist that the light, frothy, fairly high acid wine is the perfect aid to digestion in a region that lives for its stomach."
Emilia Romagna spans nearly the entire width of Italy, from its border with Liguria in the west to the Adriatic Sea in the east. As the name suggests, Emilia Romagna is actually two regions.
Emilia to the west of Bologna is the definitive home of lambrusco. In Romagna to the east, most red wines are still, dry, and based on sangiovese.
Romagna's leading white wine, albana di Romagna, is a fairly characterless white, though it does have the major claim to fame of being (illogically) the first Italian white wine granted DOCG status.
Lambrusco is made from the grape variety also known as lambrusco and can be dry or slightly sweet wine. As noted, it is usually what the Italians call frizzante, slightly fizzy, not quite sparkling enough to be considered spumante.
Lambruso is not made like champagne or the top Italian spumantes, where each individual bottle undergoes a second, bubble-inducing fermentation.
Lambrusco gets its fizz in pressurized tanks. Only if you are in Emilia itself is it possible to find zesty, good-tasting artisanal lambruscos from the four distinct zones that specialize in it.
The majority of the commercially available lambruscos are far less exciting and are based on big blends with the grapes coming from all over the region.
In either case, lambrusco is meant to be drunk young and indeed tastes best when consumed soon after release.
As for the wines of Romagna, albana di Romagna can be soft and pleasant if unremarkable white. Most versions are dry but in Romagna you will come across slightly sweet versions as well as spumantes made from the albana grape.
The most popular red wine is sangiovese di Romagna, based on a clone of sangiovese, and usually considered simple at best. With some searching it is possible to find more compelling versions made by small producers..."
The World Atlas of Wine | 16h edition, 2010
(Hugh Johnson / Jancis Robinson)
"Sangiovese di Romagna. It can be thin and over cropped, but it can also be gutsy and sophisticated enough to show why some of the Sangiovese clones most popular with discerning Tuscan producers come from Romagna. Producers such as Stefano Berti, Leone Conti, Tre Monti, and Zerbina are showing the way."
Daniele Cernilli & Marco Sabellico: the new italy
a complete guide to contemporary Italian wine (2000)
Notes: Confusing text written by experts. 'Lambrusco secco' seems to be unknown to these writers.
"The provinces of Reggio Emilia and Modena are notable for their sparkling wines, which have evolved largely because the region's rich cuisine calls for light white wines able to cut through oil...The reds are mostly sparkling, with the exception of the Cabernet Sauvignon. There are two Lambruscos to choose from, Grasparossa and Montericco; a fragrant sweet red wine, Marzemino; and a red from the Malbo Gentile variety, which is unique to the region.
The classic heartland of Lambrusco starts a little further north, between Montecchio, Gualtieri and Cavriago. There - and in the communes surrounding Reggio Emilia - Reggiano (formerly Lambrusco Reggiano) is made, the lightest and easiest-drinking Lambrusco which is also available as a Bianco or Rosato. The other Lambrusco hail from Modena: probably the most famous is the di Sorbara, but the most full-bodied, purple versions are Salamino di Santa Croce and the Grasparossa di Castelvetro. These are simple but fascinating wines, respected despite the fact that they are not great red wines for laying down."
The Sotheby's Wine Encyclopedia (1997)
A Note: Actually, Lambrusco is a dry to off-dry wine and around 11% alcohol (in the area of production.) Different Lambruscos have different flavors; for example, a Lambrusco made from pure Montericco grapes tastes of strawberries. Salamino, Sorbara, etc. are individual grape varieties, not sub-varieties. In the meantime a number of producers are making IGT Lamruscos. A DOC does not regulate quality, only typicity and origin.
Most Lambruscos, and nearly all that is exported, is non DOC, usually because screw-tops, which are illegal under DOC law, are used.
Non-DOC Lambrusco is not interesting and the DOC only occasionally so.
Lambrusco is an off-dry, cherry-red, frothy wine, which is low in alcohol (although the DOC is higher) and tastes of ripe cherries; export wines are mostly sweet.
White and rose' styles are made and the sparkle varies from barely frizzantino to virtually spumante.
Of the many sub-varieties, Grasparossa, Salamno, and Sorbara make the most interesting wines, but others include Foglia Frastagliata, Maestri, Marani, Montericco, and Viadanese.
Burton Anderson (1990)
The Wine Atlas of Italy
A Note: Great wine writing never goes out of style. Burton Anderson's Lambrusco observations and opinions still hold true in 2011 - some 21 years later!
Sure, the number of DOCs has increased over the years and some of the producers (Bellei) and cooperatives (CIV) have mergered with other companies, his reviews of some of the top individual growers and description of styles and style changes of the major DOCs in 1990 continue to be accurate and perfectly valid.
Producers/Growers make estate bottled wines.
Merchants/Wine House buy grapes and/or wine from other growers.
Cooperatives purchase grapes from many, many individual growers.
Unfortunately, Burton Anderson has given up wine writing but he continues to write books and started blogging in January of 2012.
Wines of Emilia's plains
"Lambruso reigns over the Emilian plains from the capital of Modena, a prosperous town within whose province lie three DOC zones: Sorbara, Grasparossa di Castelvetro, and Salamino di Santa Croce. But Reggio Emilia, with its DOC Lambrusco Reggiano, not only dominates production and exports but rivals Modena's crown of quality. Yet in the end, every local gastronome has his own source of Lambrosc, and it is not likely to have come off a production line. Still traditional bottle fermentation has been largely replaced by tank methods that leave the wines stable but too often lacking personality. The downturn in exports of Lambrusco and other bubbly wines has affected the fortunes of such giant producers as Cantine Riunite and Giacobazzi, while persuading farmers to replace vines with more lucrative crops. But an upturn in sales to Germany, Britain, and to some extent in Italy has prevented what might have been a catastrophic decline."
Lambrusco di Sorbara (1970)
The classic Lambrusco was noted in the past for its ruby to purple colour and its depth of aromas and flavour, though styles seem to be evolving to suit current tastes.
Traditionalists stick to the standard type, but the leading progessives, Francesco Bellei and Cavacchioli (with Vigna del Cristo), make blushing pink, fruity wines of unabashed freshness. The amabile is largely produced for export.
Lambrusco Salamino di Santa Croce (1970)
Though usually ruby to purple, the trend is for lighter fresher wine tending towards pink. The best Lambrusco here is hard to disinguish from wines of the adjacent Sorbara zone.
Lambrusco Grasparossa di Castelvetro (1970)
Though volume is the smallest of the four DOCs, bottles from producders who work on a small scale here appeal to those who like to think of Lambrusco as a genuine red wine with deep colour, robust body, and full aroma, and not just a fizzy beverage. This explains why the wines of Graziano, Manicardi, and Villa Barbieri are almost invariably sold out.
Lambrusco Reggiano (1971)
The most heavily produced Lambrusco can vary radically in type. Much wine from the plains is on the pink side with an amabile produced for export, but from higher vineyards around Scandiano, Quattro Castella, and Sant'Illario d'Enza, it can be full and round with class to match the more vaunted crus of Modena. Leading small producers are Venturini Baldini and Paola Rinaldini. Riunite dominates the quantity field.
Nicolas Belfrage, MW
Life Beyond Lambrusco.
Understanding Italian Fine Wine. (1985)
"Lambrusco and Beyond"
"Indeed, frothing wine is the Emilian speciality, as can be demonstrated beyond dispute by a visit to the plainland vineyards around Reggio Emilia and Modena. Here Lambrusco in its various clones [today: varieties] reigns supreme. It produces in enourmous volume, climbing high on trellises designed to support the prolific vine as trees had done in Etruscan times. The wine have low alcohol, high acidity, lightness, freshness, fruitiness and a selvatico or 'wild' flavour. It is an style which has made a comeback in a big way, to the extent that the best-selling branded wine in the world today is Riunite Lambrsuco, distributed by Villa Banfi in the United States.
'Serious' wine buffs scorn Lambusco for its up-front, obvious, almost soda-pop simplicity and its down-market, usually screw-cap` image (DOC versions must be corked, but these are more expensive and therefore much less commericail). Those who justify it say it is the ideal introduction to wine for people whose palate is only starting out on the road to sophistication. However that may be, Lambrusco's serious side (which does exist) should not be dragged down by the pop image. Producers of quality Lambrusco wines are Cavicchioli (q.v.), Contessa Matilde, Barbieri and Moro. Lambrusk dal Picol Ross is a specialty of the latter, made in the traditional style by secondary fermentation in bottle without degorement - so that the bottle contains a deposit. Cavicchioli's Tradizione is made similarly. Cavicchioli also produce a white Lambrusco which is in effect a blanc de noirs, being made from black Lambrusco grapes. White Lambrusco as a concept has been taken up by larger produceers and has proved a great commercial success, but only when it is cheap, sweet and rather nasty."
Cantine CAVICCHIOLI, Umberto e Figli, San Prospero nr Sorbara (Modena), Emilia Romagna
Lambrusco, in a sense, is the 'image' wine of Italy, insofar as the image of Italian wine is cheap and cheerful. Appropriately enough it comes from the very heart of the country, that vast and fertile Emilian plain separating the modern sophisticated north from the more rustic and classic south. Here on the flat the Lambrusco vines, trained high, almost arbour-like, on trellises or even on trees (a Lambrusco vineyard is the nearest thing in today's Italy to what one might have found in Etruscan times) give forth fruit in abandance for the making of massive volumes of (mainly) low alcohol, slightly frothing, sweet plonk. Production is dominated by giant cooperatives such as Riunite, although there are also some very large private concerns such as Giacobazzi and Chiarli. The co-operatives are controlled by the Communist party, although sales are best, or were, in true blue USA, which was getting through some 150 million litres of Lambrusco a year before the diethylene glycol scare.
It would be wrong, however, to give the impression that Lambrusco is nothing but a high-volume pop-style wine-beverage, for Lambrusco does have its serious site. Certain of the best producers, to be sure, are so small as to be almost invisible...But in among the supervast industrial concerns there are one or two by no means modest wineries for whom the emphasis remains on quality and not on price. Foremost among these is probably Cavicchioli.
This firm was founded in 1928 by Umberto Cavicchioli and is now run by his three sons and their sons - so the description 'e Figli' (and sons) is fully justified. In those days there was no market othr than in the immediate neighbourhood; gradually the popularity of their wine spread south to Modena, the big town some thirty or forty kilometres away. After the war there was a flurry of mechanization - a new bottling-plant and fermentation equipment - and in 1962 they acquired their first autoclavi. Since the they have gone from strength to strength, and the visitor to their sizeable plant in the mid-1980s can hardly fail to be impressed by the level of efficiency and dedication which they manage to maintain despite a yearly production of some 100,000 hectolitres of wine.
True, Cavicchioli are not entirely un-industrial. The bulk of their production is what they call 'vino da pasto', inexpensive everyday wines of no particular value, or pregio. They have a completely automated bottling-line capable of turning out between 8-15,000 bottles an hour, all of which - DOC and non DOC -are pasteurized to some extent (depending on levels of alcohol and residual sugar). Pasteurization, for this style of wine, is virtually indispensable for those dealing on a world market. And in the early 80s they introduced new styles of packaging which would horrify any 'artisanal' producer, including bag-in-box, tetrapak cartons and ring-pull cans.
What is interesting from our point of view is their range of quality sparkling wines. Almost all are made by the Charmat method, which revolutionized Lambrusco production in the 60s and enabled it to go international (and also to go sweet, which it had never been before)...
People often wonder how, prior to the introduction of these autoclavi, Lambrusco achieved its sparkle. The answer, for quality wines at least, is not by the pumping in of gas but by secondary fermentation in bottle - i.e. the Champagne method no less - the only difference being that the finished wine was not disgorged, and therefore contained a deposit, which, of course, is commercially unacceptable. Cavicchioli still make one wine by this method, called Tradizione. It is rarely found on export markets." - Life Beyond Lambrusco, Nicola Belfrage MW, 1985
Cavicchioli is now owned by Gruppo Italiano Vini (2011)
E. Frank Henriques
The Signet Encyclopedia of Wine (1984)
E. Frank Henriques wrote this in 1984 NOT in 2011!
A Note: The Lambrusco boom ended abruptly in 1985, a year after Henriques re-published his encyclopedia of wine.
Pure Sorbaras, Salaminos, Grasparossas, and Montericcos are VERY different in color, taste, aromas and flavors. In industrial versions the differences are wiped out by the added sweetness. Vintages do count in artisanal bottle-fermented versions - not in a $4.99 Lambrusco.
'Dolce' (very sweet; over 45 g RS/l) may be also labeled as 'Amabile' (sweet; 30-50 g RS/l). See: How sweet it is.
Inflation adjusted: $4.00 would be $8.76 in today's money (2011). Top quality Lambruscos sell from about $15 to $25 currently; your Lambrusco should be ESTATE BOTTLED at this price!
Cella Lambrusco TV Commercial, 1981
Fifteen years ago  not two Americans in a hundred would have recognized this wine - only wine experts knew that Lambrusco was the name of a little red Italian wine.
Today millions of American wine drinkers, young and old, beginner and experienced, know that Lambrusco is a light, frizzy, slightly sweet wine, young and zingy. Its popularity has risen just at the time when that of "pop" wines (see) began to decline (post hoc, propter hoc?). It's a wine that almost everybody enjoys (except experts) - at least initially, for it is fresh, lively, and, perhaps most important of all, inexpensive. Its slight effervescence is one of the reasons for its popularity and some have suspected that carbon dioxide is sometimes added, but if so, it's been strictly without sanction, for that is expressly forbidden by Italian law.
Lambrusco is far and away America's most popular imported wine. Riunite (see) sales alone would make it that: more than 11 million cases estimated in 1983, the vast bulk of which is Lambrusco. Notice also that the number-two American import is Cella (more than 3 million cases, 1983) and number five is Giacobazzi (well over a million cases), both of which have a Lambrusco on the American market.
Virtually every drop of Lambrusco sold in the United States is amabile, "sweet," though the label doesn't always say that. Actually, Lambrusco does come in a dry [secco] version, well loved in its native habitat, but it is rarely exported to the United States. It also comes in a Bianco (White) and a Rosato (Rose'), and these are imported to the United States.
Lambrusco's best service is probably, as in Italy, with heavy, substantial food - it will offset the likes of zampone, pasta, lentil, bean, and sausage dishes. Lambrusco is to be consumed very young - ideally when less than two years old. Serve it chilled: 45 to 55 degrees F.
Sometimes the label will call it Lambrusco di Sorbara, Lambrusco di Modena, or the name of some other town, but as imported to this land, it's all the same wine. Vintages are of no importance here, except to tell you if your wine is still young.
Be wary of very cheap Lambrusco, $4 [2011: $8.76] or less. Here are some generally dependable names in vaguely descending order of excellence: Alberini, Calissano, Giacobazzi, Cantina Simoni, Beccaro, Riunite, Nicoli, Cella, Corovin, and Mazzoni.
The Lambrusco so favored by Americans is Amabile, "Sweet." It also comes in a dry version - Secco - but that's not what Americans are buying by the hogshead. And ironically critics agree that the Secco is the better wine.
One renowned critic said that Lambrusco Amabile was the closest thing to an undrinkable wine he had ever encountered! A Tuscan winemaker grumps, "Americans gave us Italians Coca-Cola, and now we are repaying them with Lambrusco."
- The Signet Encyclopedia of Wine (1975, 1984)
Frank Schoonmaker's Encyclopedia of Wine (1978)
Revised & Expanded, Seventh Edition by Julius Wile
Note: I doubt if the great Frank Schoonmaker (1905-1976) ever drank a glass of Lambrusco in a restaurant in Emilia. It can be asumed that his Lambrusco knowledge probably was limited to the "super-sweet, super-fizzy" Lambrusco versions available in the USA at the time he wrote this review. Emilian's favorite Lambruscos were (in 1978) and continue to be red and dry (secco) in 2011.
Today, almost all Lambruscos go through the secondary fermentation in tank. (Not to myself: When were Autoclaves first introduced in the region of Emilia?)
LAMBRUSCO - (Lom-bruce-co) - Unusual red wine, almost always slightly sparking or frizzante (see), produced just west of Bologna in northern Italy, especially around the village of Sorbara. Made principally from the grape of the same name, extremely fruity, somewhat sweet, with an intense and extraordinary bouquet, it is a great favorite throughout the region of Emila and perhaps Italy's best wine of this class. It is not a class likely to appeal to a real wine lover, let alone an expert. However, since there are more wine lovers (fortunately for the trade) than experts, Lambrusco has taken the public fancy and in 1976 there were 4,700,000 cases imported into the United States representing 61% of all Italian table wines shipped here.
FRIZZANTE - Freez-zahn-tay) - Italian wine term meaning slightly sparkling, or petillant, or crackliing, usually as the result of a minor secondary fermentation in bottle. Many Italian wines, even red wines, are deliberately bottled before their original fermentation is entirely complete, while they still contain some sugar from the grape. Eventually such wines become a little "prickly" or "fizzy" and even foam up briefly when poured; most of them remain a little sweet. Frizzante wines of this sort are much prized in northern Italy, though to an educated palate they appear merely oddities, and hardly wine at all. Lambrusco (see) is generally frizzante since revised U.S. regulations classify frizzante as table wine.
(Published by Hastings House: "One of the firms's best sellers was Frank Schoonmaker's Encyclopedia of Wine, considered to be the standard book on that subject, which was translated into six languages — including French!"