Most of the time ‘wine experts’ recommend pairing Lambrusco with light fare; cold chicken, cheese and mild salumi and to treat the wine as an aperitif and an ice breaker (hence the friends) before the main event. And while there is nothing wrong with enjoying mass produced Lambruscos (think Riunite) en masse we think it’s a colossal disservice to ignore the profundity that REAL Lambrusco – paired with serious, complex fare -REAL Lambruscos, the ones that are hand picked, lovingly grown (lower yields) and even vinified by metodo classico (Champagne method) are very complex and layered wines. They are also extremely versatile when it comes to pairing them with food. In fact, they can provide some of the most amazing food and wine experiences period.
What you need to know….
First, REAL Lambrusco, and especially the wines from the Rinaldini Family or Fattoria Moretto et al, are fairly dry,layered wines when compared to mass produced Lambrusco. They main contain some residual sugar but more often than not it is naturally occurring (by stunting fermentation) and not by adding it back. Second, the wines have a distinctly savoury component combined with a core of intense red to dark berry fruit. Lastly, they will have varying degrees of tannin, rather high acidity and good persistent bubbles. Any sommelier will tell you these are all components that make a wine very versatile with food.
So what to eat….
Forget the cold chicken. We like to think of heartier dishes with substantial protein, density and even spice as real Lambrusco can handle all of these sometimes difficult food components. Here’s a few options to get you started.
Old School Option: Meat Stuffed Tortellini with Parmesan and Truffles. Make some tortellini (it’s dead simple, here’s a step by step egg pasta dough recipe, I usually go by feel but its usually about 2:1 flour to eggs with a few extra yolks for good measure) then stuff it with some meat like ground pork with herbs. Fry some chili flakes in good olive oil to drizzle over the cooked pasta and top with some shaved black truffles. Lambrusco shines with dishes like this as the acid and bubbles slice through the dense, oily pasta while the tannins take care of the pork filled stuffing. The truffles are both tempered and enhanced by the meaty, savoury notes of the Lambrusco’s dark fruit core. Complex and utterly delicious.
Off the Beaten Path Option: Moroccan Lamb Tajine with Dates. Tajine is a great one pot dish. It’s basically the classic put meat in a pot, add liquid and cook forever recipe but with the addition of amazing spices and fruit. Here are a few solid recipes With Honey and With Raisins but don’t get too caught up on the details as Tajine is so versatile you should add and change as you like. Just read a few recipes to get the idea and then get crackin’. I like using dates in my Tajine when pairing with Lambrusco as the the fruit components in both the wine and dish really compliment each other; you could easily include prunes, raisins or apricots as well as almonds or other nuts too. The tannins in the Lambrusco really help to tame the proteinous lamb while the wines savoury notes compliment the dishes Mediterranean spice components. I sometimes pair a high acid white with this dish when I use apricots (oh no, white wine with red meat!) as the high acid really brings out the cumin and coriander flavours and really helps cut the richness. Lambrusco works even better as the acid brightens the dishes flavours and the bubbles do extra lifting to keep the whole pairing lively and moreish. A food and wine pairing to change perceptions.
The take away….
Real Lambrusco can handle big, complex and expressive food. Experiment with lots of different dishes. Like Champagne, which is also a go to for food and wine pairing, Real Lambrusco lends itself to a myriad of textures, weights and flavours – and it costs 1/3 of the price!
Cheers and have fun.
Matt and Mike