ILLUSTRATION BY MARTINA MESSORI
Most Americans think of Lambrusco—a fizzy red particular to Italy’s Emilia-Romagna region—as a sweet wine, and with good reason: Going back to the 1970s, Emilia-Romagna has been shipping a large share of its jammily sweet Lambrusco dolce to our shores.
That impression is changing, however, as Americans have begun to discover the drier, more reserved and refined Lambrusco secco that’s so popular in northeastern Italy. Recent years have seen chefs and celebs alike extol the virtues of the varietal: Prune chef Gabrielle Hamilton served it at her wedding, Wu-Tang Clan rapper Raekwon released his own brand last year, and bottles can be found on wine lists across the country. Now this part of Italy is seeing increased tourism from Americans, like me, who are thirsty for more.
I start in the countryside near Reggio Emilia, at the fifth-generation, family-owned winery Medici Ermete. In the tasting room, co-owner Pierluigi Medici uncorks a bottle of Concerto, a ruby-red wine made from Lambrusco Salamino that has won Gambero Rosso magazine’s prestigious Tre Bicchieri award for 10 consecutive years. Juicy and vividly sparkly, with black cherry and raspberry notes perfectly matched by soft tannins and a mellow acidity, it’s a revelation.
The traditional fizz comes from an old production quirk: Centuries ago, fermentation would be interrupted by the cold of winter and resume in the bottle as the weather warmed in the spring. (While most wineries now carbonate in bulk, a small number of artisanal producers still use the old-school technique.)
Lambrusco is the blood that flows through Emilia-Romagna’s veins—along with motor oil. While leaving a parking garage in Ravenna, I mention to the owner I’m headed to Modena. “When you’re in Modena, you must try Lambrusco di Sorbara,” he replies. “Enzo Ferrari drank only Lambrusco di Sorbara.”
That afternoon, at an osteria on Modena’s Piazza Roma, I find that wine, which takes its name from the nearby village of Sorbara. Pale pink and bone-dry, with a thought-provoking acidity and a whisper of rose hip, it’s more a specter than a wine—one that leaves me just as haunted as the beauty of the region that produced it.
THREE TO TRY
Medici Ermete Concerto
Dive into the red-berry and black-cherry depths of the first dry Lambrusco to be exported to the U.S., back in 1994, and you’ll understand why it’s a favorite in Italy and abroad. $22
Podere Magia Lambrusco dell’Emilia Igt
This rich, traditionally bottle- fermented wine is made from 100 percent Lambrusco Maestri grapes grown bio- dynamically in the Enza Valley, between Reggio Emilia and Parma. $30
Ca’ De’ Medici Lambrusco “Remigio 101” di Sorbara
A dark pink wine with sweet-sour notes of strawberry, melon, and rose hip that pairs beautifully with Parmigiano Reggiano and Prosciutto di Parma. $16