Lambrusco is back on the menu - Features - Food + Drink - The Independent

Lambrusco is back on the menu

Naff Seventies corner-shop staple Lambrusco is this year's Aperol Spritz. But if this fizzy red is so nice, why has it taken a PR push to get it back on the menu?

It's hard for a drink to make a comeback if it never really went away. Particularly if it has lurked, since the Seventies, on the bottom shelf of local corner shops. Many of us probably think that we know Lambrusco; when we pop out for a pint of milk, it's easy to spot the lurid bottles of that sweet, fizzy wine that became synonymous with chintzy dinner parties and was then consigned to that corner of naffness in the collective consciousness, alongside West Coast Coolers and Babycham.

But this summer has seen a proliferation of hip restaurants and independent wine bars across the UK putting Lambrusco back on the menu. "We've stocked it for a couple of years and got a lot of wrinkled noses at the start," says Heidi Nam Knudsen, Yotam Ottolenghi's wine-buyer for his Ottolenghi and Nopi restaurants in London. "But this summer, sales have really exploded."

Lambrusco saw a resurgence in the US a couple of years ago, after a concerted American marketing push in 2012 which described it as "the love child of wine and Champagne, an intoxicating union of tannin and fizz". This inspired a spate of articles hailing it a "forgotten gem" and New York bars seized on the trend. But over here we've been too busy sipping Aperol Spritz – the ubiquity of which can also be traced to a PR drive in the US – to jump on the Lambrusco bandwagon, until now.

"It's no easy task to persuade customers that the Lambruscos in high-end restaurants these days are smaller-production, artisanal ones and a far cry from the sweet, sticky stuff of the past," Nam Knudsen says.

Lambrusco was feverishly popular in the 1970s and beyond – some 100 million litres of Lambrusco Bianco were being sold nationwide by the end of the Eighties – but it fell out of favour and decades on, its cloying aftertaste lingers.

"Remember that the Seventies and Eighties were the days when the UK utterly deserved its reputation for terrible food," says Tom Harrow, a wine blogger and founder of the website WineChap. "And our lack of tastebuds extended to wine." He points to the other big drinks of the era –Liebfraumilch, Black Tower, Blue Nun, Mateus Rose, Pink Lady – and suspects that Lambrusco was seen as the classier option "because it was Italian rather than German and thus more sexy and exotic".

But its popularity waned when, according to Nam Knudsen, people's palates began to improve. But now that Prosecco and rosé have had their moments in the sun, this fizzy red is poised to make a comeback. "Wine fashion is subject to trends and cycles and now that there's more focus on smaller producers, organic growers and natural wines, people are rediscovering wines that they swore they'd never drink again," Nam Knudsen says.

Eliza Flanagan serves Lambrusco at her Hackney restaurants Coppa and Lardo, and believes it is long overdue a revival. "There are roughly three categories of Lambrusco," she says, uncorking a bottle of Lambrusco di Sorbara Radice Paltrinieri (sold in Ottolenghi's online shop for £18.99). "There's the sickly, one-dimensional version in supermarkets, essentially a sparkling Jacob's Creek. There's quality crimson-red Lambrusco, rich and just off-dry. But this is the one that's really taking flight: a dryer, leaner, rose-hued wine with bucketloads of character."

My previous sips of Lambrusco were at a party as a teenager, purchased because I thought it looked sophisticated. I swiftly moved back to cider. The Radice, however, is a frothy, refreshing delight, the natural fermentation lends it an earthy taste along with a yeasty, bready note we associate with champagne. I find myself daydreaming of oily fish, scampi and scallops; all would be perfect with it.

"To me the great appeal is the low alcohol, the freshness and the simplicity," Nam Knudsen says. "The good acidity and clean finish also make it a great palate cleanser."

Lambrusco – the name of both the grape and the wine made from it – can be traced back to ancient times. It was mentioned by Virgil, Pliny, Cato, and Strabo, who was astonished by the size of the barrels made to contain the harvest. Now there are more than 60 sub-varieties of the grape and Italy has four lambrusco DOC's, or denominazione di origine controllatas: three in Emilia-Romagna and one in Lombardia.

While good-quality Lambrusco has remained consistently popular in Italy, rehabilitating the L word over here has been no easy task. Last summer, Flanagan pluckily put a Lambrusco on the menu after reading about its popularity in New York, only to discover, in September, that her only customer had been herself. This summer, sales are strong, and Flanagan credits a new wave of more adventurous drinkers.

Perhaps it's time to rethink, and re-drink, Lambrusco. Just don't serve it with rolled ham, pineapple rings and Chicken Maryland.

News
John Travolta is a qualified airline captain and employed the pilot with his company, Alto
people'That was the lowest I’d ever felt'
Life and Style
healthIt isn’t greasy. It doesn’t smell. And moreover, it costs nothing
News
peopleThe report and photo dedicated to the actress’s decolletage has, unsurprisingly, provoked anger
Property
Home body: Badger stays safe indoors
property
PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
News
The programme sees four specialists creating what they believe are three perfect couples, based on scientific matchmaking. The couples will not meet until they walk down the aisle together
tvUK wedding show jilted
Arts and Entertainment
US pop diva Jennifer Lopez sang “Happy Birthday” to Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow, president of Turkmenistan
musicCorporate gigs become key source of musicians' income
Arts and Entertainment
You've been framed: Henri Matisse's colourful cut-outs at Tate Modern
artWhat makes a smash-hit art show
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'
filmsDaniel Craig believed to be donning skis as 007 for first time
Sport
Mikel Arteta pictured during Borussia Dortmund vs Arsenal
champions league
Voices
Yes supporters gather outside the Usher Hall, which is hosting a Night for Scotland in Edinburgh
voicesBen Judah: Is there a third option for England and Scotland that keeps everyone happy?
Arts and Entertainment
Pulp-fiction lover: Jarvis Cocker
booksJarvis Cocker on Richard Brautigan
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Thicke and Pharell Williams in the video of the song, which has been accused of justifying rape
music...and he had 'almost no part' in writing it
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Food & Drink

    IT Administrator - Graduate

    £18000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: ***EXCELLENT OPPORTUNITY FO...

    USA/Florida Travel Consultants £30-50k OTE Essex

    Basic of £18,000 + commission, realistic OTE of £30-£50k : Ocean Holidays: Le...

    Marketing Executive / Member Services Exec

    £20 - 26k + Benefits: Guru Careers: A Marketing Executive / Member Services Ex...

    Sales Account Manager

    £15,000 - £25,000: Recruitment Genius: A fantastic opportunity has arisen for ...

    Day In a Page

    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    The Imitation Game, film review
    England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

    England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

    Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week