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.
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.
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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.
"Lambrusco" = "Lahm-BROOS-coe"
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Alsace is at its most magical in December, when the wine villages along the foothills of the Vosges mountains present their annual Christmas Markets. Each village is beautifully and authentically decorated for the season, and the streets are lined with vendors selling regional handcrafts and goodies of all kinds, ranging from jewelry to specialty foods to wooden toys and much more.
Our friends at French Wine Explorers are planning a very special Christmas Markets and Great Wines of Alsace Tour this year from Dec. 14-18, featuring VIP winery visits, gastronomic meals at some of the region's top restaurants, luxury accommodations and more, including plenty of opportunities for Christmas shopping at the markets!
Space is strictly limited to 12 guests. For information or to reserve a place on the tour, contact French Wine Explorers at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 1-877-261-1500 (toll-free in the U.S. and Canada).
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Friday, Oct. 13, 2006