Hello friends. A decent rule of thumb for Italy: if a region is better known for wine than food, expect to pay top dollar for the wine (think Tuscany and Brunello di Montalcino; think Piedmont and Barolo). If a region is better known for food than wine, expect to find serious value.
To wit: Emilia Romagna.
Many of the best-loved foods of Italy come from ER. Parmigiano-Reggiano. Prosciutto di Parma. Balsamico di Modena. Lasagne alla Bolognese. All products of this region.
It’s an embarrassment of riches. Denizens of this swath of northern Italy eat as well as anyone in the world. But what do they drink?
NV Lini 910 Labrusca Rosso
That’s right: Lambrusco.
And not the crap that was exported to the United States (and became hugely popular) in the 1970s and 1980s. That was sweetened into oblivion for the American Coca-Cola palate.
I’m talking about dry, juicy, lightly sparkling, slightly bitter red wine. Ignore this category at your peril, because it is squarely in comeback mode. As serious importers begin bringing in more serious Lambruscos, these wines are only going to grow in popularity.
They are well-priced, insistently versatile wines. They go with a whole host of foods, including some categories that are devilishly difficult pairings (hard cheeses, cured meats). Because they’re such killer food wines, people who love to cook (or even just love to eat) tend to swoon when they first try them.
An example: the best cook in my circle of friends sent me a text a few weeks ago: “We’re drinking Lambrusco from paper cups in our hotel in Portland. I have no shame; this stuff is effing delicious.”
And that underscores another important point about Lambrusco. In the hierarchy of sparkling wines, we’re not in Champagne flute tariff territory; we’re in paper cup tariff territory.
I’ve tasted a bunch of Lambruscos in the past few months, and the category is still a mixed bag. There are bottles that are syrupy-sweet, bottles obliterated by brettanomyces, and bottles that are just plain boring. Fortunately, the Full Pull tasting team powered through those so that you don’t have to.
Instead, try the best value of the bunch, the 910 Labrusca series from Lini. This is a winery that has been making wine in Emilia Romagna since 1910, so their history spans more than a century. The whimsical label perfectly captures the essence of the juice inside, although I will say I don’t recall giving permission for my likeness to be used on the Lini label.
No matter. The wine inside is a low-alc (11%), pulsating blend of indigenous varietals from ER: 85% Lambrusco Salamino and 15% Lambrusco Ancelotta. It is dry and delicious, mixing black cherry fruit with some of the bitters from the cherry pit, balsamic notes, and a chalky earthiness that just won’t quit. There’s way more intensity and complexity than we have any right to expect. This will be a fine beverage for spring and summer (lightly-chilled), and if any of your bottles survive the summer, a good dry Lambrusco is a fine alternative to Beaujolais on the Thanksgiving table. I dare you not to be happier after having a glass (or paper cup) of this; it’s mood enhancement juice.
NV Lini 910 Labrusca Bianco
And now a quick bone for the geeks: Labrusca Bianco. This is 100% Lambrusco Salamino, pressed off the skins immediately, before any red color can sneak in there. There is a slightly oxidative character to the nose, nutty and salty, reminiscent of aged Champagne or fino sherry. The palate is fresh and lively, with raw almond and apple and threads of smoke. Weird and wonderful, and just waiting for those of us who are on Prosecco overload.
First come first served up to 12 bottles total (mix and match as you like), and the wines should arrive in about a week, at which point they will be available for pickup or shipping during the spring shipping window.