Lambrusco is a brightly colored grape variety used to make sparkling red wines in Emilia-Romagna, northern Italy. More accurately, it is a collective term for a group of grape varieties – more than 60 Lambrusco varieties have been identified so far. Lambrusco vines are grown in several Italian wine regions, including Piedmont (Emilia-Romagna’s neighbor) and farther afield in Basilicata.
Lambrusco and its eponymous wine have an enviably high profile in the early 21st Century, largely the result of mass production for major markets, particularly the United States and northern Europe, in the 1980s. The days when Lambrusco wines were widely bottle-fermented in the methode traditionelle have gone, as has much of the quality and care that accompanied this more demanding production technique. Today, most wines bearing the Lambrusco name are made in bulk, and go through their secondary fermentation in large steel tanks. This is known as the Charmat method, sometimes known as the Italian Method as it was pioneered in northern Italy. The popularity of Lambrusco grew so rapidly in the 1980s that this was the only way of producing the required volumes quickly enough to satisfy demand, cheaply enough to keep the wines affordable.
The pigment of Lambrusco grapes works well to create an alluring ruby color in wines; when well cared-for in the vineyard, and allowed to reach full phenolic ripeness, the grapes create a wine as intensely perfumed it is colored. Lambrusco’s bright purple-red hue is surpassed only by that of Ancellotta, another variety sanctioned for use under the Lambrusco DOC laws. Ancellotta grapes are used to bring color to the kind of watery, overcropped Lambrusco produced when yields are allowed to climb out of control.
A number of Lambrusco sub-varieties have their own DOC, namely Lambrusco di Sorbara, Lambrusco Grasparossa di Castelvetro and Lambrusco Salamino di Santa Croce. In addition to these there is the Modena DOC (created in 2009) and Reggiano, which was formerly known as Lambrusco di Reggiano. A wine made under any one of these titles must be made from at least 85 percent Lambrusco grapes (some are tied to specific sub-varieties, some are not). The remaining 15 percent is often made up with Ancellotta.
Maestri is one of many sub-varieties of Lambrusco used to produce the eponymous sparkling red. As well as being grown in its native region of Emilia-Romagna, it is cultivated further south in Basilicata. Outside Italy, Maestri has been successfully cultivated as far afield as Argentina (due mainly to the Italian migration there) and more recently, Australia.
Food matches include:
Europe: Prosciutto di Parma (cured ham)
Asia: Vegetable biryani
Americas: Roasted turkey with cranberry sauce; cherry pie (sweet)
Africa/Middle East: Beef couscous with raisins