Bubble Up

Ever tried to find a universally good wine pairing with charcuterie / salumi / antipasti? Try some premium Lambrusco next time; you won’t be disappointed.

This week I had the opportunity to spend a day with Cleto Chiarli, a quality Lambrusco producer, in the context of my new job of selling wines to restaurants in Toronto – and learned a lot about food & wine pairing and the background of Lambrusco.

During my day with Chiarli, I was able to taste some more serious bottlings that really made me reconsider Lambrusco’s place on a wine list. Any spot with a focused salumi / charcuterie program should certainly try offering a refreshing Lambrusco to enjoy alongside!

What is Lambrusco? It’s both a grape varietal and a type of sparkling wine. Made exclusively in the province of Emilia-Romagna – home to the cities of Modena, Parma and Bologna, as well as the world-famous Italian foodstuffs Parmigiano Reggiano (Parmesan cheese), Prosciutto di Parma (prosciutto ham), Aceto Balsamico di Modena (balsamic vinegar), not to mention the birthplace of lasagne. Lambrusco, understandably, flows like water in its native land and is a fine pairing to all of the aforementioned foods.

You’ve probably seen cheap Lambrusco in liquor stores before. Not much has changed for Lambrusco on the retail scene since it first arrived in Canada in the 60s. Entry-level Lambrusco can be said to be the epitome of “cheap & cheerful”: Usually under $10, semi-sweet, with a bubbly nature which altogether makes it one of the most alcopop-y of wines in the market without actually being an alcopop.

The genre suffered quality and stability issues in the North American export market in the 1970s and 80s, giving it a poor reputation, and is just now experiencing its first revival in progressive, hip restaurants in the gastro-hubs of NYC and Chicago.

Broadly, Lambrusco can be divided into dry and sweet versions, as well as by its clonal variations, the most well known being Lambrusco di Sorbara (pale in colour, resulting in a deep coral, light-bodied wine), Lambrusco Grasparossa di Castelvetro (ruby-purple wines of medium body and black fruit flavours) and Lambrusco Salamino di Santa Croce (deep ruby inky wines with tighter structure and noticeable tannins).

Even the semi-sweet (amabile) types offer lots of acidity and therefore still taste refreshing.

I was lucky enough to have tasted 4 different expressions of Lambrusco this week. Check out my notes and let me know if you agree that these would be fabulous enjoyed with a nice platter of salumi! These particular wines are not yet available in Canada, however watch for them to appear as of late summer.

Pairs well with Lucky Peach!

Pairs well with Lucky Peach!

Cleto Chiarli Brut de Noirs Rosé
85% Grasparossa, 15% Pinot Nero. Declassified from Lambrusco DOC due to its addition of Pinot Noir. Delicate pink carnation colour. Lifted strawberry, unripe watermelon and red raspberry aromas give way to a palate of fine delicate mousse with great finessed texture. Red fruit flavours finish long with a mineral edge.

Cleto Chiarli Premium Vecchia Modena Lambrusco di Sorbara DOC
This is the first and only Lambrusco to date that has won the esteemed Tré Bicchieri (3 cups) award from Italian wine publication Gambero Rosso. Single vineyard. Bright, deep coral in colour. A savoury combination of red berry fruits, rosemary, bay leaf and a hint of balsamic on the nose shows great intensity on the palate. Very quaffable due to its light body and tight bubbles.

Cleto Chiarli Vigneto Cialdini Lambrusco Grasparossa di Castelvetro DOC
Single vineyard of 12.5 hectares. Deep purple in colour. A fine delicate mousse carries the nose of deep blackberry, blackcurrant, blueberry, black liquorice and hint of mineral through to a flavourful, medium-bodied palate with some noticeable and interesting tannins. Long dry finish. Indulgent.

Cleto Chiarli “Centenario” Lambrusco Grasparossa di Castelvetro Amabile DOC
Semi-sweet style. 8% ABV due to early stoppage of fermentation. Bright, deep magenta in colour with fine creamy mousse. Red raspberry, boysenberry and blackberry flavours mingle with light tannins, creating a juicy & textured wine that finishes dry.

*** DISCLAIMER: These wines were provided to me as samples through my work. I am neither paid nor expected to blog about the wines I sell. All information posted here is purely for personal interest and should not be interpreted as the views of my company. ***

Château d’Aurilhac 2009

I’ve been paying attention to Eric Asimov’s new monthly “Wine School” column, the first article of which recommends the reader start with 2009 Bordeaux (a fabulous vintage throughout); specifically, the Haut-Mėdoc region at the mouth of the Gironde river – a relatively broader and more affordable sub-appellation.

Now, let it be known, I don’t really need a newspaper article so much as a whim to make me drink Bordeaux, so I was more than happy to be obliged to do so in the name of wine appreciation and research.

I didn’t have access to the 3 producers Asimov named, but I did manage to procure a Château d’Aurilhac, and boy, what a find – not only delivering the fruits of the vintage, but easily over-delivering on the expected quality of Haut-Mėdoc.

Here we have a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and a splash of Petit Verdot. Together they form a deep crimson, bloody-textured wine with dollops of black cherry fruit, blackcurrants, tar and earth. The texture is a little cough syrupy, deliciously fruity with a bitter aftertaste.

Pretty intense, balanced, integrated and complex for a relatively young wine, this is a solid buy that is so drinkable, it’s tough to resist now, but will keep and improve in bottle for the medium term. Likely excellent with the classic Bordelais pairing of lamb, but I’m enjoying this tonight simply on its own. C’est si bon, il faut que j’aille en acheter de plus, tout de suite. $24 at LCBO Vintages.

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Clos la Coutale Cahors 2011

Clos la Coutale Cahors 2011A fairly well known producer, this Cahors consists of 80% Malbec and 20% Merlot. Irresistibly juicy, fruity and grapey at the moment meanwhile maintaining a nice dry taste, with a medium-bodied, smooth but structured palate, this would definitely be a good wine to try if you love Argentinean Malbecs and are looking to step a little out of your comfort zone. Highly approachable and yummy now, yet I personally would keep this on the bench for a couple of years to let the fruitiness subside, and allow it to develop more of the earthiness and spiciness, of which there are traces at this point. $23 in LCBO Vintages (word of advice: search diligently as I bought mine a few days ago, then when I went back tonight, none were to be found).