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Lambrusco: Sweet Mercy


In the '80s, certain wines seemed to exist only as punch lines to jokes about crass taste. One was the sweet German white wine Liebfraumilch (aka Blue Nun), another the sparkling Italian red wine Lambrusco. If these were spoken of at all it was usually in tones of condescension and with a strangled pronunciation. Gee, those commoners sure are dumb. But in the last few years, many of those wines have been rediscovered by a new generation of drinkers grown jaded by the idea that good wine has to be complicated or French or both. Italy is hip with wine enthusiasts right now, and while bad, cloying Lambruscos exist for sure, a good Lambrusco is dry, almost compost-y, and easy on the palate. Drunk chilled, it's a great alfresco treat on a summer's day. 'We weren't much of a wine culture in the '70s -- we were a beer culture, a soda pop culture,' says David Phillips, a sales manager at Astor Wines & Spirits in New York City, which carries 14 different brands. 'Lambrusco broke people into wine, but as tastes matured in the '80s people started to go toward drier wines, just as they went from white Zinfandel to Chardonnay.' But Italy's wine industry has undergone a renaissance in the meantime, and Lambrusco has returned with a vengeance. 'They're no longer just the fizzy quaffing wines of the '70s,' says Phillips, who observes that Lambrusco is particularly popular with college students graduating from vodka. 'You can drink it cold and it's got nice acidity, so it's refreshing -- it doesn't weigh you down like red wines do.'

Three Lovely Bottles of Lambrusco To Try:

1. Lini 910 Lambrusco Rosso
Deep cherry red, with a touch of sugar and nice acidity. Phillips calls it 'liquid crack'really drinkable, and really nice.' $13.99

2. Solo Reggiano, Medici Ermete
A classic Lambrusco, slightly drier than the Lini, with a little earthiness. Great with salami or pizza. $13.99

3. Bocciolo, Ermete
Sweeter on the palate than the Solo Reggiano, with nice frothy bubbles. Try it with a plate of Parmigiano-Reggiano and sun-dried tomatoes. $12.99

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