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Published: 21 August 2008

The Emilia-Romagna region of Italy – home of Lambrusco wines and great food
Thought the fad had fizzled out? Red Lambrusco is back!

Forget the sweet, frothy white stuff – there’s a much more sophisticated wine making the headlines

LAST week’s launch by Marks & Spencer of Autentico, a sparkling red Lambrusco from Italy, has certainly aroused interest. The story was featured on the news pages of several national and regional newspapers, and continues to generate comment in wine columns and on the internet.
Lambrusco, better known in the UK as a fizzy white wine, has an awful reputation and a very low price. Asda sell a full-sized bottle of the white for £1.50; this new red version retails at £7.49. M&S say forget white Lambrusco, their new wine is the real thing which, until now, was rarely found outside Italy.
Malcolm Gluck, writing in Saturday’s Guardian, was sceptical. He liked red Lambrusco, but believed it would not appeal to wine drinkers in this country. Recently, when asked by a neighbour to recommend a wine in an Italian restaurant, he had suggested a red Lambrusco.
The recommendation was not appreciated and the nation’s most entertaining and controversial wine writer now finds himself the subject of a disdainful “harrumph” whenever their paths cross.
Red Lambrusco – an early example of a mass-produced wine – was throughout the 1970s, the top-selling imported wine in the US. Low in alcohol and easy drinking with a sugary sweetness, it was the ideal party choice for a generation raised on Coca-Cola. With the arrival of less-industrialised, drier wines in the 1980s, it soon fell out of favour with America’s middle-class wine drinkers.
Now that these newer wines have themselves become mass produced and industrialised, a new generation of Americans are turning to older, more authentic wines, with long histories and established winemaking traditions. Red Lambrusco is one of these.
Whereas Los Angeles was the launch pad for Prosecco, the Italian sparkling white wine featured in this column last week, New York is home to the growing red Lambrusco revival.
This is not simply a trip into Retroland. Lower yields and more careful fermentation have improved quality. Today’s red Lambrusco is drier and more concentrated, with a higher alcohol content (though still only 11%) than its 70s counterpart. This is the latest manifestation of an ancient wine that can trace its origins back to the Etruscans.
The name Lambrusco refers to the red grapes used to produce both the white and red versions. Grape juice is usually white, it is contact with fermenting red skins that convey the reddish colours to the white juice.
Growing mainly in the Emilia-Romagna region of northern Italy, the high-yielding Lambrusco vines produce several different wines, ranging in taste from very sweet to bone dry.
The M&S version is classed medium dry (rated 3) and has a prickly, sour red fruit taste that is pleasantly balanced by a hint of sweetness. Served on Monday at a wine panel dinner, the touch of sweetness and high acidity made it an ideal accompaniment to a main course of spaghetti bolognese – one of the many great classic dishes emanating from its home region. It will also work well with Mexican and other spicy foods.

* Autentico Reggiano Lambrusco, red, vino frizzante (semi-sparkling), 75cl, 2007, 11% alcohol. M&S £7.49, (limited availability). Our bottle came from the Marble Arch branch.

* Sainsbury’s Lambrusco, Rosso, red, (partially fermented, semi-sparkling) 75cl, n/v, 5% alcohol. Most large Sainsbury’s £1.88. A taste of the retro wine that lubricated party-going Americans back in the seventies. Cheap, frothy and very sweet (rated 7).

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