For quite some time, as a wine professional, I’ve seen pushback and prejudice against one wine or another. I remember at the winery where I was the Director of Hospitality & Hedonism, gentlemen from Texas would show up and begin their personalized wine experience with a bold statement of “I don’t drink pink” ~ only to leave with an entire case ordered to be shipped home!!
Preconceived notions are all a part of the stages of wine exploration.
With that in mind, come, trust me, and let’s try something novel, and probably foreign to most of us, on our wine journey - well, until you try it. The broad category of Sparkling Chilled Reds & Pinks. “What?!” you say and then “Yes!” is what you will say again and again once you find the ‘sweet spot’ of this pairing.
Of course, these wines will be great for lightly sweet desserts or go expectedly nicely with an after-dinner cheeseboard - the surprising thing is how food-friendly they really are. So, let’s begin our exploration together with Lambrusco.
Although few in Oside may know this grape and its eponymously named wine, it is quite old. Evidence of the variety dates back to the bronze age. Its home base is the region of Emilia - Romagna, for me the culinary heartland of, well, the culinary heartland - Italy!
It is a deeply hued grape with dusty plum clusters and the juice is often very high in acid, a great attribute when making any sparkling wine. Extended contact with the skins is what elicits both the enchanting red hue of the finished wine and the unexpected? tannins that persist in the finished wine and in the glass.
Lambrusco can be made in the Metodo Classico - that used for champagne, or the more controllable and cost-effective Charmat method, that used for Prosecco. Imagine that you will be paying a premium for the complexity of that bottle conditioned Lambrusco.
Now, this is where it can be an interesting exploration. There are up to 60 different known varieties of Lambrusco, and these have evolved over that very long history so they can be quite distinct.
Here are just a few that you might find more readily:
Lambrusco di Sorbara the lightest, most delicate, and floral. Often light, pink-rose hued. The best versions are a dry and refreshing style with aromas of blossoms, mandarin orange, cherries, violets, and watermelon. This plays well with spicy Thai and Indian cuisine.
Lambrusco Maestri more grapey/vinous with soft and creamy bubbles and subtle notes of milk chocolate, not as readily found solo.
Lambrusco Grasparossa boldest Lambrusco with black currant and blueberries, with moderately high, mouth-drying tannin and a balancing creaminess from the Charmat sparkling production process.
Lambrusco Salamino has cylindrical salami-shaped bunches (which is what the grape is named after). Aromatic qualities like cherries and violets with structure (tannin), creaminess, and deep color like Grasparossa. Often Lambrusco Salamino is made in sweetest styles, including semi-secco and dolce to counterbalance its tannin – oddly enough, the sweetness makes it great for grilled meats.
Pay attention to how color plays a role in the different varieties and individual winery production choices. It is a fact that many of the varieties do not carry the same level of skin pigment as the others, and then the fact that the longer soaking/maceration on the skins will impart color as well as the aforementioned tannins. These can be striking and are most noticeable in the drier darker versions.
Now for pairing and drinking, there is one more distinction, the level of sweetness. Lambrusco can range from Secco (dry) to Dolce (sweet) with a nice happy medium in the many amiable “friendly” bottles that are semisecco/semi-dry. But, for me this is the ah-ha moment…just like turning my Texas gentlemen on to the pleasures of pink wine - starting someone with an unexpected, slightly sweet, deep red chilled Lambrusco can be at first awkward….but then there is the plate with thin slices of sweet and nutty Prosciutto de Parma or San Danielle and the chards of salty, buttery, crunchy Parmigiano Reggiano or Piave Stravecchio and the magic happens…the wine brings the food alive and the food causes the wine to sing (in Italian of course!)
To dial in on the pairing piece. First, home base Emilia-Romagna is already the home base of natural pairing partners; parmesan, prosciutto, balsamic vinegar, bolognese sauce, thick and gooey lasagna al Forno, all natives to this region. Hmm, what’s in common here? some of our most umami-driven Italian flavors and they are happy bedfellows with the different Lambrusco varieties.
Bringing our pairing palate closer to home, these wines are beautiful partners for barbecue, spicy Asian flavors, and roasted and smoky dishes. The sweeter versions play very nicely with berry fruited desserts and chocolates - just be sure the desserts do not overreach their sweetness or the wine turns tart.
So drink pink...it's good stuff!