I’m a bit young to have experienced the Lambrusco heyday in 70-80s when literally gallons of commercial, crappy, mostly white sparkling wine labelled Lambrusco flooded the US & Northern Europe. All the same the residual memory of that time is somehow etched into my consciousness and Lambrusco was a wine that I assumed was cheap, nasty and not for me. How wrong I was!
So what changed? Well I was introduced to the beautiful purple frothing good stuff via two personal recommendations from trusted sources.
First off, we were enjoying a meal in a rustic restaurant in Nice, Restaurant Gesu, it served traditional fare, which being so close to Northern Italy meant a fusion of French and Italian cuisine.
My uncle Pascal orders the wine for dinner. He orders Lambrusco – my husband scoffs – I keep an open mind, Pascal has impeccable taste when it comes to wine, perhaps Lambrusco is not as bad as I think…
The first revelation is that Lambrusco is red not white. Lambrusco is indeed a red grape variety, the colour from wine comes from the skin not the flesh of the grape, and any white Lambrusco you may have seen has been vinified without the skins.
It is lightly sparkling and enjoys a refreshing spritz and beautiful purple foam, it was fairly high in acidity and so went well with the rich meal we enjoyed that evening. But on holiday everything tastes good right?
Unbeknownst to me, my husband had actually purchased a bottle of Lambrusco a week or so before the trip. We were visiting a wine shop in Crouch End, Bottle Apostle and the sales women strongly suggested a bottle of what she described as a red sparkling wine to my husband as he perused the sparkling wine shelf; he was unconvinced and I interjected that I’m not fond of red sparkling wine. She assures us it is a stunning wine and we just have to try.
And so we purchase a bottle.
A week or so after our return from holiday we pop open the bottle of Cleto Chiarli Pruno Nero (£12.60).
It is a seductive red sparkler with a glorious purple foam. We take a sniff, expecting a sweet, fruity nose and instead there is something decidedly savoury there. Confused, I examine the bottle closer and realise we have inadvertently bought a Lambrusco, we take a swig or two and I become deliriously happy to have stumbled on this little sparkling gem of a wine I wouldn’t have normally purchased. So much so, that the following Sunday lunchtime after a long indulgent lie in, I head straight down to Crouch End on a special trip to pick up two more bottle of the lovely stuff.
Lambrusco is the name of both a grape and a wine both found in Emilia-Romagna, Northern Italy mostly around Moderna, Reggio nell’Emilia and Bologna.
There is plenty of mass produced Lambrusco courtesy of enormous co-ops but the real good stuff is produced in the DOC zones of Grasparossa di Castelvetro, Salamino di Santa Croce, Reggiano or Sorbara.
Real Lambrusco is a frothing, bone dry, tart red drink with high acidity and that perfectly complements the rich cooking of the region. It cuts through the richness of Bolognese food admirable, we’ve tried it with Parmigiano Reggiano cheeses, prosciutto di Parma hams and our house special Spaghetti Bolognese and it is a perfect partner. The sweetened stuff exported en mass to Europe and the US is an entirely different kettle of fish.
Cleto Chiarli is a producer from dell’Emilia Romagne with a history that sweeps back to 1860. It is known for producing high-quality wines created by selecting top quality grapes from over 100 hectares of its own vineyards supplemented by neighbouring vineyards.
Cleto Chiarli Pruno Nero NV Lambrusco is produced using the Lambrusco Grasparossa grape variety (the are multiple varieties of Lambrusco, the best being Sorbara, Salamino -so named because the grapes resemble salami – and Grasparossa).
It is fermented at low temperature to retain flavour, and gets its sparkle from the ‘cuve close’ production method –where second fermentation happens in tank rather than bottle, the same method as Prosecco and for similar reasons, to retain primary fruit flavours.
You should definitely serve it gently chilled, 10-12 degrees. This Lambrusco is an attractive wine with a seductive inky ruby red colour and glorious purple froth. It has a pronounced nose of strawberry and red plum but it’s not all fruit there is a deep earthiness to this wine also. Bone dry on the palate it boasts a zippy, lively acidity, very low tannins and a super smooth round velvety taste, with a slight tart twist on the finish. For me this is a dangerously drinkable, well-balanced surprising gem of a wine that has totally made be rethink Lambrusco.