Among Champagne, prosecco, cava and brut rosé, the sparkling wine market is pretty much cornered by white and pink, but a red contender from Italy is on the rise with a bold take on bubbles. Lambrusco is a sparkling red wine, typically served chilled, that hails from the Emilia-Romagna region of Italy, and in many ways, defies expectations and assumptions about red wine.
Historically produced in places like Modena, a city known more for its prosciutto and balsamic vinegar than its wine, the crimson bubbly has come a long way from its supermarket boom in the 1960s, when it became stereotyped as a syrupy-sweet bottom-shelf bottle typified by brands like Riunite.
“It became considered sort of trash in the ’80s and ’90s,” explained Ian Bennett, certified sommelier and co-founder of The Study wine bar at 701 W. Sheridan Ave. on Film Row. “It was just sweet wine, and there were no producers making traditional Italian Lambrusco in the States for a long time.”
But times have changed, as evidenced by the nuanced Lambruscos being poured at places like The Study, that offer a new kind of sparkling wine that hits tasting notes — and more affordable price points — you won’t find from Champagne.
“In the mid-’90s and early 2000s, you had these younger Italians that were like, ‘Hey, man, we’re tired of people thinking our wine is sweet and trashy; we want to try and take it back,’” said Bennett, pointing to Lambrusco di Sorbara, the name of the grape and the bottle that he pours at The Study, as an exemplar.
Like most wines, Lambrusco ranges from dry to sweet, and it’s more multifaceted than its cloying Riunite tropes. For Bennett, the best Lambruscos are those that bridge the gap, served chilled and paired with anything from appetizers to desserts. He describes his Lambrusco di Sorbara as having balsamic notes on the nose and dark plum, strawberry and cranberry on the palate. Some of his go-to pairing suggestions span from blue cheese salad and asada tacos to gazpacho and chocolate peanut butter pot de creme. It also pairs perfectly, he noted, with a Bar Arbolada cheeseburger.
While Lambrusco is still relatively unknown in Oklahoma City, its versatility and affordability (“a bottle of some of the best Lambrusco you’ll ever taste will be like $30,” Bennett said) engender curiosity from consumers, which signals a sea change in popularity. In addition to The Study, restaurants pouring it by the glass include Blu in Norman, Ludivine and Rococo. Thrown Design & Wine, a boutique at 1712 Spoke St. in the Wheeler District known for its stylish accessories and esoteric wines, also stocks bottles of Lambrusco — the Lini 910 Labrusca Lambrusco Rosso from Emilia-Romagna, to be precise.
“I think we’re entering the beginning phase of Lambrusco,” Bennett said. “I’m glad it’s finding its resurgence. I think before long, I’d like to see it get to the point where everybody has it on their list, so I can go to any restaurant in the city and get a Lambrusco.”