It’s bubbly, dark red, and popping up on wine menus across Edmonton.
Lambrusco might seem like an odd wine to many North Americans, as we aren’t very familiar with sparkling reds. That is changing, however, as more local restaurants are embracing Lambrusco for its refreshing versatility and excellent food-pairing ability.
“Originally we brought it in because we wanted to drink it ourselves,” says Mike Angus, owner of Pip. “But, more importantly, it’s the best of all wine worlds: it’s got complexity due to skin contact; it’s sparkling; and it’s served chilled — which makes it a perfect aperitif to drink by itself, or to pair with food.”
Lambrusco hails from Italy and can vary dramatically in style and flavour. Some are off-dry, even sweet, with an inky purple colour, crimson bubbles, an intense grapey-floral bouquet and creamy sweet flavours of cherries and blackberry jam. Others are dry and austere, ranging from pale rosé to medium red, with aromas of violets and orange blossoms and delicate, tangy rhubarb-like flavours. Most Lambrusco is made using the Charmat method of tank fermentation (the same way that Prosecco is made), but the highest quality bottles are made using the Champagne method.
You’re most likely to find Lambrusco at Edmonton’s various Italian restaurants, including Bar Bricco and Cibo Bistro. Pip has also offered it since opening in 2017. Angus says that while patrons aren’t always familiar with Lambrusco, Pip’s servers often suggest it. “Most people are unsure what to make of it at first,” he says. “But once they’re hooked, they’re super loyal to the style.”
RGE RD was also an early adopter of Lambrusco; it has offered it on its wine menu for over three years. Caitlin Fulton, general manager and co-owner of RGE RD, says that “for us, it’s a no-brainer because it’s so good with meat and charcuterie.” She has noticed an uptick in interest in Lambrusco recently, which is in keeping with a rising interest in it across North America; she was in Vancouver in 2019 and noticed it on many menus by the glass.
Sweet styles of Lambrusco can be a bit cloying, kind of like bubbly jam – this style was popular a few decades ago and contributed to its bad reputation on the international market. But this also means that there are a lot of great value Lambruscos out there. Plus, while the sweeter styles may not be enjoyable on their own (unless you have a sweet tooth), they make surprisingly good pairings with a range of meats, such as smoked ham or spicy chorizo sausage; they’re even great with burgers or steak.