There is more to Lambrusco than you might think. Like most wine styles, some producers make wines that express their passion for the craft and the grape. They take pride in offering the best representation of a certain style, climate, and or varietal. They go to great lengths to produce a wine that is the best representation of quality possible. On the other hand, there are producers who make as much wine as possible with little interest in sustainability, quality, or integrity. The latter can poison the reputation of an entire region, grape varietal, or even an entire country. Lambrusco is one of those wine styles whose reputation has been tarnished by the oversaturation of brilliantly marketed, poor quality wines.
Lambrusco is like a sculpted eyebrow. All too often, it’s stripped of its natural beauty to be cheaply made into something without expression or, just as tragic, with way too much expression. However, if you do it right and seek out the fine examples, your life will be accented with beauty and elegance.
These wines are fizzy, refreshing, and structured. The sweetness varies depending on the specific style but they almost always have some degree of sweetness. All of these characteristics combine to create an experience that is unique and incredibly versatile when it comes to food pairings. The structure and tannins make it great for fatty foods like cured meats and cheeses. Think of how beautifully those bubbles will lift the fat off of your palate and refresh your mouth for another bite. It creates an ever changing experience that brings excitement with every bite and sip. Those with a subtle sweetness make a great choice for savory dishes that have a touch of sweetness. Remember, if your food is sweeter than your wine, the sugar in the food will make your wine seem nearly flavorless and completely gross. You should also consider the presence of salt in your food and what a lovely contrast that touch of sweetness in the wine will add to salty foods.
There is no better wine to drink than Lambrusco when faced with the opportunity to devour a plate of charcuterie or antipasto. This wine is a great example of “if it grows together, it goes together.” Emilia-Romagna, Italy is not only the home of Lambrusco, it is also the home of some of your most treasured epicurean delights. Do you love Parmigiano-Reggiano, Prosciutto di Parma, balsamic vinegar from Modena, mortadella, and sauce bolognese? They all come from the same region as Lambrusco. There is even a variety of the Lambrusco grape named Lambrusco Salamino because the grape clusters are said to resemble hanging salami.
Last month, Chef Matthew Varga featured a ricotta filled ravioli topped with eggplant caponata and shaved parmesan cheese. Caponata is a sweet and sour accompaniment native to Sicily. Although there are many different recipes, it almost always features eggplant, capers, and sweetened vinegar. Chef Matt also adds golden raisins and pine nuts to his caponata recipe.
We paired this dish with I Quercioli Lambrusco Secco which is produced by Medici Ermete in the sub-region Reggiano Lambrusco of Emilia-Romagna. When looking at the label and name, the term “secco” means that the wine is dry. In this case, there is still some sweetness but it is minimal compared to other styles of Lambrusco. When you are searching for these wines, know that “secco” is dry, therefore it will probably pair well with savory things which are usually served first in a meal. Think of “secco” as a good choice for antipasti, pasta dishes, etc.. If the wine is labeled as “dolce”, it will be sweeter and probably better suited for the end of the meal when pairing desserts and cheeses.
Consider what is going on in the dish. Creamy ricotta cheese, slightly bitter eggplant, the refreshing zing of vinegar, the sweetness of raisins, and the deliciously nutty parmesan cheese create a powerful combination of flavors.
The wine should accentuate each and every one of the bold flavors in the dish. The raisins in the caponata add sweetness to the dish so it’s best matched by a wine that also displays a bit of sweetness. Rich and creamy ricotta cheese is balanced out by the slight effervescence in the wine which lift the weighty cheese off of the palate and refresh your mouth for another bite. Tart berry and dried flowers dominate the aroma and flavor of the wine. These flavors provide contrast to the subtle bitterness of the eggplant. The wine is juicy and mouth watering which balances the bite from the vinegar. Everything falls into place creating an exciting contrast of flavors and textures. Your mouth is happy, your belly is happy, and your dinner guests are impressed. All is well.
This is a call to everyone. I implore you to seek out the good stuff! Find beautiful examples of this delicious style of wine, which happens to come from one of the most iconic food regions in the world. Share these wines with your loved ones, spread the word that great Lambrusco does exist! Not only does it exist; it is readily available, affordable, and ridiculously food friendly!
One last tip. Do yourself and your loved ones a favor by bringing a few bottles of your favorite Lambrusco to Thanksgiving dinner. Think about the flavors and textures of Thanksgiving. Sweet potatoes, tart cranberries, rich sauces, and the possibility that not everybody at your dinner table will be a dry wine lover. Shout out to my Sister-in-law. The wine pairing is crowd pleasing perfection. Now go forth and enjoy life to its tastiest!