Warm weather is here and so is day drinking, to be done outdoors in the sun. Look to north-central Italy for inspiration. Lambrusco — gently sparkling, low alcohol and often budget friendly — has long been Emilia-Romagna’s go-to for alfresco drinking. This season, make it yours as well.
While the popularity of mass-market Lambrusco in the 1970s and ’80s led to the wine’s reputation for candy-sweetness, a quality bottle can quickly dispose of lingering skepticism. The best Lambruscos are thoughtfully made, pleasantly fruity, lightly bitter and come in a variety of styles from dry to sweet, red to rosé.
There’s reason for their range. “While a lot of people think of Lambrusco as red sparkling wine, they might not know that Lambrusco refers to both the family of grapes and the wine made with them,” said Cassie Davis, the general manager of Voodoo Vin, a natural-wine shop in Los Angeles.
Of the roughly 60 varieties of Lambrusco grapes, all but one originate in the Emilia-Romagna region. Each produces a different style of Lambrusco and can be made into either single varietal or blended bottles.
The lightest of the bunch is the dry, floral, often pale pink Lambrusco di Sorbara. On the opposite end of the spectrum lies Lambrusco Grasparossa di Castelvetro, a darker, fruitier, more tannic style that Ms. Davis recommends reaching for when “you want something more expressive as a red wine.”
Then there are those that fall in between. Want something sweeter, with Sorbara’s aromatics and Grasparossa’s structure? Choose Lambrusco Salamino. (The name is a nod to its oblong bunches, which resemble salami.)
While it’s refreshing on its own, effervescent Lambrusco is also ideal in the queen of day drinks: the spritz. Poured into that bubbly-bitter-soda format, Lambrusco makes for an earthy spritz that leans toward the right side of crushable.
Spritz or straight, bear in mind that Lambruscos aren’t meant to be aged, so buy and pop promptly. Once the bottle is open, Ms. Davis stresses that it must be kept cold and covered. Bubbles are more soluble at low temperatures; storing the bottle in an ice bucket or the refrigerator helps keep its fizz.
Finally, pour alongside a snack — or a meal. Lambrusco pairs seamlessly with the rich foods of Emilia-Romagna, such as Parmigiano-Reggiano, cured meats and gnocco fritto, meaning that a daytime bottle can easily linger past sunset. “A lot of wines that you might apéro with, you might not want with food,” Ms. Davis said. “The great thing about Lambrusco is that you can drink it all day, and then you can drink it all night.”
With even warmer days and nights ahead, these are words to live — and drink — by.
Recipe: Lambrusco Spritz