a very brief intro.

Beyond Emilia.

By the early 80s “Lambrusco”, more specifically, an industrial ‘for-export-only’ version (8% alc), had become known as “the wine with the world’s worst reputation”.

Unbeknownst to almost every wine drinker around the world, this reputation did not apply to genuine Lambrusco but only to industrial versions of Lambrusco that had been invented specifically for the US market by a handful of huge Lambrusco factories in 1965. (Note: Genuine Lambrusco (Lambrusco Rosso Frizzante Secco, min. 11% alc.) has nothing in common with these industrial 4-9.5% alc. “dessert” wines.)

“Sometimes the label will read: Lambrusco di Sorbara, Lambrusco di Modena, or the name of some other town, but it’s all the same wine.”
The Signet Encyclopedia of Wine by E. Frank Henriques, 1975

Riunite (“Riunite On Ice, So Nice.”) and other major Lambrusco brands (Alberini, Calissano, Giacobazzi, Beccaro, Nicoli, Cella (owned by Riunite now), Mazzoni) at that time had managed to convince billions of wine drinkers around the world that Lambrusco was a product that had much more in common with “fruit juice plus alcohol” than with a real red wine. Emilians referred to it as “Red Wine Cola.” Of course, none of these big brands have had an interest in educating consumers about authentic Lambrusco. By marketing a dirt cheap and horribly sweet ‘proprietary export version’, a small number of big wine companies managed to monopolize every Lambrusco market around the world. Even Italians, living outside of Emilia and Mantova, got sold on the idea that Lambrusco was some cheap, sweet, 4-9.5% alc. fizzy red loaded with up to 90g/l sugar (22.5 teaspoons). It’s hard to believe, but most Italians (outside of E-R and MN) didn’t start to discover true Lambrusco, ‘Lambrusco Rosso Frizzante Secco’ (min. 11% alc, max. 15 g/l sugar), until 2013! At the 2014 Vinitaly, I overheard a Lambrusco producer saying: “We’ll need to completely overhaul our Lambrusco marketing strategies throughout all of Italy.”

On November 1st., 1985, the New York Times reported that some (industrial) Lambruscos in  the USA had tested positive for tiny amounts of diethylene glycol, a poisonous chemical if consumed in large quantities. It had been (illegally) used to stop wines high in sugar from refermenting. The news marked the beginning of the end of ‘Lambrusco’. Any. Industrial (4-9.5% alc) and genuine (labeled: 10.5+% alc and secco). Almost “overnight” industrial Lambrusco sales in the USA collapsed from around 18 million to just around 2 million cases per year until 2010.

“Be wary of very cheap Lambrusco – under $2.”

The Signet Encyclopedia of Wine by E. Frank Henriques, 1975
($2.00 in 1975 had the same buying power as $10.00 in 2019. However price alone is no longer a reliable factor. Big Wine has started to sell fancy looking junk Lambruscos for $13 to $18.)

Not, of course, in Emilia and Mantova. There, fine restaurants in Parma, Reggio Emilia, Modena, Bologna, and Mantova continued to proudly serve their favorite local fizzy red wines: ‘Lambrusco Rosso Frizzante Secco’ (min. 11% alc., 5 to max 15g/l sugar) and ‘Lambrusco Rifermentazione Ancestrale’ (bottle-refermented, mostly zero sugar) for breakfast, lunch and dinner 24/7/365.

life lambrusco
Should have read: “Life Beyond #JunkLambrusco.”

In September 1985, Nicolas Belfrage published a wine book appropriately titled ‘Life beyond Lambrusco: ‘Understanding Italian Fine Wine.’

Yes, any Lambrusco was dead as a doorknob outside of Emilia and Mantova and had become impossible to market to importers, distributors, restaurants, retailers, and consumers.

In January of 1994 I met Alberto Medici of Medici Ermete at the Winter Fancy Food Show (January 19-21, 2014) in San Francisco, and he invited me to taste “the Lambrusco Emilians actually drink” at Vinitaly. As a result, the very first 50 cases of genuine Lambrusco (1993 Concerto, first cru (single vineyard) Lambrusco) were shipped “beyond Emilia” in 1994. [Followed by vintages 1994, 1995, 1996, 1997, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, and 2010 (awarded ‘Tre Bicchieri‘ by Gambero Rosso after the guide ended its “grape discrimination”)]

I was hooked on genuine Lambrusco, quality ‘Lambrusco Secco’ [min. 11% alc., red, frizzante, 0 to max. 15g/l sugar, refermented in tank (charmat) or bottle (rifermentazione ancestrale), non-pasteurized, not made from/with concentrates, not treated with Velcorin], and the wonderful “Lambrusco towns” throughout the provinces of Parma, Reggio Emilia, Modena, Bologna, Piacenza, Cremona and Mantova.

The ‘Lambrusco Revolution’ had officially begun. Beyond Emilia. In 1994.

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