With summer just around the corner, it’s the season of light-bodied reds, porch-pounding whites, and of course, rosé. And while sparkling wines will also get their shine during the warmest months of year, there’s one beloved fizzy red that should definitely make an appearance in your fridge.
Hailing from Emilia-Romagna, a region in northeastern Italy, Lambrusco is the name of both a grape variety and a fruit-forward, frizzante wine. The wines can have a range of prominent flavors based on the clone of Lambrusco used and the vintage—from rhubarb and strawberry to sweet cherry and blackberry. While typically known for its sweetness, it can be made in styles that are also off-dry and dry. With numerous different types of Lambrusco grapes, the most commonly planted are Lambrusco Salamino (dry, floral, and light pink in color) and Lambrusco Grasparossa (fuller in body, tannic, and dark purple in color).
Back in 1967, New Yorker Harry Mariani and his brother John were responsible for introducing Americans to the light, chillable red wine from Italy. By the 1970s and 1980s, “Riunite on ice, that’s nice” became a popular slogan aligned with the newly-imported brand associated with frothy and affordable red, white and rosé wines. A March 1982 New York Times article cited Riunite Lambrusco as the number one imported wine, “accounting for 26.4 percent of all wine imports in 1981, with 11.2 million cases, or 134.4 million bottles.” When Mr. Mariani was interviewed by New York Magazine in 1982, he said, “We knew we wanted a light wine that was fruity and effervescent, that started out sweet and finished dry, and that was chillable.” Though, since then, US consumers have been able to find many different producers and styles of Lambrusco—thanks to its changing reputation.
June 21st marks World Lambrusco Day, a time to celebrate this deliciously affordable sparkling wine. Created in 2011 by wine importer James Koch, Lambrusco Day was established to get consumers and other wine importers to think differently about this authentic frizzante. As part of his rebranding campaign, Koch created a website and two Twitter accounts in order to interact with consumers and trade professionals firsthand about the virtues of Lambrusco. “The campaign had perfect timing,” Koch told Wine Industry Advisor in 2014. “Without the internet and social media, none of this would’ve happened.” Since then, the fizzy table wine has gotten a much better reputation stateside, and is known beyond the slogan, “Riunite on ice, that’s nice.”
Although it is possible to find a bottle of aged Lambrusco, chances are you’ll typically have more recent vintages because this wine should be enjoyed young. Prices can range from as low 15 dollars to much as 40 dollars, depending on the vintage and the distributor. What makes Lambrusco great for the summertime is that it pairs with many types of food, with its fruit-forward flavors and gentle acidity.
Today, there are many producers that make Lambrusco in various styles. Here are a few of recommendations to begin your exploration into the world of Lambrusco:
Lo Duca Reggiano Lambrusco DOC
The history of the Lo Duca brand begins with Jim Lo Duca’s father and uncle, who purchased a small music store in Wisconsin in the early 1940s. When Jim was old enough to take over the family business, he expanded the company to make and distribute wines from Italy. This light, fizzy, and semi-sweet Lambrusco is an authentic crowd-pleaser and pairs well with a fresh salad or vegetable pizza.
Since 2003, the Chiarli Family has been known for their quality Lambruscos and each bottling has a unique story. In 2016, the Cleto Chiarli Organic Lambrusco was conceived when they decided to a collaborate with a group of local farmers who were farming organically. The wine has fresh berry aromas that complement the zesty flavors of strawberry and cherry. Drink this with a bountiful charcuterie board or a grilled burger.
Quattro Mani Lambrusco Salamino DOC
Finally, Quattro is a great introductory Lambrusco. The wine is fruit-forward with notes of cherry and strawberry, with a beautiful balance of tannin and acid on the palate. Pair this with a spicy seafood dish or Thai takeout.
When you’re prepping for your outdoor cookout, Lambrusco will certainly be crowd-pleasing all summer long.