I know, I know, another Italian wine. Sheesh, this guy is redundant. But I need to burst a bubble:
Most Lambrusco is not sweet.
Also, not everything from 1981 turned out as a well as I did. *Ahem* From the ’70s onward, Riuniti and other Lambrusco producers flooded the US with sweet, fizzy junk (3 million cases annually). We didn’t question it. Today, people still aren’t sure if Lambrusco is a brand, a grape, a place, a wine, or a character from The Godfather II.
A little knowledge is a terrible thing. We twist a few experiences into a stereotype before new evidence can counter it. We commit a syllogistic fallacy. For instance, we induce, “Some wines are sweet. All lambrusco I’ve had is sweet. Therefore, all lambrusco is sweet”. Although Aristotle would hand us the hemlock for this, you can’t blame us.
Advertising, rumor and the lack of a dry export until 1995 didn’t help. But just as with riesling, hell, even with people, we replace our experience of “some” for “all” (by the by, not all riesling are sweet). We fabricate the world to survive in it by piecing together information from each experience. However, we falter when we treat those bits as if they were the whole.
This week’s case study: Villa di Corlo‘s nonvintage Lambrusco Graparossa di Castelvetro.
The DOC region of Lambrusco Grasparossa di Castelvetro sits in the center of Emilia-Romagna, spreading south from Modena into the Eastern foothills of the Apennine Mountains.
Here, the Grasparossa clone of the lambrusco grape makes up at least 85% of wines. This grape variety develops a thick, dark skin that provides more tannin and color than the over 60 other lambruschi (colorino is a clone added to color Chianti). Its vines grow slowly, fruit ripens late, sugars and subsequent alcohols are high, and its leaves, stalks and pedicels (each berry’s stem) all turn a purplish red by November’s late harvest, which is weird but really cool.
Lambrusco descends from the wild vitis silvestris that grew around the edges (labrum) of farms (bruscum)…we think. Etruscans and then Romans probably cultivated it, with Cato the Elder (Ecologue 5, De Agricultura), Varro (De re rustica), Pliny the Elder (Naturalis Historia) and Dioscurides describing its wild nature, color and high productivity. In 1305, Pier de’ Crescenzi wrote that “it’s loved by children, the young and the old, by poets, simpletons and scholars: it’s loved by the fat, by the thin even more, by Jews and Christians, by Turks, by monks, by ladies and serving wenches, by princes and kings”. He then mysteriously received a lifetime supply.
Today, in Castelvetro, the seventeenth century Villa di Corlo houses the Jacobazzi family and Alberto Musatti makes their wine. He turns their 67 acres (27 hectares) of vines into 200,000 bottles annually. The soil is alluvial clay and calcareous, with low nutrients, perfect for lambrusco. 36,000 of those bottles are filled with 100% Grasparossa for their dry non-vintage Lambrusco: making it their largest product.
There’s nothing spectacular about their methods. They are modern and minimal. Maceration occurs in temperature controlled stainless steel tanks for a week, which slowly extracts colors and flavors. Charmant tank method then gives the fizz. After two months of bottle time, they ship it.
The wine is a froth-filled, inky purple. The nose is muted but hints at flavors to follow. It tastes of blackberry pie with rhubarb, while licorice, toasted vanilla, mineral and a chocolaty but earthy carob keep it interesting. There’s ample acidity, body and sapidity to pair this with sausage, proscuitto, ragu pasta or push it into dessert territory with bitter chocolate or a sour cherry tart.
Although Corlo’s website is desperate for an English spellchecker (one sentence contained profume, healty, pleseant) their Lambrusco demands to be drunk. Forget the sweet crap that Riuniti ruined us with. Slightly chill this red fizz, grill a bratwurst and open your mind and bottle to dry Lambrusco.
NY Time’s review of the Lambrusco revival
In Our Time BBC Radio 4 Program on Logic
Consoritum for the Historic Mark of Modenese Lambrusco
Emilia-Romagna Wine Country Region Profile
Great story. One correction: Grasparossa is not a clone of Lambrusco but a grape variety. As a matter of fact, there are 14 to 17 different Lambrusco varieties. 14 for sure. 3 are still being DNA-ed. Nobody knows who came up with the story about those 60’Lambrusco clones’. Unfortunately, it has been repeated in wine books and continues to be quotes in many articles online.
Many thanks, someone needs to fix the wikipedia page on that. What is Graparossa’s lineage? I thought that, although now its own variety, it was a clonal variation derived from lambrusco.
Grasparossa, Salamino, Sorbara, Marani, Maestri, etc, are all separate, indigenous (Lambrusco) grape varieties. As a matter of fact, it’s best to refer to them as: Lambrusco Grasparossa, Lambrusco Salamino, Lambrusco Sorbara, etc. I’ve got this latest info from a ‘higher’ authority when I asked around for a list of ‘those 60 different Lambrusco clones’. Quite an interesting story. Believe it or not, I even came across an Italian producer who told that ‘Ancellotta’ is a lambrusco grape! That’s what happens when you start asking questions. 🙂
The number of Lambrusco DOC’s (now DOP) has also changed:
– Lambrusco Grasparossa di Castelvetro DOP
– Lambrusco di Sorbara DOP
– Lambrusco Salamino di Santa Croce DOP
– Modena Lambrusco DOP
– Reggiano Lambrusco DOP
– Reggiano Lambrusco Salamino DOP
– Colli di Scandiano e Canossa Lambrusco Montericco DOP
– Colli di Scandiano e Canossa Lambrusco Grasparossa DOP
– Colli di Scandiano e Canossa Lambrusco DOP
– Lambrusco dell’Emilia IGT (formerly known as IGT)
– Colli di Parma Lambrusco DOP
correction: Lambrusco dell’Emilia IGP (IGT)
This is brilliant! Thank you for opening Pandora’s box. There is always more to learn.
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I’ll be on the lookout for the Villa di Corlo. Thanks!
A great explanation of a wine topic most people just stare at me when I try and “straighten ’em up” on. Cheers!