By Shannon Mason
Before working at ICE, I had attended wine classes, but never had Lambrusco been on the menu. But after taking a class called “How to Love Lambrusco” with Joe Campanale, I feel cheated for never being given the opportunity to taste this unusual wine! Campanale is the Executive Beverage Director for Epicurean Management and co-owner of restaurants dell’anima, L’Artusi, Anfora and L’Apicio. His expertise gave me a better appreciation for this unique and versatile wine.
Originating from the Emilia-Romagna region in Italy, the Lambrusco grape is highly valued for its high-yield and productivity. All strains of Lambrusco are indigenous to the region and are not allowed to be cloned or sub-cloned, meaning any beverage by the same name is guaranteed to be from Emilia-Romagna. In the US, Lambrusco was actually the biggest selling import wine in the 1970’s and 1980’s, but it was cheaply produced and tasted very sweet. In 1995, new brands came to the US with improved quality, leading to its growth in respected stores and on restaurant menus. Given of the grape’s high yield, it remains an affordable wine, but no longer should be considered “cheap.”
Using the Charmat process, Lambrusco is fermented a second time in pressurized tanks, creating larger bubbles that fade over a short period of time, contrary to champagne whose smaller bubbles are created when yeast and sugar ferment in the bottle. It’s variety of flavors range from bone dry (secco)to off-dry/sweet (amabile) and very sweet (dolce). That said, the Lambrusco grape itself is not particularly sweet. When secco/amabile, the wine offers strawberry notes and a slight bitter finish. Because of its high acidity, Lambrusco is best paired with cuisines rich in oil or fat, cleansing the palate between bites.
Under Campanale’s guidance, we sampled eight different Lambruscos, each having their own distinct flavor and personality. I certainly did love Lambrusco’s crisp, vibrant taste and the fact that its relatively low (11%) alcohol content means that I can enjoy more of it! Summer is the perfect time to discover this refreshing wine, and I look forward to sipping it on a warm day in the sun.