Breweries, Wine, and Cheese

Getting to Know Lambrusco

Photo by Caspar Diederik

By Gina Trippi

Cato the Elder, a Roman historian, senator and farmer, presented De Agri Cultura to the world in 160 B.C., making it the world’s oldest printed farming manual. De Agri Cultura offers information on the planting and care of vineyards. It was only after Roman landowners read Cato’s manual that wine began to be produced on a large scale.

Cool. But why should you be interested? Because the much maligned, modern version of Lambrusco was referenced in the book! Cato tells us of “Lambrusca Vitus,” a wild grapevine. And it’s not just Cato. According to historians, the poet Virgil also spoke of Lambrusca Vitus in his Fifth Bucolica. That means Lambrusco is more than one millennium older than Cabernet!

Lambrusco’s reputation still suffers, however, because of the sweet wine that appeared in 1950 in this country masquerading as this Italian classic. For 2019, we ask you to resolve to be open to the new world of old wines, step outside your comfort zone and celebrate with Lambrusco! Let’s get to know this wild vine.

Where does Lambrusco come from? Most Lambrusco is produced in Emilia-Romagna, a region of Italy that is also home to Balsamic vinegar from Modena, Prosciutto di Parma, Parmesan-Reggiano cheese and Ferrari, located in Maranello, just south of Modena.

Viticulturalists say there are ten varieties of Lambrusco grapes. The most popular four are Lambrusco di Sorbara, Lambrusco Maestri, Lambrusco Grasparossa and Lambrusco Salamino. The viticulture of all vines is a blend of modern techniques and traditional vine training methods including the Etruscan high trellis method. What does Lambrusco taste like? It is a fruity, mediumbodied wine. Typical flavors include cherry, blackberry, violet and rhubarb, surrounded with good acidity.

Is Lambrusco sweet? It can be, but the best versions of the grape range from dry to barely sweet. All are made in the semi-sparkling or frizzante style. Lambrusco di Sorbara is the lightest version of Lambrusco wines. A pink rosé in the glass, the wine generally presents aromas of orange, cherries, violets and watermelon. Corti Degli Attimi from Fiorini in Emilia- Romagna is a lovely, light version of the grape. With less than 1 gram of residual sugar, the wine is quite dry, yet perfect with Thai or Indian dishes and vegetables.

The boldest of the Lambrusco grapes is Grasparossa, presenting darker flavors including black currant and blueberries. Lambrusco di Grasparossa finishes with tannins that dry the palate making it the perfect partner to barbeque.

Dark and fruity with soft and creamy bubbles and subtle notes of milk chocolate are characteristics of Lambrusco Maestri. The grape is also grown and made into wine in Mendoza, Argentina and Adelaide Hills in Australia. Pairing? Consider empanadas and anything bacon.

Lambrusco Salamino is so named because the grape grows in cylindrical salami shaped bunches! A deep rubypurple color, the grape is very aromatic and generally made in the semi-sweet to sweeter style to balance the tannins. It makes a good match to grilled burgers. Celebrate with Lambrusco! Nothing says joy quite so well.

Gina Trippi is the co-owner of Metro Wines, 169 Charlotte Street in Asheville. Metro Wines offers big shop selection with small shop service. Gina can be reached at or 828.575.9525.

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