Italy is my soul’s true home. I spent a glorious few weeks there just before borders closed, and we all went to our respective homes for our long timeout. Here, I’m sharing some of my favorite wine experiences from that last grand Italian adventure. For this, the last of a three-part series, we are visiting Modena for some Lambrusco.
Curious wine lovers – join me on this journey. No wine snobs allowed. (Not that you are one.) We’re off to Modena in Emilia-Romagna, the gastronomic heart of Italy. This is the home of Parmigiano Reggiano, real Balsamico, and Chef Massimo Bottura. And, incidentally, Pavarotti, Ferrari and Maserati. Their wine? Lambrusco.
The reason I warn against snobbery is that this wine has suffered a bad rap. It’s red, it’s fizzy, sometimes it’s sweet (but not usually), and for a long time most of what was exported to the world was pretty awful. But those days are (mostly) over.
In the past decade or so, makers of Lambrusco have banded together to revive its reputation. By focusing on quality over quantity, they’re making a more consistent product.
The Grapes, The Regions, The Styles
Lambrusco is actually a family of at least 60 grape varieties. It is the oldest family of native grapes in Italy. It’s been around since the time of the Etruscans and was a favorite of the Romans. Lambrusco has very dark purple skinned grapes with lots of juice. The most common varieties are Grasparossa, Sorbara, and Salamino. Each of these is also associated with a particular region or style and have their own DOCs to prove it.
Although Lambrusco grows anywhere from Piedmont to Basilicata, it’s concentrated in Emilia-Romagna. Especially in and around Modena. Despite this, the DOP of Lambrusco di Modena was not established until 2009.
The Modena style almost always has fizz to it. How the fizz gets there is up to the producer. You may find some higher-priced bottlings made in the traditional method (like Champagne). But, you’re more likely to find good quality, average-priced wines made in the Charmat method (like Prosecco). Want to know if it’s dry or sweet? You’ll find reference to this right on the label. Secco means bone dry to dry, Amabile means off-dry, and Dolce means sweet.
Opera|02 (zehro dué) da Ca’ Montanari
Lambrusco may have ancient roots, but this boutique winery is still new to the game. Enrico Montanari founded the winery in 2002 (hence the 02 in the name). This organic farm is much more than a vineyard and winery. It’s also a balsamico producer (with estate grown Trebbiano grapes), a Michelin-awarded restaurant, and eco-minded resort.
The first time I tried their wines was over 10 years ago, and I’ve been a fan ever since. When I had the opportunity to visit the property in person this past February, I was thrilled. We tasted through the full line of wines. Unfortunately, not all are distributed in the US, but you can find the Opera Secco online in the US (see below). To read more about the other wines, their vinegar production, and my visit to the winery, visit me on Wander, Eat, and Tell.
My Review of 2019 Opera Secco Lambrusco
The 2019 vintage is a blend of 95% Grasparossa and 5% Salamino varieties. This Lambrusco has deep, dark purple color and ruby-violet mousse (the fizz). It can’t help but make you smile – a party in a glass!
Those frothy bubbles disperse the dark cherry and fresh grape aromas. Raspberry juice, tart plum, and red cherry pour over your palate. But, it’s not all about the fruit- this wine has structure. It in part is coming from the plush fruit tannins; also from the soft luscious mousse. The structure in no way overwhelms the palate. This is a medium-bodied wine that leaves a fresh crisp finish.
Lambrusco is meant to enjoy young and chilled. They typically have low alcohol, especially for reds. The Opera Secco comes in at 11% ABV. Less than most whites we drink.
Lambrusco is food-friendly – perhaps even more so with the types of foods we eat in the “new world” in the heat of summer. Lambrusco loves a plate of salumi and good Italian cheese with some olives and nuts. It also loves spicy foods, and the flavors of Southeast Asia. How about a great bo ssäm Korean feast? Our friends at SommsTable paired theirs (inspired by David Chang’s Momofuku Cookbook) with a flight of Rieslings. I’m sticking with my Lambrusco!
Here on Eat Something Sexy, we have an easier option: Korean-style Beef Stew that’s flavors will fit the bill. Or, to go a bit more Italian (via California), try Short Ribs with Black Mission Figs. Whatever you choose – barbecue ribs, burgers, mole taco, or a big piece of Parmigiano Reggiano drizzled with good balsamico, enjoy!
Opera|02 da Ca’ Montanari Opera Secco is available online (at the time of publication) at Millesima and at Oak & Barrel. Both are in New York but will ship (subject to shipping laws). You can also order directly from the winery.
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