I don't care what you think.
I love Lambrusco.
There. I've said it.
So what'cha gonna do about it?
Now, as a chef and owner in a semi-fancy New York City Italian restaurant, I'm well aware that, to most wine people, this is roughly akin to admitting that I’m a big fan of macaroni and cheese from a cardboard box. (For the record, I am not a fan of macaroni and cheese from a cardboard box). I know that most sommeliers would rather serve hemlock than put this fizzy, pink-soda-colored, best-served-chilled libation on their lists. Apparently, it falls in the same category as old-style kosher wines, wine-in-a-box, and the wine your next-door-neighbor's elderly uncle makes in his undershirt in a basement still. Not sophisticated. Not interesting. Soda pop for adults. Italian Beaujolais.
But I grew up on Lambrusco. It was a big part of my family's repertoire. My folks drank Lambrusco as a summer table wine, pouring it right from the glass jug. Even as a single digit I drank Lambrusco-and-lots-of-water at dinner. (Don't get in a twist, please: it was much better for me than a soda-induced caffeine-and-sugar high, and it stopped me from drinking like a maniac in high school, like everyone else I knew).
Still, when I went home to Ohio to visit my family, in hot weather, we drank Lambrusco. I wasn't about to tell my dad his favorite table wine sucked. And even though I knew better, I still liked it. A glass of the stuff chilled down with ice cubes on a hot, muggy Midwestern summer night? Perfect.
It wasn't until my first working stint in Italy that I realized that Lambrusco, in the right context, is totally respectable. The restaurant, in Emiglia-Romagna, was closed for lunch, and we were eating family meal. The spread was a little more elaborate than usual, because it was the chef's birthday. Instead of re-cooked spaghetti and eggs, or tuna fish and bean salad, we had bollito misto, snails, zampone (pig's foot) with lentils, gnocco fritto and other treats. You could tell it was also a special day, because the owner came out with a lot of wine for us to taste. But it wasn't Barolo, or Chianti, or Barbaresco: it was Lambrusco. And not from a jug, either—much to my surprise. There were bottles from a few wine makers, and you could actually taste the difference between them! The Reggiano had a lighter body; the Sorbara, on the other hand, was more acidic and went well with the zampone. We ate and we drank, and I thought the combination of the fatty food and the Lambrusco was the best thing I’d ever tasted. And then—suddenly—I turned my bubbly, fuzzy, Lambrusco-filled head—and there were the police.
It seemed that they had stopped by to make sure that there were no Albanians or Sicilians working off the books (the police are known to randomly stop into restaurants for this reason). Instead, they found me, dressed in cooks’ whites and with the wrong papers. They made me go across the street to my apartment, watched me gather my things, kindly brought me to the train station and put me on a train to Milan.
* * *
It's summer now, and I wanted Olivier Flosse, our wine director, to put a Lambrusco on our list. He was doubtful. He didn't want to. Was I out of my mind? I needed to get him more enthused. I ran to several different wine stores known for their great Italian selections.
Store number one: “Waiting on delivery.”
Store number two: “Just sold out. Some guy bought four cases.”
I finally found a place that had Puntamora from Tenuta Pederzana. I got back to the restaurant and poured two glasses. He swirled, sniffed, tasted. Didn't get it. So I chilled it. Not convinced. I resorted to true Italian style and got some ice. (I can see you cringing!) Sliced some salumi, lardo (cured and thinly-sliced pork fat) and prosciutto. We drank it cold, with ice, and it was perfect. The cold temperature gave the wine a freshness, bringing out the dark cherry flavors and balancing the fattiness of all that pork.
We called some of our suppliers the next day. No one had any.
“Waiting for delivery.”
“Just sold out. Some guy just bought everything we had.”
Looks like Lambrusco’s coming out of the basement.
Any Lambrusco lovers out there?
K & L Wine Merchants — June 12, 2007 6:40pm ET
Andrew Carmellini — June 12, 2007 9:51pm ET
Laurie Woolever — New York — June 12, 2007 11:06pm ET
Andrew Carmellini — June 14, 2007 12:35pm ET
Steve Ritchie — Atlanta, GA — June 14, 2007 10:22pm ET
Andrew Carmellini — June 15, 2007 12:24am ET
Alessandro Lunardi — NY — June 15, 2007 11:44am ET
Juno Data — CA — June 25, 2007 6:06pm ET
Juno Data — CA — June 25, 2007 6:07pm ET
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