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EMILIA LAMBRUSCO

A NEW CLASSIC

EMILIA LAMBRUSCO

LAMBRUSCO

The rich and fertile flatlands of Emilia-Romagna are found in the southern part of northern Italy, lying just above Tuscany and south of Lombardy and Veneto.

The region extends from the rolling hills of the Apennines and the Ligurian border to the banks of the River Po and to the shores of the Adriatic Sea. Emilia-Romagna is the source of many treasures of Italian cuisine, such as Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, pasta dishes like Tortellini, Prosciutto di Parma and other cured meats such as Culatello and Salame Felino (2).

The origin of Lambrusco is somewhat obscure, but it is safe to bet on the most accredited version which presumes that Lambrusco comes from the Roman etimology Lambrughum. Still to this day in the areas of Southern Lombardia and Emilia, the irrigation canals between the agricultural fields are called brughi (from brughum in anceint Roman Latin). Hence, Lambrusco was that Vitis Silvestris (wild vine) that grew in the water filled ditches of the fields, a sign of a species that unlike our beloved Vitis Vinifera, does not have issues with water stagnation and flat terrains (2). The ancient variety of Lambrusco have originated then different biotypes that differs from the original only by one Dna marker, and that are described in the pages of this website (Grasparossa, Maestro, Marani, Montericco, di Parma, Reggiano, Salamino e di Sorbara).

Area where Lambrusco is produced in Emilia Romagna

Emilia, home of Lambrusco, is for the most part a flatland and concentrates on higher volume production from plateau style vineyards, with a few unique productions in the hills.

Due to this, it is generally a table wine producing region and provides everyday drinking wines for the northern Italian tables. Generally, vines do not appreciate flatlands and consequent water stagnation, for this very reason, Emilia concentrates on the this wild vine. We know today, it is a spontaneous DNA cross between, in minimal part, Vitis Vinifera and the wild species Vitis Silvestris, which suffers less fom this terrain than the noble Vitis Vinifera. (2).

Viticulture here is a combination of traditional and modern techniques; vine training methods used today are those that were used in ancient times, including the Greek goblet system and the high trellis method that the Etruscans practiced. Lambrusco is one example of this kind, which continues to be grown on high trellised vines (2).

The main Emilia wine is undoubtably Lambrusco, the fizzy and sometimes sparkling jovial red made from grapes grown on high trellised vines in five DOC zones in the Modena, and Reggio Emilia provinces: Salamino di Santa Croce DOC, Reggiano DOC, Lambrusco di Sorbara DOC, Lambrusco di Modena DOC and Lambrusco Grasparossa di Castelvetro DOC. Lambrusco is made for consumption within the year and very few consumers abroad have tasted its authentic dry style, although it is starting to emerge now in the market. Most exported Lambrusco is dolce (sweet) and amabile (semi-sweet). Though both types count in historical traditions, the dry variety is considered the best match for the area's rich cuisine (2).

Produced at a rate of about fifty million bottles a year, the Lambrusco varietal wine is based on the eponymous red grape variety, that was enormously popular with the mass market in the US and northern Europe in the early 1980's. There are several different vines called Lambrusco that are grown principally in the three central provinces of Emilia-Modena, Parma, and Reggio nell'Emilia-although significant plantings can be found as far as Piemonte, Trentino, and even Basilicata. This robust variety, of which there are at least 60 known subvarieties, has long been known for its exceptional productivity.

Image of Pianura Padana covered by Adriatic Sea during "Tertiary geological Era". Over the millennia the river Po has dragged downstream debris and rocks that contribued to the formation of  the Po valley, a young and fertile geological area. 

An example of a meal in Roman times from a painting by Roberto Bompiani , preserved at the Getty Museum, Los Angeles.

An example of a meal in Roman times from a painting by Roberto Bompiani , preserved at the Getty Museum, Los Angeles.

Renaissance fresco representing the vine pruning. Palazzo Schifanoia, Ferrara.

The history of Lambrusco has ancient traditions, evidenced by the quotes in the works of important poets and writers such as Virgil ( in his Fifth Bucolica ) and Cato, who tell of a "Lambrusca Vitis", a wild vine, which produced fruit with a bitter taste and that used to grow on the edge of the countryside. 

Were in fact the Romans who first tried to cultivate this particular grapevine , not without difficulty , and who first appreciated the qualities of this exuberant and intensely pigmented wine. 

Marzio Varro , illustrious wise man of the age of Caesar , was very firm in his intuition because he understood the great winemaking vocation of this land, Emilia. At the time of the enlightened Countess Matilde di Canossa , Lambrusco was mingled on the nobles’ tables. In 1300 the Bolognese Pier De Crescenzi , in his treatise on agriculture , first suggested to consider the cultivation of "Vitis Labrusca" to obtain wine.

In the historical archives of the Ducal house of Este noble family has been found a paper of 29 October 1693 that shows a delivery to the cellar of an important quantity of "Labrusca". Throughout the ' 800 and up to the early ' 900 Lambrusco was considered a fine wine already bottled and sold at a high price , while many other wines were sold only in bulk and at lower prices.

The first classification of grape varieties for Lambrusco was by hand of Francesco Agazzotti , also known expert on the tradition of ' balsamic vinegar ; They were first pointed out three types of grapes : Lambrusco di Sorbara , Lambrusco Salamino , Lambrusco Grasparossa. Only in 1971 was created the Lambrusco Doc. 

Refrences:

(1.) D'Agata, Ian.  "Native Wine Grapes of Italy
(2) Mauro Catena, "Il Lambrusco, la lunga storia di un vino di successo"

Above, the facade of the Cathedral of Modena.

To the side, medieval grapes harvest image, carved above the side door of the cathedral. The author is Wiligelmo, master of romanic medieval art in Italy.

Medieval grapes harvest image, carved above the side door of the cathedral. The author is Wiligelmo, master of romanic medieval art in Italy. 

Lambrusco production area Geological map. (Regione Emilia Romagna - Assessorato all'Ambiente). The great varieties of different soil types give different terroirs and unique character to the wines.