How to Choose a Lambrusco Wine, Italy’s Iconic Red Bubbly

How to Choose a Lambrusco Wine, Italy’s Iconic Red Bubbly

Thought sparkling wine only came in white? Then you’ve never had the pleasure of drinking Lambrusco wine.

Produced using the same winemaking methods as other sparkling wines, Lambrusco is light and bubbly. Because the grape skins are left on during production, Lambrusco comes in reddish hues from pretty pink to deep red. This means it’s acidic and refreshing (like Prosecco) but with tannic, red wine qualities.

Tragically, many people think of this northern Italian staple as a sweet, soda-like wine that they wouldn’t let near their picnic basket.

In this article, we explain why we love Lambrusco and why it’s the perfect guest to invite along to your next summery day out with charcuterie or cozy night in with pizza. 

We’ll guide you through what to expect, from how it tastes, where it grows, and how to best serve it. Plus, we explore the many different styles the Lambrusco grape has to offer.

What Is Lambrusco Wine?

Lambrusco is almost exclusively produced in Italy. While the rest of the world is slow to forgive the sparkling red wine’s past reputation, the Italians are still big fans. It’s not unusual to see locals sipping on this bubbly red throughout northern Italy.

However, due to the wine boom of the 1970s, Lambrusco can’t seem to shake its reputation as a cheap, sickly drink outside of Italy. We’re here to tell you that Lambrusco is definitely worth another try.

Lambrusco is a red sparkling wine with a color that varies with the style. While some are a deep purply red, others are as light as rosé.

There are over 60 related varieties of the Lambrusco grape, all native to Italy. The six most common are:

  • Lambrusco Grasparossa
  • Lambrusco Maestri
  • Lambrusco Marani
  • Lambrusco Montericco
  • Lambrusco Salamino
  • Lambrusco di Sorbara

Lambrusco wine is a mix of several of the grape varieties, as each has a specific flavor profile.

Similar to other Italian sparkling wines (like our friend Prosecco) Lambrusco has high levels of acidity, and low to medium alcohol levels at around 10-11.5% ABV. And because Lambrusco is made with the red grape skins kept intact, it has higher levels of tannins.

Where Is Lambrusco Wine Produced?

Other than a few (comparably) tiny vineyards in Australia and Argentina, Lambrusco is predominantly produced in northern Italy.

The wine’s home is Emilia-Romagna, a beautiful region also famous for Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, balsamic vinegar, and Prosciutto di Parma. The whole region is an indulgent picnic just waiting to happen!

Types of Lambrusco Wine

There are several varieties of Lambrusco, each with a distinct flavor and style. Here are a few notable examples.

Lambrusco Salamino

This delicious Lambrusco is usually produced to be semisecco (semi-sweet) or dolce (sweet). It has a deep red color and red fruit flavors.

Lambrusco di Sorbara

Unlike Salamino, Sorbara is light in color and flavor. Sorbara has delicate aromas, floral tasting notes, and a light pink hue. It is a secco Lambrusco (dry wine) so great for anyone who doesn’t like sweet bubbly.

Lambrusco Grasparossa

On the other end of the spectrum, Grasparossa is bold, deeply colored, and high in tannins. This Lambrusco has common tasting notes of blackcurrants and other deep fruit flavors.

Lambrusco Mantovano

Unlike the rest of the wines featured in this article, Mantovano is not produced in Emilia-Romagna, but finds its home in Lombardy. This Lambrusco is usually secco (dry).

How Is Lambrusco Wine Made?

Lambrusco wine: person holding the tip of a bottle of red wine from Usual Wines

Lambrusco is made much the same way other sparkling wines are made. However, unlike white sparkling wines, the red grape skins are left on during maturation. The contact with the skins gives the wine its red hue and plenty of tannic qualities.

Once this simple wine is produced, the winemaker must make it bubbly by putting it through a second fermentation. This is most commonly done via a process called the Charmat method, in which the sugar and yeast are added to the wine in a large metal tank. As the sugar ferments, it creates carbon dioxide (which creates bubbles).

Next, the winemaker adds a sweet wine mixture called a dosage, which sweetens the wine and levels of the acidity. The level of dosage depends on what style of Lambrusco the winemaker is creating. The sweeter styles will have a higher dosage and dry styles will have less.

When the winemaker is happy with the sweetness levels, the wine is bottled.

Lambrusco wines made using this winemaking method are not as fizzy as some sparkling wines, such as Cava or Champagne. Instead, they’re semi-sparkling, or as the Italians say, frizzante.

What Does Lambrusco Wine Taste Like?

While dry Lambruscos, like Lambrusco di Sorbara, have floral qualities, such as violets and orange blossom, sweeter styles, like Lambrusco Salamino, have distinct cherry tasting notes.

However, if you’re trying Lambrusco for the first time and you’re not too sure what style it is, you can expect to taste berry flavors, such as strawberry and blackcurrant. You may also detect notes of rhubarb and even potting soil.

How to Serve Lambrusco Wine

For foolproof pairing options look to the dishes of Lambrusco’s homeland, Italy. 

Lambrusco’s high acidity makes it an ideal option to pair alongside rich prosciutto. The fresh zingy flavors cut right through the fat and won’t overwhelm the intense cured meat.

Sticking with the meaty theme, a charcuterie board is another perfect option to serve with Lambrusco. Just make sure you opt for Italian meats, such as finocchiona (fennel salami).

If you find yourself with a full-bodied Lambrusco you could pair it with a meaty dish, such as lamb or BBQ ribs. Or keep it simple with pizza and Lambrusco — the two are meant to be together.

Lambrusco is best served chilled. The perfect temperature is around 45-55 degrees Fahrenheit, so pop it in the fridge for an hour or so, then take it out 15 minutes before serving.

Unlike Prosecco or Champagne, Lambrusco is not traditionally served in a flute. A universal wine glass is perfect, or just a standard white wine glass works well too. In Italy, Lambrusco is often served in a tumbler or even an empty jam jar!

As you can see, this fuss-free wine is supposed to be sipped casually at lunch. And why not? The low alcohol content means you could have a glass or two and still have the legs to get on with the rest of your day.

Paint the Town Red

person with a bottle of red wine from Usual Wines on their arm

For anyone looking for a bit of change to their sparkling wine love affair, Lambrusco is a great option. Not only is this fizzy red low in alcohol and high in acidity, but there are many styles to discover.

While some wine snobs have turned their backs on Lambrusco, you should definitely give this Italian stallion a go. Just remember, you don’t have to drink it sweet. There are drier styles on the market, you just may need to hunt around a little bit.

All in all, this fun and fruity wine is a fuss-free option. Perfect with Italian cured meats, pizza, or a meaty BBQ, it’s ideal for casual drinking. Bring it along to your next boozy hangout and party like the Italians do.