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Lab Notes


Lambrusco—no, not the stuff from the 70s!

November 3, 2023

Karin Rockstad, Spanish translator/English editor, WSET Educator, SWS, FWS, IWS, Albariño Ambassador, Certified Advanced Cava Educator, Sommelier 1


I spent some time in Italy last month. Yes, most people think of the big players of Chianti or Piemonte when you mention Italian wines; however, I went local and native.

I went to Bassa Lombardia, or Lower Lombardy. The province stretches southeast and kind of snuggles between Veneto and Emilia-Romagna. The Mincio River flows through the city of Mantova (Mantua) and meets the mighty Po River, which makes up the border between Lombardia and Emilia-Romagna. It's on this flat plain that the small Lambrusco Mantovano DOC can be found. This is the only appellation outside Emilia-Romagna that makes wines from Lambrusco grapes.

Here's a little backstory. Lambrusco is not just a single grape variety, but several. The three main ones grown in Emilia-Romagna are Lambrusco di Sorbara, Lambrusco Grasparossa, and Lambrusco Salamino. Most wines are made from a blend of two or three of them. These examples can be light and delicate or more structured and fuller-bodied. Yes, the light, sweet fizz that became so popular in the 70s and 80s came from the area around Reggio Emilia. However, classic Italian Lambrusco is dry or off-dry with a hint of bitterness.

It's this dry, but slightly bitter finish that I encountered at dinner in Mantova. A group of wine-centric friends and colleagues met at Vino Esclamativo! for an evening of local food with wines to match. A father and son run the place and they were welcoming and knowledgeable. The young chef came out before each course to explain the dish and what wine he paired with it.

The Lambrusco Mantovano DOC has two sub-zones: Oltrepò Mantovano and Viadenese-Sabbionetano, whose names can appear on the label. Just like in Emilia-Romagna, wines are usually a blend of Lambrusco grapes, but there is an additional one in this little corner of the world. The native grape here is Lambrusco Viadenese and it is usually the majority of the blend. The wines are a dark red, almost black color, slightly fizzy with aromas of geranium, violet, and cherry. They have a bit of tannin to them and that classic, slightly bitter finish.

This went beautifully with a pork and rice dish. The Po River Valley is a huge producer of rice.

This combination definitely did not bring back memories of the sweet stuff that was my gateway into wine several decades back. You can see in the picture how dark and substantial this wine is. It was savory and punchy, perfect with the seasoned pork. Graševina was always my go-to for pork, but Lambrusco Mantovano is now another great option!

Intrigued? Check out more local wine information from the local consortium here. The area has other local grapes that you've never heard of and should surely try, and the city of Mantova itself is definitely worth a visit!




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