Dear Wine Wizard,
I’m new to wine making but I have made beer and mead for three years. What types of grapes and yeast are used to make lambrusco wine? Also the variety of grapes that I’m growing are lambrusca riparia. Does this have any connection to the lambrusco wine style? I have some grape vines that I planted in 1999 that are doing well and hope that next season I’ll have enough grapes to make a little wine from them. I am thirsty for more information!
Wine Wizard replies: This is a good group of questions! The wine world has lots of similar-sounding names for things that understandably confuse many.
Lambrusco is a grape varietal of the vitis vinifera species. It is of Italian origin and is primarily grown in the three central provinces of Emilia: Reggio nell’Emilia, Parma and Modena. There are at least 60 known sub-varieties of this grape, so the styles vary widely. It has been known to find its way into red, rosé, still, sparkling and sweet wines as well as your ordinary dry table fare! It became quite the hit in the U.S. in the 1970s and early 1980s when a bunch of Italian wineries got together and decided to export about 3 million cases of a slightly sweet, red version to North America.
The variety is actually called labrusca-riparia. This grape variety is an American hybrid, a cross between the American natives vitis labrusca and vitis riparia. The labrusca varieties are those of Welch’s Grape Juice fame and often are characterized by what is called a “foxy” aroma, described as somewhat musky or putrid according to some. Vitis riparia is a different grape whose latin name means “river bank” and can often be found living along waterways, especially in the east and southeast of North America.
These two grapes, lambrusco and vitis labrusca-riparia, are in the same genus, vitis, but beyond that are completely different species of plants. The styles of wine they’ll make are completely different as well, the salient characteristic being the lambrusco’s lack of the American “Concord” or “foxy” aroma.