There are many things you could drink with your New Year's Eve supper, but if you're making an Italian feast, you would do well to ring out the last day of the year with Lambrusco. Even if you're not cooking a vat of tortellini in brodo yourself, the fizzy, bittersweet wine from the area around Modena in northern Italy pairs fantastically well with salumi. And by Lambrusco, we don't mean the cheap, fizzy, sweet stuff that has turned so many wine drinkers away from the typical wine of Emilia (remember Riunite?). When it's made well, Lambrusco can be a revelation.
For advice, we turned to Jeremy Parzen, wine director for Sotto and the coming RossoBlu, who recently toured the region with chef Steve Samson. "In Emilia, they rarely drink anything but Lambrusco with classic cuisine," he says, "in part because it pairs so well and in part because the wine's lower alcohol levels, freshness, and natural and grapey fruit flavors are ideal with the heavier foods of home-style Emilian cookery," says Parzen.
It's a good idea to make sure your retailer has the current vintage. Most Lambrusco is nonvintage, so this can be tricky. "Lambrusco is not meant to age, and there's no faux pas in asking your wine seller when the wine shipped," says Parzen. Here are his tasting notes for some Lambruscos available in the L.A. market:
Ca' Montanari Lambrusco Opera
Very clean, fresh and polished style. Available at the Wine House in Los Angeles and Hi-Time Wine Cellars in Costa Mesa. About $14.
Caprari Lambrusco Secco Frizzante Colcer
One of my personal favorites, also very clean but with some of the savory notes I look for in Lambrusco. I like how lithe this wine is on the palate, the savor. Available at Monopole in Pasadena, Silverlake Wine in downtown L.A.'s the arts district, and Wine Expo in Santa Monica. About $15.
Another of my favorites, very fresh and focused expression of Lambrusco and one of the more elegant Lambruscos. Wine Country has the "rosé," which is actually Lambrusco Sorbara, the lighter colored clone and the one that everyone in Italy is crazy for these days. My favorite wine from Alicia Lini. Available at Wine Country in Long Beach. About $16.
Paola Rinaldini "Pronto" Lambrusco
This is my No. 1 choice. This is old-school Lambrusco from real farmers with just the right amount of rustic and earthy character to evoke the true Emilian experience. I love these wines, and it's one of the few expressions of Lambrusco you can find that comes from family-owned vineyards and a family-run winery. Available at Wally's Wine & Spirits in Los Angeles and Beverly Hills. About $19.
This is a standby wine in Emilia, one of the great houses that still retains its classic character. I like it a lot and it's a great value. Available at Lincoln Fine Wines in Venice and the Wine House in Los Angeles. From $15 to $18.
Podere Saliceto Lambrusco and Denny Bini Lambrusco
These are the two natural-leaning Lambruscos available in California (I wish that Camillo Donati were; it's the best). These are both very soulful wines, and although I'm a bigger fan of the Saliceto, they both reflect a growing movement of natural-leaning growers in Emilia (organic Lambrusco is very difficult to achieve because of the humid climate there). These wines can be funky, but with a little patience, they can be extremely rewarding in the glass (they often need time for the volatile acidity to blow off). Podere Saliceto is available at the Wine House in Los Angeles and DomaineLA in Hollywood for about $19. Denny Bini Lambrusco is available at DomaineLA for about $16.