What Is Lambrusco Wine?

Man and woman having fun and drinking lambrusco wine during a summer dinner
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In This Article

Hailing from the Emilia-Romagna region of Italy, Lambrusco is a family of red grapes that are commonly used to make a sparkling red wine of the same name. It is one of the oldest wines made in Italy, dating back to the Bronze Age. Lambrusco comes in a number of varieties that range from dry to sweet and can vary in color from light red to deep inky purple. It is typically made in a frizzante (lightly sparkling) style and is relatively low in alcohol. Lambrusco is fruit-forward, with flavors of berries and some floral notes depending on the variety.

Fast Facts

  • Regions: Emilia-Romagna, Lombardy
  • Origin: Emilia Romagna, Italy
  • Sweetness: Very sweet to very dry
  • Color: Light to dark bright red
  • ABV: 8–12% 

Taste and Flavor Profile

Lambrusco is available in dry (secco), semi-sweet (semisecco), and sweet (dulce) varieties. The best wines tend to be secco or semisecco, and cheaper, lower quality lambruscos are frequently overly sweet. Depending on the style, the flavor profile and characteristics like tannins, acidity, and color can vary. Overall, lambrusco is strong on berries like blackberry, boysenberry, raspberry, and strawberry as well as dark cherry flavors. Some varieties have notes of rhubarb, fragrant florals like violet, baking spice, pink grapefruit, orange zest, and pepper. The nose can include hints of raisin, almond, spice, and ripe fruit.

Lambrusco can range from lighter-bodied, low tannin, and pale red to dark, inky, and full-bodied wines. Most varieties have bright acidity, although the acidity is more pronounced in the lighter-style lambruscos. The Italian red wine is often lightly bubbly (frizzante) but can occasionally be made as a full-on sparkling wine.

How to Taste Wine

Follow a few steps when tasting wine to ensure you have the best experience:

  1. Look: Take a good look at the wine, examining the color and opacity as well as the bubbles through the glass.
  2. Smell: Take a quick whiff. Don't swirl sparkling wine around your glass. Then stick your nose into the wine glass for a deep inhale, taking in your first impressions of the wine.
  3. Taste: Take a small sip and let it roll around your mouth. Note the acidity, sugar, tannins, and alcohol content when first tasting, then move on to tasting notes (berries, spice, wood) and finally the finish.

Grapes and Wine Regions

Because the lambrusco grape is so old and was cultivated thousands of years ago from a wild vine, it is highly adaptable and takes well to the hillsides and plains of northern Italy. Like most wine grapes, it likes the proper balance of moisture and sun, and the preferred soil and growing conditions varies by exact lambrusco cultivar. Lambrusco is grown in the spring and summer and harvested in the fall.

There are over 60 known varieties of lambrusco grapes but a handful are commonly used for making wine. The wine has four protected denominazione di origine controllata (DOC) or "controlled designation of origin" regions in the Emilia-Romagna region in Italy and one just north in the Lombardy region:

  • Lambrusco Grasparossa di Castelvetro: Produced in the province of Modena, this regional lambrusco is the only type that thrives on hillsides. The resulting wine is more like a proper red wine with a lively but evanescent sparkle, very pronounced fruity bouquet, and considerable tannic structure.
  • Lambrusco di Sorbara: A wine produced in the province of Modena, the grapes thrive in sandy plains soil. Light ruby red with crisp fruitiness, this lambrusco has bright acidity that also carries through on the palate.
  • Lambrusco Salamino di Santa Croce: Often blended with other wines, Salamino is frequently used to make off-dry and sweet wines. When grown in the clay and rock soils of Reggio-Emilia and used to make dry wine, it produces vibrant wines with balanced acidity.
  • Lambrusco Reggiano: This sparkling red can be made from a mixture of different lambrusco grapes. Because the mixtures and winemaking process can vary so greatly, the tasting notes of Reggiano lambruscos can also vary widely.
  • Lambrusco Mantovano: The only DOC-designated lambrusco made outside of the Emilia-Romagna region, Montovano is grown in Lombardy. The specific characteristics of the wine vary depending on the blend and maker.

Food Pairings

Lambrusco pairs best with foods from its native region of Italy, like aged meats, salty cheeses, briny olives, aged vinegar, and hearty pasta dishes. Try serving a dry lambrusco with a cheese platter that includes prosciutto, Parmigiano Reggiano, and bread for dipping in balsamic vinegar. Or serve with grilled meat like sliced skirt steak or meat lover's pizza. Sweet lambrusco pairs best with fruit-forward desserts like cherry pie or summer berry galette.

Serve lambrusco chilled to 55 or 60 degrees Fahrenheit in a white wine glass or rustic tumbler, avoiding champagne glasses. Lambrusco is meant to be enjoyed young, so purchase fresh wine and enjoy as soon as possible.

Key Producers, Brands, and Buying Tips

At least one or two lambrusco wines can be found at most well-stocked wine stores, and many can be ordered or shipped. The wine pops up on many modern Italian restaurant menus thanks to its easy pairing with pizza and pasta. Most lambruscos are priced under $20, with the quality increasing greatly in the $15 to 20 range. If you can't find lambrusco, try a dry sparkling shiraz from Australia.

  • Medici Ermete
  • Cleto Chiarli
  • Paltrinieri
  • Lidi
  • Villa de Corlo
  • Cantina della Vorta
  • Cantina di Sorbara
  • Rinaldini