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What is Lambrusco?

By Angela Williams Duea
Updated May 16, 2024
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Lambrusco is an Italian wine that has been made since pre-history from the red Lambrusco grape. Wine made from these grapes is best known as a fruity, fizzy, red, and dry variety, but several other types of Lambrusco wine have also been developed. Most of the Lambruscos are grown and bottled in the north central Italian provinces of Lombardy and Emilia-Reggiano. Some Australian winemakers have also begun to produce and export the wine, as well.

Among the wine grapes of Italy, Lambrusco is one of the oldest. The ancient Etruscans cultivated the grape before the Roman civilization developed. In Roman historical accounts, and later Renaissance writings, the grape was appreciated because it produces a heavy crop on long vines. However, the grapes used today have evolved somewhat from the vines of earlier times, and history is not clear about how closely today’s wines taste like ones made in ancient Rome.

Lambrusco wine has less effervescence than other sparkling wines, such as Champagne, and some varieties are still, rather than sparkling. The wine has a lower alcohol content of 11%, compared to an average wine alcohol content of 12-14%. Australian varieties have an even lower alcohol count of 10%.

The wine can be red, white, or rose in color. White varieties have the skins removed from the grapes immediately during processing, grapes for rose wines retain their skins for part of fermentation, and grapes for red wine retain their skins during the entire processing. Dry varieties of the wine are labeled secco, while semi-sweet varieties are labeled amabile or dolce. These wines are best enjoyed when they are young, rather than aged for several years.

The fresh, sparkling taste of a Lambrusco often has hints of strawberry, tobacco, and violet. Relatively low in tannins, the wine can be a refreshing summer beverage free from the slight bitterness and acidity of some reds and roses. Dry red or rose varieties pair well with pork, salmon, sausages, and cold cuts, while dry whites enhance the flavor of fish or chicken. Semi-sweet Lambrusco makes an excellent pairing with antipasto and cheese, dessert, or fresh fruit.

Lambrusco wines taste best when chilled to about 60 degrees Fahrenheit (15.5 degrees Celsius) before serving. Some may appreciate chilling a dry white variety to the same temperature as a Champagne or other effervescent wine. Once a bottle is opened, the wine should be drunk immediately or securely corked and finished in a day or two.

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Discussion Comments
By strawCake — On Sep 22, 2011

@starrynight - I like Lambrusco a lot too. I had no idea it had such a long history though! I think it's so cool the grapes date from the time period of the Etruscans. Drinking it is almost like celebrating history!

I also like that it has a slightly lower alcohol content than most wines. I'm kind of a lightweight, but I really love the taste of wine. The lower alcohol content lets me drink more Lambrusco than I normally would be able to.

By starrynight — On Sep 21, 2011

So interesting! I had no idea there was any kind of wine that was best enjoyed young as opposed to aged. I feel like most wine gets better with age and people make a really big deal about the age of the wine.

I have had lambrusco before though. I have to admit, I have a weakness for sparkling wines. And dry red wine! When I heard there was a wine that was both fizzy and a dry red, I had to try it. I think lambrusco tastes delicious with a cheese plate, but sometimes I like to drink it by itself!

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