After decades of low-priced, candied Lambrusco on the American market, it’s not surprising that wine consumers know nothing else about it.
Most would find it informative that Lambrusco hails from Emilia-Romagna, the region that cuts across north-central Italy and is home to Italy’s most internationally renowned foods: prosciutto di Parma, Parmigiano-Reggiano, Grana Padano, Mortadella, Balsamico di Modena, Tortellini—founded in Bologna—and arguably Italy’s most famous pasta presentation: spaghetti Bolognese.
Throughout the region, red, white and rose wines are made, but Lambrusco, a sparkling red wine with bright acidity is trying to reach the heights of the other internationally acclaimed food products of the region.
With more than 60 grape varieties, Lambrusco may not come easy for the average wine consumer. But it is easy to understand that the wine is either frizzante (gentle bubbles), or spumante (forceful bubbles) and as dry as brut Champagnes.
In January, I had dinner at Manhattan’s Portale restaurant with Alberto Medici, the 54-year-old, fourth-generation owner of Medici Ermete winery.
We started our tasting with the 2018 Medici Ermete Daphne Malvasia Secco, a white sparkling wine. Made in the Charmat method—a process of creating the bubbles by performing the second fermentation in a pressurized stainless-steel tank as in Prosecco—the malvasia grape’s orange blossom and honey aromas and pear flavor are carried on a light bubbly body, giving this slightly sweet wine a kinship to Moscato. It’s ideal in summer with a citrus dessert. 88 points. Retail prices are $20 to $25.
In 2016, Alberto’s 25-year-old son Alessandro created Phermento Lambrusco di Modena Secco. Using the ancestral method, a natural fermentation process, and made from only sorbara grapes in the Modena area of Emilia Romagna, the 2018 Phermento is a cloudy, bright-pink-colored brut nature frizzante wine. Its very mild cherry scent is matched by the delicate cherry and strawberry flavors with a bone-dry finish. Its high acidity lends itself to pairings with a plate of prosciutto di Parma and salami. 89 points. Retail prices are $25 to $30.
The black-ish nonvintage Medici Ermete I Quercioli Secco Reggiano Lambrusco is a blend of equal parts salamino and marani grapes. Its pungent peppery, black tea and blackberry aromas and flavors are carried on a stream of brisk acidity, leaving no sensation of its 14 grams of sugar. Enjoy this wine with salami or meat-sauced pastas. 88 points. Retail prices range from $10 to $24.
The 2018 Medici Ermete Le Tenute Solo Reggiano Rosso is also from the Reggio appellation and has 14 grams of sugar, but is not a Lambrusco, as its 51% ancellotta grapes exceed the 15% regulation limit. Blended with salamino, the wine has a fruity edge, finishing with a pomegranate taste and mineral backbone. It will be perfect with barbecue ribs. 90 points. Retail prices are $15 to $19.
Medici Ermete’s Concerto is the first single-vineyard Lambrusco and the winery’s crown jewel. Made only with salamino grapes from the Reggio appellation, the 2018 Concerto Reggio Lambrusco has the black tea and black-fruit aromas and flavors that are markers of well-made Lambrusco. Its composition is carried on a light body bound by acidity and tannins that glide to a balanced, dry finish. It was perfect with Portale’s roasted pork, and you’ll find its retail price just as pleasing. 93 points. At $19 to $24, it’s great value.
Summer is the ideal time to enjoy Medici Ermete Lambrusco: served chilled, but not refrigerated cold. With low 11 to 12 percent alcohol and cleansing acidity, it’s as refreshing as a cool breeze under a shady tree.
Photos by John Foy