Here’s the thing. There’s this old Italian precept that says you can only write about Lambrusco if you’re drinking Lambrusco. Maybe bear that in mind as you read.
No really, but listen, listen. What? Nah, I’m fine. I’m fine. That … happened earlier. In the cab, the bag opened up and. Y’know, some … yeah.
It’s not often we take to the interwaves to shill on behalf of a wine; ordinarily we pop it on the tea-stained list, ask everybody to shut their eyes and pin the tail on the donkey. But Lambrusco’s a funny marsupial. Needs to be coaxed out of its hole. And when it comes, it comes darkly, lurking at the fringes. You really need to get your thumbs under the curves of that cork before you’re going to see what it’s made of. Like taking off Lois Lane’s glasses.
Thing is, it comes out of the gate limping. Not its fault though. See, history hasn’t treated Lambrusco kindly. That syrupy plasma your Auntie Dorothy used to drink in 1979? The stuff you’d steal from her drinks cabinet, mix with Baileys, Malibu and Kahlua, then collapse hyperglycemic in the airing cupboard trying to remember your lips? Yeah, that was also called Lambrusco. I know, I know, it’s like trying to sell people Lee Majors in Hamlet.
But that stuff was sweet, blended with fresh grape juice to satisfy a palate weaned on Wonder Woman. Today’s Lambrusco is dry, almost furrily so, with the faintest hint of bitterness. Also, Auntie Dorothy’s was fizzy, TaB fizzy, baking-soda-and-vinegar-in-a-Play-doh-volcano fizzy. Ours purrs like a black cat. Yes, it’s frizzante; hits the glass with a plume of purple froth. But don’t be fooled. That’s just the genie coming out of the bottle, grabbing a breath before he does his three wishes thing (that I get drunk/that my pizza comes soon/that I get more Lambrusco). By the time you put it to your lips it has settled to a kind of … prickle. None of that ‘bubbles the size of pool-balls’ thing. Just something to take the flatness off the landscape, windmills at Kinderdijk.
Not convinced? How about a field-trip to Bologna, the food capital of Italy, where they guzzle the stuff like Uncle Derek at Cousin Abigail’s wedding before he fell in the latrine. And those Bolognese know a thing or two about wine. Pretty much all Lambrusco is produced no more than an uncontrolled cork-pop from their weird due torri. Ours – Barbolini Lambrusco Grasparossa di Castelvetro – is from vineyards south of Modena, Emilia-Romagna, where they’ve been making it since they were Etruscans. Want a second opinion? How about Cato the Elder, who insisted that two-thirds of an acre could produce enough Lambrusco to fill 300 amphoras? Or Eric Asimov in The New York Times, who says ‘I’ve been on a genuine Lambrusco kick for some years now, and I’ve been delighted to see delicious evidence of its rebirth here in New York.’ And I’ve seen the guy. He looks perfectly normal. Not at all like Charles Laughton in The Hunchback of Notre Dame. Or, indeed, your Auntie Dorothy.
Most pertinently, it’s the perfect Table on Ten red. Perhaps not the ideal pairing for Armagnac-drowned Ortolan in Saint-Germain-des-Prés; but for great sourdough pizza roasted in a wood-oven in the Catskills with a root vegetable salad? Unbeatable. Inexpensive, unpretentious and a tiny bit lower in alcohol, so you don’t have to feel guilty for drinking the whole bottle. If we were given to being unscrupulous, we’d give it away for free. For a couple of weeks. Till you’re all hooked. 7 in the morning, knocking at our cellar door. ‘I love you, baby. Can I have some more?’.