What’s the first name that comes to mind when you think about Italian sparkling? Begins with a “P”, doesn’t it. Well, prosecco fans, here is another very different class of Italians sparkler – it is the L- word: lambrusco. Yup, red sparkling wine is something of an acquired taste and compared to the oceans of prosecco being made and drunk, it is a comparatively niche product.
But, we hear you cry, isn’t lambrusco that cheap, frothy, sweet, Ribena-like thing that used to be inexplicably popular back in the dark ages? Yes, but that’s all in the past now, like Portuguese rose in odd round bottles and when the only white wine we liked was sweet German liebfraumilch. Today, lambrusco, which is made only from several varieties of the grape of the same name in certain parts of Emilia-Romagna and a small area of Lombardy in northern Italy, is much, much more interesting and stylish.
And while made to be drunk young and fresh, it’s a grown-up wine now, served in the fashionable trattorias of Bologna, the region’s capital and just made for outdoor summer sipping. The great thing is that good quality lambruscos are not, however, particularly pricey – certainly not compared to champagne – are relatively light in alcohol, mostly around 11-12 per cent and a lot are made by small, family producers, often according to organic principles.
And there are some interesting styles to explore: mostly very dry and food friendly. The darker wines are usually made from the grasparossa variety and have aromas of wild red fruits, with intense flavours of dark cherries and blackberries with notes of herbs, tar and bitter chocolate and are made to be drunk not as an aperitif but in normal wine glasses with savoury dishes – such as, of course, spaghetti bolognaise (or ragu as they call it in Italy) as well as various types of stuffed pasta.
Wines made from the Sorbara variety are much closer to a darker sparkling rose with clean flavours of strawberries and raspberry and thus they are well suited to be both aperitifs and also work well with fish and shellfish. All lambruscos have a penetrating fresh acidity that keeps them fresh and zinging on the palate. Mostly they are made from Charmat method, using pressurised tank fermentation – the process favoured by prosecco – while a few are made by methode traditionalle, aka bottle fermentation which is used for champagne and a lot of other sparkling wines, including English sparkling.
A small number are made using the rarer methode ancestrale, which is a blend of both bottle and tank fermentation. There are some just slightly off dry wines, but they are nowhere as sweet as in the past. You can, if you try hard enough, still find some of those very cheap, very sweet Lambruscos in your local supermarket, probably hiding near to the prosecco, but the lambruscos below are worthy of the attention of anyone serious about their wine. Some are a revelation, too, both as ideal aperitifs and as wines for accompanying a wide range of foods as well as summer barbecues and picnics. And always drink these bottles very cold. Try them, you might be in for a surprise…
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These are the best Lambruscos for 2021:
Best overall – Vigna del Cristo, Lambrusco di Sorbara DOC, Cavicchioli & Figli 2017, 11%: £15.95 Jeroboams.co.uk
Best for cured meats: Rinaldini, Vecchio Moro, Lambrusco Grasparossa di Castelvetro NV, 12%: £12.50, Thewinesociety.com
Best for vegans: Villa Cialdini, Lambrusco Grasparossa di Castelvetro,11%: £14.95, Slurp.co.uk
Best for a summer occasion: Rose del Cristo, Lambrusco di Sorbara DOC, Cavicchioli & Figli 2016, 12%: £21, Vinissimus.co.uk
Best value pink: Paltrinieri Lambrusco di Sorbara DOC Leclisse 2020,11%: £28, Passionevino.co.uk
Best for fish dishes: Paltrinieri Lambrusco di Sorbara DOC La Riserva 2019, 11.5%: £30, Passinoevino.co.uk
Best organic buy: I Calanchi Monte delle Vigne 2019, 12%: £17.50, Leaandsandeman.co.uk
Best for pasta: Medici Ermete, Concerto, Lambrusco Reggiano 2013, 11.5%: £13.90, Hedonism.co.uk
Best value red: Sassomoro Lambrusco di Modena Spumante DOC, 11%: £13.49, Gpbrands.co.uk
Best natural wine: Camillo Donati Il Mio Lambrusco Emilia 2019, 12%: £20, Highburyvintners.co.uk
Vigna del Cristo, Lambrusco di Sorbara DOC, Cavicchioli & Figli 2017 11%
The Cavicchioli family has been cultivating vines in the San Prospero province of Modena (Sorbara DOC) for more than a century, making both lambrusco and prosecco. Made from what is generally considered to be the best lambrusco variety, Sorbara, this has to be considered this simply as a darker hued, sparkling rose, rather than a red wine and you cannot fail to be delighted. And this knocks spots off prosecco rose, launched with great fanfare at the end of last year. Dry, full and intense, with lip smacking bright red fruit flavours of strawberries with touches of red currants and very dry, this is a perfect summer aperitif, which is great on its own or to accompany nuts and fishy canapes or just some grilled fish.
Buy now £15.95, Jeroboams.co.uk
Rinaldini, Vecchio Moro, Lambrusco Grasparossa di Castelvetro NV, 12%
Best: For cured meats
From an estate run by the Rinaldini family near Parma. Very dry, very dark, almost purple in colour, it is rich, unctuous and frothy, this is a serious wine to accompany smoked or cured meats and hard cheeses – ideally an aged parmesan would be the perfect choice since the estate was once used to breed cows for milk for the same cheese – and delivers intense flavours of black cherries and autumnal dried fruits, with just a hint of sweet spice.
Buy now £12.50, Thewinesociety.com
Villa Cialdini, lambrusco Grasparossa di Castelvetro, 11%
Best: For vegans
The Azienda Agricola Castelvetro, lies southeast of Modena and has been owned by the Chiarli family, one of the biggest lambrusco producers, since 1860. This wine is the result of a plan in the early 2000s to create state of the art winery to produce top of the range lambrusco, but drawing the Grasparossa grapes from ancient vineyards planted on alluvial soils. This combination of ancient and modern results in thrilling cherry and forest fruit aromas and flavours, which match a wide variety of foods, but would be great with pizza or pasta dishes, but also simple vegetable antipasti, like artichoke hearts in olive oil.
Buy now £14.95, Slurp.co.uk
Rose del Cristo, Lambrusco di Sorbara DOC, Cavicchioli & Figli 2016, 12%
Best: For a summer special occasion
If you are thinking of splashing out on pink champagne for special celebration this summer, you should consider this gorgeously bottled salmon pink lambrusco, also from the Cavicchioli family, as an alternative: subtle fruit aromas on the nose, summer berry fruits and hints of citrus on the palate; refreshing and enlivening. A wine that looks and tastes elegant and one to drink on a manicured lawn on a summer afternoon as an aperitif or with canapes. But also simply perfect with strawberries and cream. It’s currently out of stock online but will be replenished very shortly – or you can buy from Jeroboams stores around London.
Buy now £21.00, Vinissimus.co.uk
Paltrinieri Lambrusco di Sorbara DOC Leclisse 2020, 11%
Best: Value pink
Based in the middle of the Sorbara DoC zone, Paltrinieri is one of the oldest and most interesting producers of artisanal lambrusco. This is very dry and a pale russet pink. Lovely, summer fruit flavours, bright and appealing acidity, clean on the palate. This is the kind of stylishly labelled and designed bottle signalling that this wine is a very long way indeed from the sweet and cheap lambrusco of the past. For your stylish summer picnic, checked tablecloth optional; you don’t need a corkscrew but you must have some olives and ciabatta to nibble on as you sip this.
Buy now £16.12, Passionevino.co.uk
Paltrinieri Lambrusco di Sorbara Doc La Riserva 2019, 11.5%
Best: For fish dishes
While red lambrusco is ideal with a wide range of savoury and meat based dishes – like all pink sparkling wines, the Sorbara rose versions really come into their own with seafood and this other gem from Paltrinieri, also an elegantly labelled and sophisticated in its approach, is full of refreshingly light, summer fruit flavours tinged with hints of grapefruit and tangerine. So drink with all manner of grilled fish and shellfish, with fish soups and, most appropriately, crab, prawns or lobster.
Buy now £30.00, Passionevino.co.uk
I Calanchi Monte delle Vigne 2019, 12%
Best: Organic buy
This one is from an organic vineyard, south west of Palma, where the grapes are kept cool by breezes from the high Apennines and then processed in a new underground winery that allows gravitational pressing. An intense wine with a firm structure and restrained, almost austere quality, it has notes of tar on the nose and dark berry fruits and bitter chocolate on the palate, but also with bracing acidity. It was perfect with baked feta laced with chilli and oregano and followed by an organic steak.
Buy now £17.50, Leaandsandeman.co.uk
8 Medici Ermete, Concerto, Lambrusco Reggiano 2013 11.5%
Best: For pasta
From an organic estate between Palma and Moderna, run by the fifth generation of the same family. This multi-award winning bottle is another deep purple coloured, intensely concentrated wine, with a very clean, refreshing linear mouthfeel; this has the ideal balance between acidity and the tannins necessary to give structure and definition as a food wine. This wine absolutely demands to be drunk with pasta with meat sauces or stuffed pasta like tortellini, filled with mushrooms or pumpkin.
Buy now £13.90, Hedonism.co.uk
Sassomoro Lambrusco di Modena Spumante DOC, 11%
Best: Value red
This is another great wine from the excellent Azienda Agricola Castelvetro from an estate located in the heart of the Lambrusco di Grasparossa wine-growing region. This represents terrific value for money for a wine that punches above its price point for quality. A bottle that has both low acidity and low level tannins, yielding soft flavours of red and dark berry fruits which make it an ideal summer red to accompany meatier dishes or simple roast chicken on a warm day
Buy now £13.49, Gpbrands.co.uk
Camillo Donati Il Mio Lambrusco Emilia 2019, 12%
Best: Natural wine
This is the future for modern Lambrusco and the very antithesis of the industrial, over sweetened wines of yesteryear. Organic, biodynamic and vegan, this wine is bottled unrefined and unfiltered and made using the methode ancestrale. But don’t let the cloudy appearance put you off, this is a vivacious, approachable bottle, bursting with great, fulsome flavours of blackberries and blackcurrants, but very dry and clean. Again, this is a fantastic wine for cured meats, so sip with a plate of the best prosciutto and salamis.
Buy now £20.00, Highburyvintners.co.uk
The verdict: Lambruscos
There is so much new to discover here and so many interesting and intriguing taste combinations. The sorbara grape delivers rose style sparkling wines that make a terrific alternative to conventional pink sparkling but with an extra vibrancy and intensity of flavours. Meanwhile, the darker red wines work as a chilled red for summer drinking because they have an appealing clean vibrancy, where many normal reds can feel flabby and tired in hot weather. We urge you to try the remarkable reds, but for all round approachability, value for money and a stylish appeal we are going to vote for the Vigna del Cristo, Lambrusco di Sorbara DOC, Cavicchioli & Figli 2017 as our lambrusco best buy.
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