Doug Brown's column about all things boozy that formerly appeared in Wednesday's Essentials will now rotate biweekly with Clay Fong's restaurant reviews in Friday Magazine.
During weeks of onerous research for a Drinking With Doug column that ran in the fall, I talked to a lot of bartenders and wine geeks about especially food-friendly red Italian wines.
A lot of the same grapes and styles came up. But Griffin Farro, the bartender at downtown Boulder's Bramble & Hare (note: Drinking With Doug enjoys a professional relationship with Bramble & Hare, as well as its sister restaurant, Black Cat Bistro) responded immediately with a novel one: Lambrusco.
I nearly spit out my Sangiovese.
"The stuff of Riunite?" I asked. "The juice memorialized by the jingle — 'Riunite on ice, Riunite so nice'?"
He poured me a taste, and thus began my fruitful relationship with Lambrusco. I love the stuff so much I even dedicated this month to it — out here on the high-lonesome South Boulder homestead, February was Lambrusco Month.
I did not invite Riunite to the 28-day bacchanalia. While technically it's Lambrusco, so is a Slim Jim technically a few bites of charcuterie.
No offense, Jimbo. But I'll stick with the Prosciutto. And I'll wash it down with Lambrusco; both Prosciutto and Lambrusco are crafted in the Emilia-Romagna region of North-Central Italy, and pair famously well. The wine's sweet whispers and shy effervescence balance its tart and tannic bite in such a way that each sip cuts straight through Prosciutto's gorgeous marble of fat and protein. It's a perfect pair. So is Lambrusco with another Emilia-Romagna star: Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese.
Here's what I inhaled and tasted repeatedly during Lambrusco Month. Blackberry pie and lime. Cedar and cultured cream. Even caramel corn, of all things. Raspberries. I drank it with curry, and pasta. With minestrone soup and roasted garlic. With salad.
A good Lambrusco's textures enchant: I wrote "silk particulate" in my notes. A quick sip suggests velvet on the tongue.
When you pour it into the glass, a luxurious violet mousse caps the wine, which stems from Lambrusco's effervescence. The Lambruscos I tasted were frizzante (slightly sparkling) but some arrive as spumante, meaning they present the same kind of fizz as things like Champagne. And like all sparklings, Lambrusco is improved immensely with a slight chill.
You too, Drinking With Dougolytes, can savor lime, caramel corn, silk particulate and violet mousse simply by sipping. But first you've got to figure out what kind of Lambrusco to buy.
Good news: You will skip the Riunite.
More good news: You won't spend more than $20. The Lambruscos I enjoyed hovered around $16, and I tasted some of the best Lambruscos you can find in Boulder (in fact, I think I sampled every Lambrusco for sale in the county).
This is such a bonus. It's one thing to discover you adore red Burgundy, and then understand you will need to drain the college savings account to pay for a bottle of the wine at its finest. With Lambrusco, you can drop the equivalent of a salad and a beer at Modern Market and relish a bottle that cannot be improved upon without traveling to Emilia-Romagna in search of Lambrusco's Platonic ideal.
"These quality versions of Lambrusco are bright, fresh, floral and low alcohol. Extremely food friendly," said Mark Geraghty, the owner of West End Wine Shop on Pearl Street downtown. (Do swing by the charming shop on Saturday afternoons for the pleasing wine tastings). "People think Lambrusco is just for cheese platters. But barbecue? It's made for it — something light and airy to break up the heavy food. I love it with spicy food, like Thai cuisine."
Geraghty champions the low-alcohol aspect of Lambrusco, a quality I, too, celebrate.
"You can share a bottle at lunch (editorial interruption: hear! hear!) and you aren't weighed down for the day," said Geraghty. "I like that versatility."
Lambrusco's modest booze brings us to an important point: sugar. Some fine Lambruscos are fairly sweet. I found them outstanding, but if you aren't looking for a touch of honey to go with the night's tagliatelle with Bolognese ragú (a classic Emilia-Romagna dish), go with another Lambrusco. Labels might say secco (bone dry), amabile (off-dry) and dolce (very sweet).
But you don't need to understand Italian to divine the wine's sugar quotient. Pro tip: Examine alcohol percentages on bottles to figure out how sweet a wine is. Yeasts convert sugars into alcohol; a wine high in alcohol means yeasts turned most, if not all, of the sugars into booze. A wine with lower alcohol will probably be sweeter, because the fermentation stopped before the yeasts could gobble up all of the sugars.
Finally, while all Lambrusco is made from the Lambrusco grape, the fruit has a number of "clones," and different clones make slightly different Lambruscos. The principal clones? Sorbara, Salamino and Grasparossa.
I tried them all after repeated visits to Boulder's more ambitious liquor stores (most of the labels reference the clone), and I'll trumpet them well beyond the conclusion of Lambrusco Month.
Now that we're into March, I'm already missing last month's loose, vivacious companion. Maybe I'll just turn 2019 into The Year of Lambrusco Love.
Longtime journalist and Boulderite Doug Brown writes about adult beverages for the Camera. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Instagram and Twitter @drinkingwithdoug and visit his website drinkingwithdoug.com.