Uncorked: Lambrusco – A Guide To This Italian Wine


Lambrusco is a grape variety with a bright pigment that is used to make a sparkling red wine from Emilia-Romagna in northern Italy. The wine grapes are cultivated in four winemaking zones in Emilia-Romagna and also in Lombardy. Some of the main areas where the grape is grown include the provinces of Parma, Modena, Mantua, and Reggio – Emilia.

The Lambrusco grape has a rich history in winemaking, dating back to the times of Etruscans, who cultivated it. During the Roman era, Lambrusco was considered to be one of the most produced wines because, after grape crushing, two-thirds of an acre would produce 300 amphoras of wine.

In the 1970s the wine experienced a sharp decline in quality. This was brought about by the mass production of a fizzy, low-quality version of the wine with a soda taste. Since this unfortunate decline over 40 years ago, the Italian wine is yet to reclaim its lost glory.

Grape Varieties

Lambrusco is actually a collection of wine grapes from Italy. There are 60 types of Lambrusco grapes that have been identified to date. Six types of grape varieties are the most commonly used among these; Lambrusco Grasparossa, Marani, Maestri, Salamino, Sorbara, and Monterosso. All of the six come from the region of Emilia. Check out “Best Grapes for Making Wine” to see if these grapes are included in the list of best grapes for winemaking.

Most Lambrusco wines are made from a blend of different varieties of grapes. This gives the wines an array of taste profiles, each exhibiting a unique palate. Aside from the mixing of Lambrusco grapes, the wines also incorporate blending grapes such as Cabernet Sauvignon (adds to structure and body), Ancellota (adds color), Malbo Gentile and Marzemino among others. Blending grapes can only be used to a max of 15% of the wine.

Lambrusco grapes have the ruby red pigment that adds to the allure of the wine. The grapes can produce some of the most fragrant wines. In regions famous for fragrant Lambrusco wines, the grapes are allowed to complete phenolic ripeness. The only other Lambrusco that comes close to the deep red pigment of a late harvest Lambrusco is the Ancellotta style.

Grapevines have a tendency to develop mildew when they touch the ground, so the vines are trained above the ground. They are kept high enough so that they do not grow and touch the ground. Though Lambrusco wines are known to be sweet, the grape itself is not and can be used to make exceptional dry wine. Lambrusco is sweetened by the fermentation method and the addition of concentrated grape must.

Lambrusco Wine Regions

The Italian brand of wine comes with a number of dryness/sweetness levels; secco (very dry), Amabile (slightly dry/sweet) and dolce (sweet). Rather than make the wine in champagne style, Italian winemakers use the Charmat process. This style of winemaking applies a second fermentation in a pressurized tank.

Meet Your Makers

  • Lambrusco Reggiano DOC – The largest Lambrusco producing region in the country. The region produces a lot of the DOC-designated wine exported in millions of cases to the U.S.  The wines are made using four grapes of the Lambrusco family; Marani, Maestri, Salamino and Montericco.
  • Lambrusco Grasparossa di Castelvetro DOC – The region, located in the south of Italy, is the smallest among the wine-producing regions. Wine from the region is typically full-bodied and has a deep red pigment. This is also the most tannic Lambrusco.
  • Lambrusco Salamino di Santa Croce DOC – The wine from this region is made from 90% of the Salamino variety, which is also the most cultivated Lambrusco grape. The region produces semi-sweet and dry wines with a light pigment. The grape clusters for this grape variety look like the sausage of salami, hence the name.
  • Lambrusco Mantovano DOC – The wine region is located in Lombardy and is the only Lambrusco region that is not in the area of Emilia Romagna. The wine is mostly made dry but you can find some semi-dry made varieties as well.
  • Lambrusco di Sorbara DOC – This is a wine region near the village of Sorbara in the northern regions of Modena. Wines made from this region are regarded as some of the highest quality Lambrusco wines due to their characteristic fragrant aromas. The semi-sweet and sweet wines from this region are almost like Salamino but have a darker pigment and are full-bodied. The hue ranges from purplish to ruby. The Sorbara wines, like Salamino, are some of the most acidic Lambruscos you can find. The vine for the Sorbara grape drops its flowers thus reducing the yield of fruits. This allows for a concentration of flavors that results in the first-rate appellation of Lambrusco.

Be sure to also check out “List of Four Best Italian Table Wines” for more amazing wines from this country.

Regions Outside Italy

Lambrusco is traditionally an Italian wine but the grape has been cultivated in other winemaking regions. Australia produces a cheaper version of the wine labeled ‘Lambrusco’ with a medium sweetness with 10% ABV. It is styled as a simple table wine that can be a good choice for everyday dining. In Argentina, there is also an appellation of the wine known as Lambrusco Maestri that takes up a substantial part of the annual vintage from the country.

Making Lambrusco Wine

This wine is made in one of three ways; Metodo Classico, Metodo ancestral and Charmat method, which is the most used for commercial wineries in many regions. Carbonation is facilitated by trapping the carbon dioxide that is produced during fermentation. Each of the methods of making the wine captures the gas in different ways.

Learn also how to make your own wine at home by checking out “How To Make Wine At Home“. Try it!

The Taste Profiles

Lambrusco is a wine with many unique tastes and can be made in a number of ways. The aromas and flavors depend mostly on the types of blends used for the wine and the quality. Many of the bottles at the lower end of the gamut typically have a one-dimensional taste that is sweet and fruity. Some of the best Lambrusco wines are packed with layers of flavors and a well-formed structure. Some of the tasting notes include;

  • Black and red cherry
  • Strawberry
  • Watermelon
  • Raspberry
  • Violet
  • Dried herbs
  • Earth
  • Rose
  • Iron-like mineral taste

Food Pairings for Lambrusco Wines

Lambrusco is not one of those wines that improve with time. Bottles are often drunk a few years after the vintage year at most. The wine is drunk young and should be served cold.

As is the tradition with Italian wines, Lambrusco makes a great pairing for most foods and reveals other flavor features itself. Dry styles of the wine can be paired with dishes like charcuterie, Prosciutto di Parma and fennel salami. Check out “What Wine Should I Drink With Cheese” to see what you can pair your Lambrusco with regarding cheeses.

The tannic styles of the wine are better paired with meaty dishes. Lambrusco Grasparossa is a style of dry Lambrusco that pairs well with beef ribs or barbecued lamb. You can also have this with pizza if you want wine for a simple date.

Don’t forget to also check out “What Wine Should I Drink With Steak” to see wine options with your dinner tonight.

Lambrusco has been through boom years and years when it was one of the lowest regarded wines in the industry. However, this Italian classic has undergone a revolution in quality that is slowly bringing it back to the echelons of top wine quality.

Thank you for reading! Check out “List of 7 Best French Table Wines” for a list of the best wines from this other popular region for winemaking, France.

Also, keep up with our UNCORKED series and check out some of our other featured wines. Take a look at “Uncorked: Trebbiano” for another great Italian wine.

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