In addition to a few days in Bologna, we were originally planning on spending some time in an agriturismo in the countryside around nearby Modena, i.e. the land of Lambrusco, and maybe visiting a few wineries by car. But the plan changed and we stayed the whole week in Bologna (view from Asinelli tower above) with some day trips by train. There must be plenty of tasting opportunities there, and maybe some organised trips out to some producers, no?
No, not really. I did my homework, knew some of the good producers, the main Lambrusco varieties, and (thanks to Ian D’Agata’s Native Wine Grapes of Italy) the most typical examples of those varieties. And I knew the locals liked the real Lambrusco, mainly dry, refreshing, frizzante and red; not the sweet pap of UK supermarkets that everyone seems to feel the need to mention when writing about the wine. I was raring to get stuck into some serious exploration, but felt thwarted on this trip.
I found lots of gushing prose about Lambrusco on the Web but little of substance on the ground. The Consortium for Lambrusco wine of Modena did not bother replying to my email about a tour that was mentioned on a web page, commercial foodie tours generally offered a tasting of three unspecified wines at an unspecified vineyard, and wine bars and restaurants I found served a maximum of two or three Lambruscos. Indeed, when it came to Lambrusco Salamino di Santa Croce, supposedly the largest of the Lambusco DOCs, I did not find a single bottle – not a sausage. I can only conclude that the locals satisfy their thirst for Lambrusco by buying direct from producers.
But we did find and drink Lambrusco, and here are some of the Lambrusco moments on our trip. Don’t bother reading on if you are only interested in great wines. There are none here that would retail for much over EUR 10. They are wines for drinking with everyday food, but they are wines of character.
My Lambrusco of the week was Riservato Agli Amici, Lambrusco di Sorbara DOP, F.lli Bellei. As with most Lambruscos, there was no indication of vintage on the bottle. Like all the Lambruscos we had, the style was described on the label was rosso, secco, frizzante. The grape variety Lambrusco di Sorbara, the dominant variety in Lambrusco di Sorbara DOP, is at the light, fruity and perfumed end of the Lambrusco variety spectrum, and is generally regarded as inferior to the more substantial and darker coloured variety Lambrusco Grasporossa. But from my limited experience of the varieties, I preferred Lambrusco di Sorbara. This particular wine exuded raspberry – delicate, bitter, and perfumed. As with all the Lambrusco’s we had, it was low on astringency. This one was also sharp, bone dry, and mouth-watering. I decided the experience, albeit rather low-brow, merited an unlikely sounding *****. We drank it at the rather old-school Bologna restaurant Diana, which we had seen recommended as being particularly good for some traditional Bologna specialities. I am not one to judge the food against local standards, but I certainly enjoyed my tortellini in broda there.
The other Lambrusco di Sorbana we had was Leclisse, Lambrusco di Sorbara DOC, Paltrinieri. It was the colour of a dark rosé wine, lighter than Bellei’s Riservato Agli Amici. The flavours were rather muted, mainly I think because it was served in a bucket of ice. Only as it warmed up a little did the red fruit flavours start to emerge. Another truly dry wine. A bit unfair perhaps, but this got ***.
At the low end of my Lambrusco enjoyment spectrum was Pra di Bosso, Reggiano Lambrusco DOP, Casali. To be fair, this was a bit cheaper than all the other Lambruscos we tried. It comes from around a town that is, from a Bologna perspective, a bit beyond Modena, and thus a bit out of the way of the main Lambrusco producing area. The name Reggiano is the same as that in the cheese Parmigiano Reggiano. This was in my opinion lacking in fruit, and had a hard character. At one point I was wondering if the wine was corked, but I do not think it was and a glass we had elsewhere was similar, so **.
In addition we tried three wines of Lambrusco Grasporossa: L’acino, Lambrusco Grasporossa di Castelvetro DOP, Corte Manzini; Nero di Nero, Lambrusco Grasparossa di Castelvetro DOC, Barbolini; and Cardinale Pighini, Colli Scandiano e di Canossa DOC, Cantina Arceto (Colli Scandiano e di Canossa is another lesser-known Lambrusco DOC). These were all dark violet in colour, with an intense blackcurrant fruitiness. Medium acidity I thought, and also a touch of residual sugar, despite their being secco. I prefer the sharper and drier style. The Nero di Nero was a little oxidised, but that may have been because the bottle we were served from had been open too long, and there is little else I can say to distinguish between the wines – it would have been easier to spot differences if I had tried them at the same time and place. All three were ***.
So that’s the Lambrusco we tasted on the trip, but we bought the bottles illustrated above back with us, and intend to drink them together sometime early next year. Of the wines I tried while staying in Bologna, Ian D’Agata suggested the Leclisse and L’acino were particularly typical of their varieties, and I am bringing back a few other wines highlighted for typicity by Ian: the Monovigno, Cialdini, Corleto, and Franceso Bellei’s Ancestrale. Also, the “Antica Modena Premium”, mentioned as being particularly good and typical by Ian, must actually be the Vecchia Modena Premium in the above image, as the Antica wine does not seem to exist. I am looking forward to drinking these, and intend to report back.