Many wine historians believe that Lambrusco was the first grape to be used for wine production in Italy.

The Latin word labrusca (from which Lambrusco is derived) means literally wild, as in vitis labrusca or wild grape .

Today, we use the term vitis labrusca side-by-side with vitis vinifera. The former denotes naturally occurring grape varieties while the latter is used for European grape varieties that have been cultivated and selected by humankind for wine production.

Some speculate that the Etruscans — the ancient people of Italy — were the first to vinify vitis labrusca in Italy.

Italy’s agriculturally rich Po River Valley has always been the spiritual homeland of Lambrusco where it is grown predominantly in the region of Emilia.

By the first part of the 20th century, it had become a popular wine in the inns and taverns that dotted the Via Emilia — the ancient road that traverses the region. And as Italy industrialized during the years that led up to the Second World War, Lambrusco became the true “wine of the people” — the preferred wine of factory workers who craved its refreshing flavors.

After World War II, as Italy’s “economic miracle” began to take shape, Lambrusco’s popularity only continued to grow throughout the country. It was the perfect wine to pair with the Italians’ newfound prosperity and optimism. By the end of the 1960s, Lambrusco’s bubbles had become a symbol of the country’s new outlook and hope for the future.

And that’s when Lambrusco began to be exported to North America, where wine culture was just beginning to emerge.

But the wine that the larger Lambrusco producers decided to ship to the U.S. in the 1970s was a new sweet version of Lambrusco. Americans like sweet wines and they like sweet beverages (like soft drinks), the thinking went. So it only made sense to send them off-dry Lambrusco.

By the end of the decade, however, Americans were evolving rapidly as wine lovers and they had begun to develop a taste for dry wines. Although Lambrusco had become an immensely successful category in Canada and the U.S., interestquickly began to wane.

It wouldn’t be until the first decade of the 21st century that North Americans’ interest in Lambrusco would be reborn.

When Lini’s wines landed in New York in 2006, they were the first dry Lambruscos that many Americans had ever tasted. And they were also among the first artisanal Lamburscos to reach the New World. Most American food and wine writers had never tasted anything like them.

At the time, interest in Italian native grape varieties and traditional-style wines was exploding in New York City and Lini 910 literally became the toast of the town: The New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, Food & Wine magazine, and many other high-profile mastheads all published glowing reviews of the wines.

When Lini 910 was first asked to sell and ship its wines to America, the winery decided to rename one of its wines Labrusca after the ancient grapes that the Etruscans grew.

And the rest is history.

To be continued…

Here at our house, one of our favorite Sunday night traditions is steak and French fries dinner. We pan-fire prime New York strip steaks from our favorite local butcher and we roast hand-cut French fries.

Just to give the steak some added flavor, I’ll also sauté a large jalapeño pepper and some scallions in the same pan (I generally start cook the pepper and scallions before I add the steak, which I rub generously with kosher salt and freshly cracked pepper).

It’s all-American evening in Houston, Texas, where we also usually watch a movie together for the occasion.

Americans are so hung up on drinking “big” tannic wine with steak. They often think that Cabernet Sauvignon — and in particular, Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, with its signature “big” style — is the only wine category worth of a great piece of beef.

It doesn’t occur to most that Lambrusco is actually a very tannic grape. And few know that it makes for a sublime pairing with charred steak like the ones we like to make a couple of times of month (after all, we have two little kids at home and steak is a great excuse to get them to enjoy protein).

Of course, like any good Texan, I like my steak served with a little bit of heat, hence the jalapeño and the habanero-based sauce I like to use with my beef.

That’s another reason why I like serving Lambrusco with steak: Because it’s served chilled and because it sparkles with freshness, the heat doesn’t overwhelm it the way it would a Nebbiolo or a tannic Pinot Noir, for example.

The next time you sit down to a great hunk of beef, pop open a bottle of Lambrusco. Trust me: you’ll thank us.

Jeremy Parzen
blog master

It’s not every week that you discover that your wine is being poured in the legendary Harvard Square in Cambridge, Massachusetts, the “historic heart” of Harvard University!

This week and next, Grafton Street Pub — a favorite destination for students and professors — is serving Lini Lambrusco as part of their Winter Dine Out menu (check it out on the Harvard Square website!).

The pairing? Tuna tartare with avocado yogurt, black radish, sesame, togarashi wonton chips.

Sound delicious!

The menu, with wine pairings, is available through March 15.

Go Crimson!

Grafton Street Pub & Grill
1230 Massachusetts Ave.
Cambridge MA 02138
(617) 497-0400
Google map

Image via the Grafton Street Facebook.

Above: Classic smoked beef rib, a staple of Texas BBQ, served on a croissant in Houston, Texas.

Earlier this week, I was invited to speak at a private gathering with three of Houston’s leading “pit masters” (otherwise known as “smokers,” pit masters smoke meat; the name comes from the fact that in another era, the meat was smoked over a pit of smoking embers).

Our task was to determine what Italian wines go best with Texas BBQ (please keep in mind that the term barbecue has a particular meaning in Texas: it denotes “dry-rub” smoked meats, mostly beef, that have been seasoned solely with dry spices, mostly salt and pepper).

As someone who has been working in Italian wine for more than 20 years, I have no doubt that Lambrusco is the ideal wine pairing for Texas BBQ, even better imho than beer.

When it was my turn to speak, here’s the analogy I drew.

One of the most iconic dishes in Emilian cuisine is boiled meats. A number of different cuts of meat, including beef round and tongue and chicken, are slow-cooked together in simmering water and then are sliced and served accompanied by mostarda, spicy pickled fruits.

It is served exclusively, solely, and canonically with Lambrusco.

You have all of the elements of Texas BBQ — minus the smoke.

Protein? Check.

Fat? Check.

Tender, melt-in-your-mouth texture? Check.

Heat (in the form of mostarda, akin to the spicy vinegar-based sauces served with Texas BBQ)? Check.

The parallels are all there (again, minus the smoke and smokiness).

And so I rest my case: Lambrusco is the ULTIMATE pairing for Texas BBQ!

Don’t believe me? Come visit me in Texas and the ‘cue and the Lambrusco is on me!

Jeremy Parzen
Lini blogmaster

We call it “historic” because Alicia’s 2007 interview on WNYC public radio in New York is what helped to launch Lini wines in New York and the U.S. more than a decade ago. That’s where the story began. And the rest is “history.”

Click here to listen to the show. It’s a great way to understand what an uphill battle it was for Alicia when she first brought her family’s wines to New York.

Back in 2007, wine lovers’ perceptions of Lambrusco was much different than today.

Alicia helped to change those perceptions and she paved the way for countless other Lambrusco producers who followed in her footsteps.

It’s a really great show. You won’t regret it…

The Lini Lambrusco USA blogger visited the winery in Correggio last week and snapped the above photo.

That label, with the distinctive Bacchus drawing, was created expressly for a village fair that Lini hosted in 1972.

It would later be used, starting in the first decade of this century, as the now iconic label for Lini’s Lambrusco “Labrusca.”

Lini’s roots stretch back four generations in the world of Lambrusco and Italian wine. The family’s history is rich with cultural treasures — like this now unmistakable label, a Lambrusco icon!

Some people point to Shakespeare’s celebrated line from “Romeo and Juliet” as one of the most famous instances when a rose is invoked to express love and passion.

What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other word would smell as sweet.

But the rose’s long association with romance goes back much further.

In fact, we have to reach back to the 13th-century French allegorical poem known as the Róman de la Rose or Romance of the Rose.

At the outset of this story of courtly love, the narrator tells us:

If anyone asks what I wish the romance to be called, which I begin here, it is the Romance of the Rose, in which the whole art of love is contained. Its matter is good and new; and God grant that she for whom I have undertaken it may receive it with grace. It is she who is so precious and so worthy to be loved that she should be called Rose.

Since the Middle Ages, the rose and the color of the rose have been associated with romance.

It’s no wonder that our Valentine’s Day celebrations are always rose-hued!

What will you be drinking on Valentine’s Day this year?

For your consideration: Wine Spectator’s “BEST VALUE SPARKLING” — Lini Lambrusco Rosé.