When thinking of the many celebrated Italian wines, it’s safe to say that Lambrusco wine isn’t necessarily always one of them. While our nation’s love for Lambrusco isn’t as strong as it is for other continental wines, that hasn’t always been the case. In the 1970s and 80s, this sweet wine was, in fact, the best-selling imported wine variety across the United States.
It can be said that our fondness started to tail out due to incredibly high yields and industrial-scale production, making the wine too widely available and flooding the market with average or poor quality bottles. This ultimately damaged the wine’s reputation, and our loyalty was taken elsewhere.
However, with many producers trying to bring back great-quality Lambrusco wines with smaller production levels, now is a great time to revisit this old-favorite and for a new generation to experience the unique qualities that this northern Italian wine family has to offer.
What You Need to Know About Lambrusco Wine
As opposed to being a single grape wine, Lambrusco is, in fact, a very old family of grapes, with 10 different varieties, which originate from the region of Emilia Romagna, south of Veneto and with the main city of Bologna.
Each of the 10 different varieties of Lambrusco has its own unique taste profile. Wine producers from the region expertly blend several of these different grapes, selecting each for its characters and qualities to produce an overall Lambrusco blend.
The four most notable, high-quality grapes in the Lambrusco family are: Lambrusco di Sorbara, Lambrusco Maestri, Lambrusco Grasparossa and Lambrusco Salamino.
Lambrusco di Sorbara
This grape produces a dry, crisp and refreshing wine with sweet notes of watermelon, violets, orange blossom, and cherries. Of all the Lambrusco varieties, Lambrusco di Sorbara produces the lightest, most delicate flavors and has a light pink color.
Contrasting to the delicately floral Lambrusco di Sorbara, Lambrusco Grasparossa creates the boldest wine of the grape family. It is recognizable for its high tannin levels and creaminess and should be poured with an aerator. Prominent flavors include black currant and blueberry. This wine works well when paired with rich Italian dishes such as lasagna and ragu, whilst it also a great accompaniment to the US’s own barbecue ribs.
Like many Lambrusco varieties, a glass of Lambrusco Maestri will have soft, natural semi-sparkling bubbles that add a creaminess to the taste. Subtle notes of milk chocolate also make a delicious, balanced and moreish glass of wine. Due to these desirable flavors and qualities, Lambrusco Maestri is produced outside of its home region in Italy and can be found as far as Australia and Argentina.
Lambrusco Salamino is also considered to be one of the best grapes in this family, as it offers a combination of some of the best qualities found in other varieties. This grape offers the aromatic qualities found in Lambrusco di Sorbara, whilst having the higher tannin levels and fuller body of Lambrusco Grasparossa. To balance out the tannins and strong structure of this wine, producers often change production methods to make it sweet.
Did You Know? Lambrusco Wine Facts:
- Lambrusco has been grown for hundreds of years and has, until very recently, always been a highly popular, celebrated grape.
- The Romans particularly enjoyed Lambrusco consumption, thanks to its productivity and high yields. Unfortunately, it can be said that this same trait also led to its relative demise.
- At its peak of popularity in the United States in 1985, over 13 million cases of Lambrusco wine were imported.
- In order to resist mildew, the Lambrusco grape vines are often trained to grow high above the ground. Historically, these grapes have even been trained to climb trees in order to protect the yield.
Lambrusco Wine Taste Profile
While each of the Lambrusco grapes has its own distinct flavors and properties, most wine producers use a blend of several of these grapes, balancing out different elements and adding notes to create their desired wine.
Lambrusco wines have strong, fruity flavors and notes which commonly include cherry, blackberry, violet, rhubarb, and cream. Most bottles are considered to have relatively low alcohol levels, usually at 11-12% ABV.
Bottles of Lambrusco are generally medium-bodied, with medium tannin levels, high acidity, and mid-level alcohol levels. The wines are intended to be drunk young and do not age particularly well, so in order to get maximum enjoyment from your bottle, you should enjoy them soon after purchase, instead of pushing them to the back of the wine cellar.
The grapes are not naturally sweet, however many growers sweeten the wine through fermentation. Unsweetened versions can be found and dry Lambrusco can be of very high-quality, although it does have a bitter finish, hence why some prefer a sweeter taste. The best quality bottles are said to be either dry (secco) or barely sweet (semisecco), although the range extends up to sweet (dolce).
Lambrusco Sweetness Guide
- Secco: The driest variety, secco wines have around 15 grams per liter of residual sugar. This lean style has a slightly bitter aftertaste, which comes from the tannin present in the wine.
- Semisecco: Slightly sweeter, semisecco has around 30 grams per liter of residual sugar. However, this wine is off-dry and still tastes dry to the taste, without the bitterness from pure secco types.
- Amabile: Translating as “sweetish”, this style of Lambrusco has higher residual sugar levels, at around 40 – 50 grams per liter. This added sweetness brings out the strong fruit flavors in the wine.
- Dolce: Finally, the sweetest version of Lambrusco with over 50 grams of residual sugar per liter. This is by far the richest form of the wine and had previously been the most popular until the shift moved to dry variants.
In recent years, producers have focused on producing dry varieties, which can be compared to beer thanks to the bitter finish and a yeasty taste.
With so much on offer from this Italian wine, we think it’s about time that we started to look again at this family of grapes and learn to love Lambrusco.