the fizzy red wine of Modena
The name that will sender shivers down the spine of anyone who remembers the 1970s and 80s when the sweet fizzy soda pop stuff was Italy’s top wine export, especially to the US. But here in its native land, Lambrusco is a different creature altogether: a young, light-bodied (11%) wine that foams like purple champagne out of the bottle, slightly bubbly (frizzante), acidic, dry and full of berry notes.
The locals will swear till they’re blind that it’s perfect to drink with their platters of salumi and rich pasta dishes, and all their beloved fatty pork, cream and butter. You wouldn’t be the first to disagree, but should give it a tipple while visiting the region. You may even end up do as the hipsters do, sloshing a bit of it in the last dregs of your tortellini in brodo.
Native to Emilia and cultivated by the local Etruscans, the Lambrusco grape in its 60 variations is one of Italy’s rare indigenous varietals. Cato the Elder was the first to mention it (he was impressed by the abundant yield) but on the whole the Romans never much cared for it— unlike the Celts and Lombards who settled the western half of Emilia-Romagna and who found that bubbles went rather well with their rich meat and dairy diet.
The three finest DOP Lambruschi, all from Modena province, are hard to find outside Emilia: Lambrusco Grasparossa di Castelvetro, the most tannic of the bunch, Lambrusco Salamino di Santa Croce, lighter in colour and named after the grape bunches that resemble hanging salami sausages (it comes in a dry, secco and semi-sweet or amabile versions) and Lambrusco di Sorbara grown around Sorbara, the most fragrant.
The other two DOP Lambruschi are Lambrusco Reggiano and Lambrusco Mantovano, the only one grown outside the region, in nearby Mantua.