Lambrusco: the sparkling… red wine!
Its singular characteristics are probably due to the extraordinary blend of climate, land and the temperament of the people of emilia: a strange mixture of cordiality, generosity but also forthrightness and candour. Lambrusco is the name of a group of grape varieties with a common matrix. They are similar, but not identical and produce a cheerful, jovial, pleasant, versatile wine that’s ideal for every occasion.
Thanks to its qualities, Lambrusco wine has also become successfully established in countries beyond its homeland and has been one of the world’s most well known and appreciated wines since the ‘70’s. Of ancient and noble origins, Lambrusco has slowly evolved over the years, but its peculiar characteristics have remained more or less the same, having merely been refined and progressively enhanced.
The origins and the role of Contessa Matilde di Canossa
Lambrusco is associated with a group of grape varieties of the same name thought to possess age-old origins, and derives from the term “Labrusca” or “Lambrusca” already known to the Etruscans and Romans.
There are several works of Latin writers in which the name appears: Virgil, who was born near mantua, mentioned Vitis Labrusca in his fifth Eclogue, while Cato spoke of it in De agri cultura, Varro inDe re rustica while, in his Naturalis historia, Pliny the Elder wrote “…the vitis vinifera species whose leaves, like those of the labrusca vine, turn blood-red before they fall…”.
Centuries later, Lambrusco reached the age of Matilde di Canossa (11th century) where the wine growing developments of that time led to an interesting overlap between the lands that formed the Countess’s seat of power and the area in which Lambrusco was habitually cultivated, i.e. starting out from the castle of Canossa and passing through the hills of Reggio and Modena, until reaching the right bank of the river Po in the territory of Mantua, where Matilde di Canossa died.
The tale of the siege of Torre Matildica of Sorbara in 1084 is half-way between history and legend. It seemed that the Countess emerged victorious against the troops of emperor Arrigo V, who put themselves out of action owing to the heat, which drove them to drink too much of the wine produced with Labrusca grapes. Evidence of Lambrusco appears throughout the centuries. In Renaissance times, Andrea Bacci, physician to Pope Sixtus V and botanist, mentioned, in 1567, that “….on the hills below the Apennines, facing Reggio and Modena, they grow lambrusche, red grapes that give sharp wines with plenty of aroma, sparkling evanescently in little golden bubbles when poured into a glass”, while in 1867, Francesco Aggazzotti, who also described balsamic vinegar, proposed one of the first divisions of the three main types of grapes cultivated: Lambrusco della Viola or di Sorbara, Lambrusco Salamino and Lambrusco dai Graspi Rossi, from which all the various different types of Lambrusco wine were to be obtained.
Apart from these quotes and certain other writings, there is no clear historical documentation as to the stages through which Lambrusco has reached the present day. However, one thing is certain, from being considered a poor wine owing to its inability to age expressing, as it does, all its best qualities when young, Lambrusco has become a high quality product exported worldwide. Thanks to its typical effervescence and distinctively fresh and fruited flavour, Lambrusco is the ideal pairing for the culinary traditions in its area of origin. It is a characteristic part of the famous emilian cuisine and more besides: with its personality and versatility, it is also perfect with the most refined dishes and even as an aperitif.