Lambrusco is the name of both a red wine grape and an Italian wine made principally from the grape. The grapes and the wine originate from four zones in Emilia-Romagna and one in Lombardy, principally around the central provinces of Modena, Parma, Reggio nell'Emilia, and Mantua. The grape has a long winemaking history with archaeological evidence indicating that the Etruscans cultivated the vine. In Roman times, the Lambrusco was highly valued for its productivity and high yields with Cato the Elder stating that produce of two thirds of an acre could make enough wine to fill 300 amphoras.
The most highly rated of its wines are the frothy, frizzante (slightly sparkling) red wines that are designed to be drunk young from one of the five Lambrusco denominazione di origine controllata (DOC) regions: Lambrusco Grasparossa di Castelvetro, Lambrusco di Sorbara, Lambrusco Salamino di Santa Croce, Lambrusco Reggiano, and Lambrusco Mantovano. Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, Lambrusco was the biggest selling import wine in the United States. During that time the wine was also produced in a white and rosé style made by limiting the skin contact with the must.
Sparklingness in a glass of "Lambrusco Grasparossa di Castelvetro"The Lambrusco grape has shown itself prone to developing several clones and sub varieties to where there is no one singular "Lambrusco grape". The most commonly found clones are the Grasparossa, Maestri, Marani, Monstericco, Salamino and Sorbara. The grape vine are often trained high above the ground to prevent the development of mildew. Historically the vines were trained to climb up poplar trees. The grape itself is not particularly sweet but many of the sweet Lambrusco are made by either partial fermentation or with the addition of the sweeter Ancellotta grapes to the blend. When not fermented sweet, the Lambrusco grape is capable of producing a dry wine with strawberry notes and a slight bitter finish.
By the end of the 20th century, ampelographers had identified over 60 varieties of Lambrusco scattered throughout Italy including-Piedmont, Sicily and the Veneto. The most widely planted variety is the Salamino clone.
Although traditional Lambrusco is an almost entirely cork-stopped, dry (secco) red wine, the Lambrusco Reggiano DOC is also used to make amabile (slightly sweet) and dolce (sweet) versions of Lambrusco through use of up to 15 percent of the Ancellotta grape. Sweet Lambrusco wine became hugely popular in the United States in the late 1970s-1980s when over 3 million cases were exported there each year. The first dry, cork-finished, limited production DOC Lambrusco was introduced in the United States in 1995 (Medici Ermete, Lambrusco Salamino DOC 'Concerto' 1994, 11.5% ABV). The wine is noted for high acidity and berry flavors. Many of the wines now exported to the United State include a blend of Lambrusco from the different DOC and is sold under the Indicazione Geografica Tipica (IGT) designation Emilia.
The wine is rarely made in a "champagne" style. It is typically made using the Charmat process where a second fermentation is conducted in a pressurized tank.
- Lambrusco Grasparossa di Castelvetro- The smallest wine producing region located south of the town of Modena. The region is home to the Grasparossa clone of which the DOC requires 85% of the wine to be composed of. The wine of this region is typically dry and full bodied with a deep purplish-red coloring. The Grasparossa clone produces the most tannic Lambrusco.
- Lambrusco Mantovano- The only Lambrusco region outside of Emilia-Romagna, in the Lombardy region. This style is typically dry but some semi-dry styles are also made.
- Lambrusco Reggiano- The largest producing region of Lambrusco and the source of most of the exported DOC designated wines. The 4 clones of Lambrusco grape that can be used are Maestri, Marani, Monstericco and Salamino. Up to 15% of added Ancellotta grapes are permitted in the DOC as well. The sweet versions of the wine are typically in the light bodied frizzante style while the drier wines are more full bodied and darker in color.
- Lambrusco Salamino di Santa Croce- Located 7 miles (11 km) west of the village Sorbara, the wines of this region must be composed of at least 90% of the local Salamino clone. The wines are typically light in color and body with a frizzante style being both made in both semi-sweet and dry styles. The clone gets its name from the resemblance of the grape clusters to a sausage of salami.
- Lambrusco di Sorbara- Located north of Modena near the village of Sorbara, the Sorbara clone of Lambrusco is generally regarded as the highest quality clone producing the most fragrant wines. It has some similarities to the Salamino clone but produces a darker and more fuller bodied wine. The color can range from a deep ruby to a purplish hue. In this wine region only the Sorbara and Salamino clones are permitted in the DOC designated wine with at least 60% needing to be from the Sorbara. Along with the Salamino clone, the Sorbara varieties tend to produce the most acidic wines. One of the reasons why this clone tend to produce the highest quality Lambrusco is the tendency of the vine to drop its flowers which reduces yields and concentrates flavors.