What’s not to love about bubbly wine? Every effervescent glass carries remembrances of fun celebratory times. Though Champagne remains the crown jewel of bubbles, there are a ton of other options. For those who prefer the cherry and berry flavors in red wine or who find Champagne a little too dry, look to an overlooked Italian sparkling red: Lambrusco.
Yes, there was a point a few decades back where Lambrusco became synonymous with sweet, grape-candy-esque wine. This was much to the chagrin of Italians who have perfected good, dry Lambrusco. It’s absolutely the perfect match for pasta night, and many other dishes, you just have to know what to look for.
The best Lambrusco comes from Emilia Romagna, an Italian province located where The Boot turns into a peninsula (south of Venice and to the northwest of Tuscany). In Italy, most wines of a better quality come from regional associations known as DOCs and DOCGs. In this case, it’s Lambrusco Salamino di Santa Croce DOC, Lambrusco di Sorbara DOC, and Lambrusco Grasparossa di Castelvetro DOC that produce some of the best vintages available in the States. Each of these associations requires at least 85% of the wine to be made from Lambrusco grapes, so you will see bottles blended with other varietals like Sangiovese. The fizziness rarely comes from the traditional method, instead, most of it is made in large, pressurized steel tanks.
Of the big three DOCs, each has its own particularities. Wines from the Lambrusco di Sorbara region are probably the furthest from what we all think of as Lambrusco. They are particularly fruity and aromatic, with deep red/purple berry and cherry flavors. But they can be light in color and body like a sparkling rosato. A great example, one that will have you thinking it’s pink Champagne for adults, is the Vecchia Modena “Premium” from the oldest Lambrusco producers in Emilia, Cleto Chiarli. If you like stronger, fuller red wines, look for bottles from Lambrusco Grasparossa di Castelvetro. These will feel like hearty red wines, especially when it comes to tannins (that dry-mouth sensation). Lambrusco Salamino di Santa Croce is the perfect mix between the two: full reds with a lot of classic deep red fruit flavors. Fun fact: the name “salamino” comes from how the grapes look like little salami.
Emilia Romagna is a province known for quintessential rich Italian food. It’s the home of cheese-filled pasta dishes such as lasagna and tortellini; hard, salty cheeses like Parmigiano-Reggiano; and most notably, the capital Bologna. Fatty cured meats like prosciutto, pancetta, and mortadella are everywhere. These are all the kinds of foods that pair beautifully with Lambrusco. If it happens to be late spring, the lighter Lambrusco di Sorbara is perfect for charcuterie and cheese dinners. For now, pick up a Grasparossa or Salamino for your next night of winter comfort food.