Poor Lambrusco. Anything goes.

If I wrote true Champagne is made from Merlot grapes, wine drinkers would call me out on this. However, if I tell them Lambrusco is a sweet white wine, most people probably would go along with that – even though it’s 100% untrue.

“But,” someone might interject, “didn’t I see a ‘Lambrusco Bianco DOC’ at my Trader Joe’s, local supermarket and corner liquor store?” Yes, but those industrial 4-9.5% alc Lambrusco versions were invented by Big Wine in 1965. They have nothing in common with classic Lambrusco.

Would anyone have a problem defining California Cabernet Sauvignon? Hardly. But unfortunately, the same doesn’t hold true when it comes to the definition of Lambrusco. Is Lambrusco a red, pink or white wine? Is it lightly or fully sparkling? Is it 4-9.5%, 10% alc or 10.5% alc or more? Is it a DOC or IGP? Under cork or screwcap? Is it bone-dry, dry, semisweet, sweet, or very sweet? Is it produced in Emilia or Puglia? Etc.

How is it possible that Lambrusco seems to be ALL of the above?

To get an answer to that question, we need to go back to 1965.

New wine technologies had made it possible for Big Wine and Big Lambrusco to manipulate Emilia’s world-famous classic bone-dry, bottle-refermented Lambrusco into a number of unrecognizable industrial supersweet light red, pink and white and extremely fizzy “consumer-friendly” 4-9.5% Alc. versions.

Together, Big Wine and Big Lambrusco began to convince the world that Emilians were serving “red wine cola loaded with sugar” and “fruit juice with 8% alcohol” with their world-famous cuisine.

Did “Big” succeed? You bet.

The USA alone absorbed some 18 million cases (not bottles) of junk Lambrusco per year by 1984/5. Yet, at the same time, hundreds of small family Lambrusco producers in Emilia and Mantova who continued with the production of traditional Lambrusco became “invisible” beyond the borders of Emilia. Outside of Emilia Lambrusco had become a wine that resembled a soft drink and was either white, reddish or pinkish but always super-sweet, super-fizzy, thin, and had no more than 9.5% Alc.

However, genuine Lambrusco is NONE of the above.

Lambrusco is a classic Italian red wine that’s frizzante (lightly sparkling), secco (0 to maximum 15g/l sugar), at least 10.5% Alc., and refermented either in tank (chamat) or bottle (anestrale).

Which brings me to this blog’s title.

Clare Speak, a journalist and travel writer, published a lovely online piece on the Italian word ‘vivace‘ two days ago. ‘Vivace’ defines a particular degree of fizziness of sparkling wine. To further explain ‘vivace’ she cited a quote from an article that was published in the New York Times in 2017:

“Lambrusco is just one of a handful of reds in Italy that are called vivace, or lightly sparkling.”

Actually, Emilian Lambrusco is a classic Italian ‘Vino Frizzante.’ Not a ‘Vino Vivace.’


Big Wine and Big Lambrusco couldn’t be happier! They’ve been making a terrific living of selling you junk Lambrusco (4-9.5% alc.) as (genuine) Lambrusco (Rosso Frizzante Secco, min 10.5% alc.) since 1965.

What’s Lambrusco?

White? Pink? 4% Alc.? 6% Alc.? 8% Alc.? Sweet? Spumante?… Vivace?

Absolutely not.

Only, if you google it.
[Merriam-Webster corrected the entry on 1/28/2019.*]

Poor Lambrusco. Anything goes.

No longer.

dine & lambrusco,

  • < 1.0 atm/bar: Vivace
  • 1.0-2.5 atm/bar: Frizzante
  • 3.0 > atm/bar: Spumante
  • 1 atm = 1.01325 bar
Made in Puglia. Made from Lambrusco grapes. No Lambrusco.


Dear James,

Thank you for contacting Merriam-Webster about the erroneous example you found in our “Recent Examples on the Web” for vivace. We removed the example sentence that you pointed out to us.

While the automated program we use to pull these examples mostly provides us with accurate usages, there are unfortunately still some bugs we are working out, as you noticed with this example sentence pulled from a soure which does not seem to have a sophisticated knowledge of Italian wines.

We rely on feedback from readers like you in order to pinpoint these issues so that they can be improved upon in the future, and to ensure that our information is as accurate und useful as possible.

Thanks again for your help!


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