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Serious Eats Amateur Wine Taste-Along Report: Lambrusco

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[Photo: Robyn Lee]

At this week's tasting, we had three different colors of Lambrusco, two different types of bubbles, and a lot of smiling faces. With what we learned last week, we were all ready to dive into the lineup of ten serious sparklers (tough life, I know).

So how did they pan out? Pretty well, actually. But to do all of these bottles justice, it's probably most helpful to talk about "classic favorites"—those bottles that we'd reach for when we want reliable examples of great Lambrusco, and fit more with people's traditional perceptions of what a Lambrusco "should" taste like—and "unique favorites"—different bottles that taught us something new about how a Lambrusco can feel, taste, or look. From both of these groups, there were some of which we'd be happy to pick up again (and again) and others that were just so cool to try at least once.

Classic Favorites

The Lini Lambrusca Rosso Emilia IGT Frizzante style red (around $15) offered the typical slight bitterness you'd expect from a Lambrusco that was offset by rich, ripe cherry flavors. This bottle had robust, but velvety smooth tannins that gave it structure for drinking as a standalone wine. Not overly complicated, the classic fizzy red offered a very approachable and dependable Lambrusco, and at only 15 bucks it was hard not to like the price too.

The Lini 910 In Correggio Lambrusco Scuro Emilia IGT ($20) was well received by all as a more complex Lambrusco with earthier mushroom flavors. Even so, the fruit flavors, like ripe bing cherries and red currants, shone through this wine, which was drier and more bubbly than the Lini Lambrusca Rosso Emilia. And the bitterness of this bottle had a unique sweet side, that tasters thought resembled the core of a pineapple.

The Tenuta Pederzana Lambrusco Grasparossa di Castelvetro DOC 2010 ($23) was another favorite with a relatively fruity nose that came through as pear or apple flavors once we tasted it. But overall, this wine was definitely dry with strong tannins to back it up. The flavor was complex, lightly bitter, and almost mouthwatering, making this a tasty option either as a standalone or with food (I particularly enjoyed this one while munching on the tomatoey, olivey caponata spread we had as a snack).

More Unusual Favorites

Tenuta Pederzana Puntamora Lambrusco Grasparossa di Castelvetro DOC 2007 ($25). By far the sweetest of the lot, although still balanced and full of flavor, people were loving this wine (and note, both the girls and the boys were reaching for seconds). This wine was colored the deepest and darkest violet, and it had felt smooth in the mouth. The sweetness of the wine and the bitterness of the grape played off each other almost like a light coffee flavor. And although this bottle was perfectly enjoyable on its own, it would be a great pair with pumpkin ravioli.

The Lini Dal 1910 Spumante Metodo Classico Rosso 2004 ($30) was definitely a cool bottle to try. It offers strong effervescence with bubbles that fill up your mouth and linger. The concentrated, earthy flavors and strong tannins were lifted by the bubbles. This wine would be great with food, ilke a nice lasagna or other meatier pasta dishes.

Another favorite among the more unusual bottles was the Lini Lambrusca Bianco Emilia Indicazione Geografica Protetta ($16) which was a Frizzante style dry white Lambrusco. Even though we served this sparkler in Champagne flutes, once we started smelling and tasting, the semblance to Champagne or Cava or even Italian Prosecco was minuscule. Imagine you took red Lambrusco, treated it with a magical delicious color-eraser (found at your average wizardry hardware store), and you'd get something like this. On the nose, fig or a slight sherry-like yeastiness, that led to a rich fruity flavor in the mouth, although notably lighter and less tannic than the reds or rosés we tasted. This bottle would be perfect as an aperitif (and I'll note that it was more amiable when colder, so be sure to chill properly), but would also go well with a lighter fish/poultry dish or salty, nutty cheeses. Although this was the first time tasting a white Lambrusco, this could easily become a go-to sparkler for us, especially at only $16 a pop.

Other Tasty Options

The Lini 910 In Correggio Lambrusco Rosé IGT ($20) was our favorite of the rosés. The light and tangy taste of fresh strawberries was balanced by a sweet richness, which some tasters notes was reminiscent of fruit leather. The effervescence was refreshing but somewhat short-lived. All in all, this bottle was a delectable option as a standalone, and would be great with food too.

The Tenuta Pederzana Gibe Lambrusco Grasparossa di Castelvetro DOC 2009 ($18) offered something very different. Once the nice violet color was in the glass, we were able to enjoy the deep dark flavor of overripe cherries. This wine started with the typical bitterness you'd expect with Lambrusco, and finished with sweeter plummy notes.

Tart and Tangy

Despite the fact that the Cleto Chiarli e Figli Premium Vecchia Modena Lambrusco di Sorbara Secco DOC 2010 ($16) is a red and the Lini 910 Labrusca Lambrusca Rosato Emilia Indicazione Geografica Protetta ($14) is a rosé, it was surprising to see the similarities between these two. For starters. the Cleto Chiarli was much lighter in color than most of our rosso bottles, while the Lini Labrusca Rosato was much darker out of the bottle than we were expecting. Both of these had very dry, tart berry-like flavors—the Cleto Chiarli more on the raspberry side and the Lini Labrusca Rosato on the fresh cranberries side. With such pronounced acidity and limited complexity, both of these wines would have been best enjoyed with a fatty white meat dish, or better yet, poached eggs (brunch anyone?).

Where these wines differed most dramatically was in texture. While the Cleto Chiarli had tons of tiny bubbles that started to fill the glass on first pour and lingered once in the mouth, the Frizzante Lini Labrusca Rosato offered a refreshing tingle on the tongue that dissipated more quickly. And with such approachable price points, at $16 and $14 respectively, these bottles would be great options to bring some sparkle to an everyday meal.

What about you? Have you tasted any notable Lambruscos recently? Tell us your favorites in the comments section!


About the author: Seema Gunda is an avid wine traveler, collector, and student with a background in chemistry and a day job in consulting.

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