Will the real Lambrusco please stand up?
Natural causes lead Lambrusco wines to be a different from the ordinary
Posted: September 4, 2013
Lambrusco wine and grapes from the Po Valley area.
The valley of the River Po in northern Italy descends through the flat and hazy plain southeast from Milan toward the Adriatic. This is prosperous country, the fertile land contains much in the way of food delicacies -- Parma ham, mortadella, Parmesan cheese, balsamic vinegar and many more - but the wines from hereabouts are seldom prepossessing and come from grapes grown on the poorer outcrops of the Apennines.
Only one wine from the Po Valley is in any way famous, or perhaps, infamous. It is Lambrusco. Its origins hail from around Modena in the region of Emilia Romagna. Disparaging noises inevitably surface at its very mention, claiming that this is basically unspeakable plonk, cheap, yuckily sweet pop, fit only to inhabit the meanest shelves in the supermarkets - and that indeed is where it is to be found in this country selling for 40 to 60 Kč.
Nevertheless, this unusual wine constitutes one of the most extraordinary success stories in all the history of wine. Its distinct foaming red creamy head, sweet grapey taste and above all its vague resemblance to Coca-Cola holds the key that founded one vast American fortune in the 1970s and '80s. That of the Mariani brothers, at whose behest Riunite, the growers' cooperative of Reggio nell'Emilia, shipped vast quantities of Lambrusco to the US, including in one single year a total of 11 million cases, where it became such a hit with the public at large it underwrote the establishment of the super-modern Tuscan winery Castello Banfi in 1978, dedicated not to Lambrusco but to the production of top-quality Brunello di Montalcino wine.
Lambrusco's unusual style came about through natural causes, with the fermentation process simply being unable to complete itself before the arrival of cold weather halted it altogether. By the spring the wine, now in bottle, began refermenting, often causing the bottles to explode. Yet, somehow, these built-in mistakes seemed to make the wine charmingly palatable. Nowadays, naturally, technology and the marketing departments have got a handle on all this, meaning the standard product is at least uniformly stable.
Not all Lambrusco is like this, however, and has its many fans. The Lambrusco cultivar is a robust grape, that includes over 60 subvarieties. Lambrusco has three main DOC subregions, Sorbara being the main one is drier, where the wine's natural sharpness still shines through and bottles are secured with a wire cage as in Champagne. Grasparossa di Castelvetro has a fuller flavour and is often used for sweeter wines, while Salamino di Santa Croce has both acidity and gives a certain richness to the typical cherry-like freshness which in fact, as elsewhere in Italy, complements perfectly the local cuisine, in this case cutting through the hearty regional diet of salamis, heavy cheeses, sausages and meaty pasta dishes.
Best producers include Moro Rinaldo Rinaldino and Albinea Canali who make serious dry Lambrusco. Manicardi is a small Lambrusco maker also specialising in aceto balsamico, while the larger concern Cavicchioli is also among the leading lights here paying much attention to quality.
Winery of the Month: Vinařství Košut
The Košut family has been farming, tending cattle and horses and making wine for centuries in the village of Prušánky, south of Hodonín, though the first mention of the name comes in 1862, when they were named Business of the Year in neighbouring Moravská Nová Ves. The brothers Luděk and Jarek Košut - both wine-school graduates - continue with all these activities to this day, although they only made the decision to go full time in 2004. The winery and cellar are in former stables in Moravská Nová Ves. All the wines come from their 15 hectares of vineyards in both villages. The brothers make traditional wines though without eschewing the advantages offered by modern technology. They produce a basic range of quality wines from eight varieties, aimed at early consumption, while the top production is widely available in wine stores and restaurants. They also have an agritourism accommodation facility in the Nechory cellar settlement of Prušánky. More from Vinarstvikosut.cz
Wines of the Month:
Red: Lambrusco di Sorbara "Vigna del Cristo" DOC 2011
Producer: Cavicchioli, Modena, Emilia Romagna, Italy
Classic quality (and dry) Lambrusco. Highly regarded and pleasing to the eye this wine has a soft red sparkle upon opening. Transparent pale ruby hue. Nose of raspberries, peony and rose petals. Fresh and light. Elegant and full of vibrant energy, its freshness and crisp acidity make it ideal for marrying with such meats as pork, duck and charcuterie. The very best the Sorbara grape has to offer. (195 Kč from Vinodoc.cz)
White: Sauvignon pozdní sběr 2009
Producer: Vinařství Košut, Prušánky, Moravia
A semi-dry version of this grape. Medium straw-yellow in appearance with a nose that packs a fine punch filled with fruit and honey-led aromas leading to an almost viscous palate with more than a touch of exotica in the form of pineapple, guava and papaya fruit. A nicely structured wine which would serve well as an aperitive or even an accompaniment to desserts such as pannacotta. (175 Kč)
Znojmo, down near the Austrian border, annually hosts this country's biggest wine harvest (vinobraní) festival. This is one of the most important dates on the vinous calendar, this year during the weekend Sept. 13-14, in and around the town of Znojmo itself. There will be a full programme of cultural and historical events - jousting knights, parades, re-enactments, including the arrival of the Czech King John of Luxembourg, and much merry-making, with the winery Znovín Znojmo taking an active role with a series of tutored tastings, competitions and burčák sales. Details on: Znojemskevinobrani.cz.
John & Helena Baker can be reached at