Dry Lambrusco is delicious — why is it so hard to find?

I can pinpoint the one time I felt cool around a bartender: It was early summer 2018 at a laid-back but serious bar in my native Chicago, and I ordered a dry Lambrusco. “I love Lambrusco,” he said, affirming my status as an early adopter for the first and last time. “I want everyone to drink it.”

A far cry from the cloying, bulk-produced juices that dominated the category in the 1970s and 1980s, Lambrusco’s New Guard from Italy’s Emilia-Romagna region represents everything I love in a wine: a fresh, low-sweet fizz red. and pungent, it’s equal parts no-brainer and worthy of deep contemplation. It’s handcrafted and low-intervention, and almost always under $20 a bottle. It’s delicious with pizza, savory snacks, and richly sauced pasta — or on its own at 5 p.m. It is also still extremely difficult to find.

Better quality wines made by producers like Venturini Baldini, a family producer of organic Lambrusco, and Lini910, a fourth-generation family business, from grapes harvested manually from relatively small plots, which undergo long second fermentations or are naturally fermented in the bottle – naturally come in very finite quantities, even more so if you add international distribution. And in the shadow of the still-dominant mass Lambruscos, “it takes time to turn things around,” says Julia Prestia, co-owner of Venturini Baldini.

There are also difficulties in categorizing Lambrusco, which straddles the historically odd bedfellows of red and sparkling while battling old stereotypes about how Lambrusco “has to be sweet.”

“A lot of wine is a matter of personal preferences and expectations,” says AK Brunson, assistant buyer at Good Wine Shop in Brooklyn. “When you think of a stereotypical personality or taste profile of a red wine drinker, to me that’s something a little denser, richer, rounder and fuller than what Lambrusco will give you. Then you have a lot of sparkling wine drinkers who want something a little simpler – I think like a choice of prosecco or cava – than the complex flavors you would get into with Lambrusco.”

It’s easier to embrace simple, albeit sometimes polarizing, categories like orange (i.e. whites made like reds) and bubbly-natural unfiltered and naturally bubbly – both little known mass consumers five years ago and which have since exploded positively. “Orange wine is totally new to a lot of people, but it’s less of an odd combination,” says Martina Mirandola Mullen, Italian portfolio manager for New York importer and wholesaler Massinois, who imports Venturini Baldini.

Zack Eastman, co-owner of Chicago-based hybrid bar and wine merchant Easy Does It, says the pet-nat boom has actually helped more drinkers understand bottle-fermented Lambruscos. Those who entered through the “natty” (aka natural wine) door welcome a bit of effervescence to their reds.

Since this summer of 2018, Lambrusco has occupied a prominent place in my regular consumption rotation. No, scratch that. I drink it whenever I can find it – which has become extremely rare. Yet, as folks up and down the Lambrusco supply chain kindly remind me, freshness in the eyes of a handful of editors (and one determined enthusiast) does not breed an endless supply of this sparkling ruby.

For starters, Lambrusco has a long way to go to shed its sweet, high-drink wine image.

“It’s still a work in progress,” says Prestia. “Unfortunately, what happened in the 70s didn’t just happen in the United States, but in many countries. In many places, the majority of Lambrusco wines on offer are still that cheap soft drink. We have to keep this in mind, especially when we think about who is driving this renaissance, namely the small family vineyards.”

“For people who are still defining their palates, Lambrusco can be a really cool stepping stone – from crazy, wild pet-nat to newer Lambruscos, as well as other more specialized styles or esoteric expressions of classic styles,” Eastman says. .

Retailers are getting more requests for Lambruscos in particular and more widely for “sparkling red” wines, as is the case at Good Wine, which stocks a handful of Lambruscos year-round, such as Lini910 (classified as sparkling, notice).

“Working at this store for three or four years, I’ve definitely seen a shift in the type of questions being asked, but I also think it could be demographic,” Brunson says. “This neighborhood is more wine-savvy — customers who work in restaurants, or who own or grew up in food or wine businesses come to ask what’s new or interesting that way.”

What might offer an easier bridge for those who don’t live in the bubbly red urban bubble is rosato, a Lambrusco subcategory that Mullen says didn’t really exist a few years ago. She would rather categorize this technically sparkling rosé as sparkling rather than rosé.

“Rosé is so oversaturated,” she says, adding that it’s naturally harder to get someone to buy, say, a more expensive Sangiovese rosé when a light, affordable, no-fuss Provençal rosé is within reach. tomorrow.

“Organic and bubbly are big parts of the appeal and ease of saying OK to Lambrusco’s new guard,” says Mullen. “And if it’s not going to cost me an arm and a leg, why not?”

That’s especially true during the warmer months, when people crave cool, thirst-quenching bubbles, Eastman says. Many customers end up buying a bottle of chilled, crinkled Ferretti Vini Al Cēr Lambrusco Rosato (made by sisters Elisa and Denise Ferretti) from the shop after drinking an easy-drink glass or two on the terrace. Indeed, for now, much like that fateful summer of 2018, Lambrusco remains a warm weather wine in the eyes of most American drinkers.

“I feel like it’s becoming a staple,” Eastman adds, though his tone suggests he’s just trying to appease me. Until then, think of it “kinda like a Joe Freshgoods shoe collaboration drop,” he says: buy it while it lasts, and savor it if you do.