This article was published in The 30 Second Wine Advisor on Friday, Oct. 13, 2006.

Serious Lambrusco

Wednesday's account of some impressive, if little-known, wines from Italy's food-rich Emilia-Romagna prompted me to take another look at Lambrusco, perhaps the only familiar wine name of that region.

Lambrusco, as it happens, wins little respect from wine enthusiasts. In much of the rest of the world it's seen as a "pop" wine, inoffensive at best. This reputation is fairly earned, frankly, because these are not wines that appeal to "wine geeks." Virtually all of the exported Lambrusco comes under the mass-market labels Cella and Riunite: sweet and fizzy low-alcohol red wines sold at budget prices as a sort of adult alternative to Coca-Cola.

Travelers to Bologna and environs know that it's possible to find interesting, well-balanced Lambrusco from artisanal producers, frothy and refreshing wines that go down well for sipping on the piazza or enjoying with food. But little of this wine gets out of Emilia-Romagna, and it can be profoundly difficult to find.

Around this time last year I reported on a particularly offbeat Lambrusco from Cantine Ceci, a biodynamic (high-church organic) wine made with such attention to homeopathic ideology that it's only produced under the light of the crescent moon. As I reported in the Sept. 7, 2005 Wine Advisor, "Lambrusco, it's better than you think," it's a splendid Lambrusco, though, nicely balanced, lightly carbonated and not at all cloying, a merry quaff and, by unlikely happenstance, perhaps the best possible wine match for seriously fiery fare.

I had hoped a more recent vintage might be out by now, but my source, New York's Chambers Street Wines, still has the 2004 in stock, affording me the opportunity to confirm or demolish the aging advice I had given last year: "Young and fresh is the rule for Lambrusco. It's not a cellar keeper. That said, however, this well-balanced and structured wine won't suffer from a year or two on the wine rack."

Indeed not. My notes, posted below, are consistent with those from last autumn. The wine's shed a little fruit, perhaps, and picked up a pleasant touch of earthiness, but it still passes muster, and married unusually well with a hot-and-spicy variation on Cajun red beans and rice.

La Luna Cantine Ceci 2004 "La Luna" Lambrusco ($14.99)

In a very old-fashioned presentation, the cork is tied down with clean white twine, a low-tech version of the Champagne bottle's wire cage. The cork extracts with a standard corkscrew, however, and comes out with a subdued pop. The wine is an inky dark purple color, almost black, and it pours out with a bright and very persistent raspberry-color froth. Black plum aromas tickle the nose with a touch of fizz, and there's just a hint of earthy "barnyard." Cherry-berry flavors are barely sweet, more prickly than fizzy, shaped by crisp acidity and a distinct peach-pit bitterness in the finish. At 11 percent alcohol, it's on the light side for a table red but carries more weight than low-alcohol, mass-market Lambruscos. It's a fine quaffer. U.S. importer: Rosalie Sendelbach Imports, Kerhonkson, N.Y. (Oct. 9, 2006)

FOOD MATCH: Traditionally sipped as an aperitif or pizza wine, it remains one of my favorites for hot-and-spicy dishe. It worked remarkably well with spicy red beans and rice with hot andouille sausage, and even when I dosed it up with additional hot sauce as an experiment, the wine kept pace.

VALUE: You can get three bottles of Riunite for this price. I'll stick with the Ceci all the same, thank you.

WHEN TO DRINK: It's not dead yet, but as noted, the fruit is fading a little. I hope a more recent vintage arrives soon.

PRONUNCIATION: "Lambrusco" = "Lahm-BROOS-coe"
"Ceci" = "Cheh-chee."

The importer's Website offers a short fact sheet about Cantine Ceci and its wines:

Compare prices and find vendors for Ceci Lambrusco on

or try my source, Chambers Street Wines in New York,