Friday, October 22, 2010

I ♥ Lambrusco

I must have driven through the region a hundred times. Never stopped. Always on my way to somewhere more important. Alba, Montalcino, Fiumicino, Ciampino. It was often a spot on the highway where I’d zone out. It was flat. It was boring. I was tired. We’d already been to too many places for Italian wine.

And then I spent a few days in the region. No Brunello, no Barolo. I remembered back home, my pal Paul and his love for the stuff. He had people driving all the way from Beaumont, Shreveport, and Abilene to Dallas to get the fizzy wine from him. I didn’t pay any attention to it. Figured they were people who just hadn’t developed a taste for Italian wine and were stuck in a genre. Boy, was I wrong.

I had just finished a very long meeting with Italian apparatchiks, listening to their boring speeches and then listening to the translations. And then having to listen to the Italian speaker correct the translator as to the way she incorrectly translated him. It was long. It was tedious. Staring at the ceiling. Here I was again in this area, not on the highway this time, but the same sensation. Boredom. And then someone announced that lunch was being served and everyone came to life.

I don’t remember ever having had a meal standing up in Italy, except for at an Autogrill or Vinitaly. There was an array of foods from the area, cured meats, cheeses, some over béchameled lasagne, a scant few greens. And over in the corner there was some radioactive looking green fizzy kiwi juice and a bucket of wine. A winemaker came up to me and started pouring me his sparkling Malvasia. Nice. And then his sparkling rosé that he named after his beautiful wife. I liked his wife better. And then he poured me his Lambrusco. And the lights went on.

This was the kind of wine I wanted when I would go into a restaurant in my hometown. I’d probably never find it, though. It wasn’t cool enough for Dallas. Not big and voluptuous with lots of poofy hair and mammalian charm. It was a little subtler than that.

It was tasty. I sucked the first glass down. I feared the afternoon of headache from drinking red wine syndrome. It happens to me. I didn’t need that, what with the nose bleed syndrome that was cramping my style. But I went in for another glass. Wow, this was an epiphany!

Several days later we were at a dairy/bar/salumeria and the same wine popped up. I had a glass. And then another Lambrusco showed up. And I had another glass. After my last two-glass-of-red-wine-lunch-with-no-headache I wanted to test the waters. And the wine was sooo good. I was hooked.

A day or so after that lunch we were in Modena at Antica Moka and another Lambrusco was being poured, strange looking bottle. Looking big. Looking important. Lambrusco di Sorbara “Vecchia Modena” by Cleto Chiarli. I gave it a try. Wow, it was even better than the other two I’d had.

I had this as we were heading out of Emilia towards Lucca and Viareggio. So my little Lambrusco affair was over as soon as it had started. But I will return. This is too good to let another 20 years pass by. I’ll be back.

I ♥ Lambrusco

Note: this post was written as a result of being on an invited tour of Emilia and Tuscany by the Italian Trade Commission


Anonymous said...

For something truly sublime, next time look for the Francesco Bellei "Ancestrale." It's pink but tastes as dark and deep as the wine-dark sea.

You really need to get out of Tuscany more often. ;)


Alfonso Cevola said...

will do. sounds great. you know Tuscany isn't my "choice", Strapps

Thomas said...

I had a similar experience in 1998 while spending a few days driving through northern Italy to come decompress from a three-day bout with Vinitaly.

I left Italy that year wondering why these wines have not been picked up by some smart importer.

Still wondering.

Alfonso Cevola said...

folks in this area really get "supply chain", i.e. getting product to the consumer. The little I have seen with winemakers, they are either really large (industrial wines) or they are small and have the "deer in the headlights" syndrome. USA is still strange water for them to navigate in, comprehending the scale. Believe me I just spent a week talking to them about this. Lots of blank stares and then they'd say, " yeah but you like my wine yes? Please buy my wine." Oy...

Anonymous said...

AC, you're so right about the big, industrial Lambrusco producers (awful stuff). The small guys are, well, small guys who have never left home. I'll add that some excellent Lambruscos are quite perishable and may not travel well.

The other aspect of it this, as usual, price. Thanks to Riunite et al, wine buyers here are conditioned to think of Lambrusco as cheap plonk for stupid customers and balk at anything that'll appear on the shelves for more than about $12-15. Even a lot of "sommeliers" don't know from nothin'. It is really an uphill battle. Which is a terrible shame, because the good Lambruscos are like nothing else in the world.


tasteofbeirut said...

I will buy a Lambrusco now and taste it immediately; where should I go in Dallas to find a good one?

Alfonso Cevola said...

that's a tough one, Joumana. There are none of these caliber of wines in Dallas that I know of.

Tracie P. said...

allora, ace, che aspetti?

strappo--i think we have to create the market by bringing in good stuff. there are ignorant 'sommeliers' everywhere, but it's a battle worth fighting, don't you think?

until it happens, pass me the lettere, will you?

Thomas said...

Yes, I agree with Tracie.

Strappo, remember what Liebfruamilch in the 1970s did to the reputation of a grape that wasn't even in the takes work to fight that kind of crap.

James Koch said...

"I left Italy that year (1998) wondering why these wines have not been picked up by some smart importer."

Actually great lambrusco has been available in the USA (CA and NY) since 1995 (vintage 1994) when I stumbled upon Medici Ermete's 'Concerto'. It was the very first top-quality, single vineyard dry lambrusco made and has since started a lambrusco revolution in Italy.

We are receiving our 17th!! Concerto vintage this year. Concerto is the only lambrusco which has received a 'tre bicchieri' award from Gambero Rosso TWICE (2009 and 2010) - so far.

The US consumer has been ready for quality lambrusco for the last 15 years - and I can proof it (we now import 7 (!) different quality fizzy and 2 still lambruscos).

So, what's the reason why authentic lambrusco is not more readily available?

The age of the buyers in the US distribution system: Most haven't grown out of the lambrusco image of the 1970/80's. (Once, I've been told by a distributor: "Quality Lambrusco? That's something I need like a hole in my head".)

I'm afraid, Thomas, you've got to wait another 20 years :) ...or move to California and New York.


James Koch said...

"I'll add that some excellent Lambruscos are quite perishable and may not travel well."

We ship all of our lambruscos in (turned on) reefers. Yes, lambrusco!


Alfonso Cevola said...

Thanks James:

I recently got an email from Adrian Reynolds in LA, he told me the
Lambrusco from Chiarli also got tre bicchieri...

so now there are two 'tre bicchieri' Lambruscos for 2011:
• Lambrusco di Sorbara del Fondatore '09 Cleto Chiarli
• Reggiano Lambrusco Secco Concerto '09 Ermete Medici & Figli

I shoulda never left Pasadena:(

Thomas said...


I operated a retail wine shop in Manhattan between 1999-2004. Not once, did any supplier of mine point out or offer me a premium Lambrusco from the book. I dealt mostly with small distributors.

Who distributes the wines for you?

Natalie said...

I don't have much experience with Lambrusco, mainly because I have never had a good one. Now that I'm in Italy, I'd love to branch out more. Are these widely available outside of the region?

Alfonso Cevola said...

Hi Natalie:

I'd recommend you go to a good enoteca, specializing in wines of Italy (not just their own region) and see if you could find one or two.

Surely in Rome you could find some.

I bet Hande could help you out

JK Imports said...

"Who distributes Medici Ermete in NY?"

Thomas, Medici Ermete ( is distributed by Omniwines, Flushing, New York (718-353-8700) |


Marco Zitono said...

What about poor Aldo Cella? His wine was swill, but he always had a bevy of great looking women with him.

In his memory we named our Aldo for him:

sisterceleste said...

Alfonso, I'm so glad you posted this. We ran across some doozies on a long trip through northern Italy about 10 years ago, and when I came back raving about local Lambrusco I got withering stares. I've been questioning myself ever since because sometimes context overrides everything else--and that was 10 years ago, when I was less secure about what I liked in general.

Please let me know if you run across anything like this in our neck of the woods.

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