Banfi’s Lambrusco seminar at the 2015 Wine Bloggers Conference (WBC15) inspired the focus for this year’s tasting. In the WBC15 session, I learned that Lambrusco is the most purchased Italian red wine in U.S. retail chain stores. And, I realized that while I love ordering Lambrusco out at restaurants, I knew very little about the wine, I rarely bought a bottle to drink at home, and even less frequently wrote about it on the blog. So, I decided while still at the conference that 2016 was the year I would publically embrace Lambrusco, and what better way to do that than by organizing a Lambrusco wine dinner for my work colleagues.
At least once a year, my department does a team-building event. Several months after I started at this job, I offered to do an Albariño wine tasting for one of these gatherings. Since then, our annual staff bonding has occurred over food and wine. Usually, it’s just for the 15 people in my division that are located in DC. This year, however, the tasting ended up being while the regional members of our team were in town, so our size actually doubled. None of my coworkers are wine experts and only a couple could even recall ever having a Lambrusco before our dinner.
In case you’re unfamiliar with the wine, Lambrusco is a sparkling red wine made from a family of grapes that are unique to the Emilia-Romagna region of Italy. This northern part of the country is about the size of Massachusetts and is particularly well known for the food that comes from the area. Therefore, it’s no surprise that Lambrusco makes for a perfect wine pairing with many of these items.
As luck would have it, one of my favorite Italian restaurants in DC–Osteria Morini–specializes in food from the Emilia-Romagna, so there was no question about holding the wine tasting dinner there.
There were 6 different Lambruschi (the plural of Lambrusco), ranging from dry to sweet, as well as from pale in color like a rose to inky purple like a sparkling red wine.
Donelli Lambrusco di Sorbara (winery)
SRP: $15 (purchased in restaurant for $40 a bottle)
Grapes: 90% Lambrusco di Sorbara and 10% Lambrusco Salamino
Medium pink color with flecks of ruby and a pale pink foam
Roses and violets mixed with strawberries and raspberries
Lighter bodied with bright acidity.
Albinea Canali “FB” (winery, snooth)
SRP: $20 (*provided as a sample)
Grapes: 100% Lambrusco Sorbara
Fresh and fruity with lots of strawberries and hints of yeastiness that comes from the second fermentation in the bottle
Lighter bodied with refreshing tartness
Albinea Canali Ottocentonero (winery, snooth)
SRP: $20 (*provided as a sample)
Grapes: 50% Lambrusco Salamino, 40% Lambrusco Grasparossa, and 10% Lancellotta
Darker ruby with hints of purple and a pinkish foam
Cherries and blackcurrant on the nose
Flower petals and sour cherry in the mouth
Dry, almost bitter finish with bright acidity, but pleasantly so.
Riunite (website, snooth)
SRP: $7 (*provided as a sample)
Grapes: Lambrusco Maestri, Lambrusco Marani, Lambrusco Salamino, Lambrusco Montericco, and Lancellotta
Dark ruby with hints of violet and purplish, foamy top.
Big and fruity—strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, and cherries
Medium bodied with soft tannins.
2013 Fattoria Moretto Monovitigno
Cost: $25 from Wine Library
Grapes: 100% Lambrusco Grasparossa
Dark, purplish ruby with a nice foam top
Mixture of strawberries and blackberries with hints of sour cherry, rose petals, and something herby
Medium bodied with soft tannins
Hint of sweetness
Bell’Agio (website, snooth)
SRP: $15 (*provided as a sample)
Grapes: Lambrusco Salamino and Lambrusco Grasparossa
Dark ruby with hints of purple and foamy top
Mixture of raspberry and blackberries
Full-bodied with a bit of acid and soft tannins
Luscious and sweet
What I still love about these wine dinners is that they’re not just about the wines, but also about experiencing the wines with good food and company. And, the restaurant definitely didn’t let us down when it came to good food.
The evening started with a cheese and charcuterie board to go with our first Lambrusco–the Donelli Lambrusco di Sorbara, which is the only bottle we opened from the restaurants wine list. The Lambrusco and the boards were enjoyed cocktail hour style, with everyone standing our talking, eating, and sipping away. After that, we sat down to dinner at two long tables, where we indulged in a 4-course, family style dinner.
After the about 30 minutes of standing around talking, we settled into our seats for dinner. The Albinea Canali “FB” was served with the antipasti course–Polpo alla Piastra (charred octopus, fregola, and tomato); Polpettine (mortadella & prosciutto meatballs, pomodoro), which is one of my favorite dishes at Osteria Morini, and Burrata (house-made mozzarella, grapefruit, and pistachio). The FB is a lighter, drier style of Lambrusco. And, while the FB paired nicely with all three dishes, I could not get enough of combining it with the octopus. I kept taking a sip of wine, then a bit of octopus, and another sip of wine. It was one of the few dishes I went back for seconds on, even knowing how much more food was left to come.
For the second course (or Primi course), we opened the Albinea Canali Ottocentonero to drink with three different pasta dishes–a Rigatoni (made with braised wild mushrooms, rosemary oil, and parmigiano), a Gramigna (made with pork sausage, carbonara, and pecorino), and a Cassarecce (a squid ink pasta with scallops, squid, rapini, and calabrian chili). The Gramigna is usually my go-to dish at the restaurant, but I think that’s because I never had the Cassarecce before. The Cassarecce was my favorite of the night, and when put with the acidity and flavors of the Lambrusco, both the food and the wine came to life in a way that took what was already enjoyable individually and just made them sing together.
The main course (or secondi) actually featured two Lambruschi–Riunite and 2013 Fattoria Moretto Monovitigno–and they were paired with several different types of meats–Anatra (duck breast, spaetzle, trumpet mushrooms, spinach, radish); Branznio (Mediterranean seabass, chickpeas, charred broccoli, taggaisca olives, and bagna cauda); and Grigliata Mista (lamb porterhouse, pork ribs, chicken sausage, and hanger steak). Our side dishes, which I somehow missed getting a picture of, were Patata Fritti (crispy red bliss potatoes with pecorino) and Spinaci (buttered spinach).
The Riunite has a bit of sweetness, definitely more than the Fattoria Moretto Monovitigno, but that made the pairings even more interesting because everyone agreed that both wines matched the food beautifully. Several coworkers mentioned that they never really experienced a “good” pairing and the difference it can make in how the wine and the food both taste, but that this course really highlighted the possibilities for them.
It’s also worth noting that during this course, we tasted both the least and most expensive wines of the night. Interestingly, they were also both the favorite wines of the night. When it came to these two in particular, since we were tasting side-by-side, I asked everyone to show their hand for preferences before reveling the cost of the retail cost of the wines, and it was split almost exactly down the middle.
Finally, we finished the evening off with our last Lambrusco–the Bell’Agio–and dessert (Dolci course). This Lambrusco was the sweetest of the night, and its sweetness was particularly nice with the flavors of the Tiramisu (mascarpone mousse, lady finger, amaretto, and coffee crema) and Torta al Cioccolato (chocolate ganache and praline crunch).
Overall, the tasting was a huge success! I’ve had several coworkers follow-up when they’ve ordered Lambrusco at a restaurant or bought a bottle to share at home, and that is the ultimate sign of success for me. A special thanks to Joe and Dino at Banfi for generously providing 4 of the 6 wines we tasted and to Jonna, Rubio, and the rest of the Osteria Morini DC team for an unforgettably delicious evening.
Question of the Day: Have you ever had Lambrusco? If so, what are your thoughts on the type of wine? Do you have a favorite?