A (very short) history of Lambrusco, Italy’s true “wine of the people”

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…

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