Lambrusco: A Virtual Visit and an Odd Pairing

Castelvetro di Modena hills at sunset. Castelvetro, Modena province, Emilia Romagna, Italy © stefanotermanini/Adobe stock

Lambrusco: A Virtual Visit and an Odd Pairing

Lambrusco & Butter Chicken

Today’s Sun Basket dinner was an easy, “heat and eat” Butter Chicken and Jasmine Rice supper. I went to research pairings for Butter Chicken, and came across this great post by Madeline Puckett. On Madeline’s site, Wine Folly, there was a piece called “Pairing Wine with Indian Cuisine”. Madeline suggested pairing Butter Chicken with Lambrusco and I was sold! This pairing seemed wacky and wonderful to me! On top of that, with our #travelinabottle series, I now had the opportunity for a virtual visit to this region!


The Emilia-Romagna Region is in the Northern half of Italy.

Emilia RomagnaredhighlightedinmapofItaly

Emilia-Romagna is shaped like a triangle. It stretches from the Adriatic Sea almost all the way across the peninsula. As a result of this central location, its edges border more of the other Italian regions than any other. Six in all. To the north along the Adriatic Sea you find Veneto. South you find Marche. To the southeast, it shares its longest border with Tuscany. Directly west is Liguria, with a tiny strip of the Piedmont above that. North and west is Lombardy. Lombardy, is the other region where you can find Lambrusco.

Topographically, the upper portion of the region is in the Po River Valley. The Apennines follow it’s southern edge. The capital of the region is Bologna. As you travel northwest from there, you pass through Modena, famous for it’s balsamic vinegar. This region is rich in gastronomy. For example, Parmigiano Reggiano hails from Emilia-Romagna, as well as pork based meats like proscuitto, panchetta, coppa and salami.

Wines from the region include sangiovese, trebbiano and albana, but the most well known wine from the region is Lambrusco.


sgualcitura vino lambrusco grasparossa di castelvetro prodotto tipico modena emilia romagna
Black Lambrusco Grasparossa grapes from Castelvetro in Modena Emilia Romagna Italy ©francescodemarco/Adobe Stock

So is this a grape? Yes, well, it is actually the name of a group of grape varieties. They have identified more than 60 at this point. The most prominent are those that have their own DOC’s: Lambrusco Grasparossa di Catelvetro DOC, Lambrusco Salamino di Santa Croce DOC, and Lambrusco di Sorbara DOC.

Lambrusco Grasparossa di Catelvetro DOC

Lambrusco Grasparossa di Catelvetro DOC is the DOC we will focus on today, since that is where our wine hails from.

Castelvetro di Modena, Emilia Romagna, Italy. vineyards in Autumn ©ronnybas/Adobe Stock

From the Consorzio Tutela del Lambrusco di Modena

This wine is produced from the Lambrusco Grasparossa variety. Although not possessing great vigour, the vine is distinguished by a special characteristic: with the arrival of autumn, not only the leaves turn red, but also the stalk and pedicels. 

…The sparse, conical-shaped cluster is medium in length with roundish fruits. The grapes range from plummy dark blue to blackish, have a thick skin and contain a medium juicy, sweetish, slightly acidulous pulp.
Due to its lack of vigour, the Lambrusco Grasparossa vine is best cultivated in smaller vineyards, where it does well, even on rather poor soils, such as those on the lower slopes of the Modenese hills.
It bears up well to climatic and other adversities, and matures fairly late, after waiting to capture the very last rays of autumn sunshine (years ago, harvesting went on well into November).

Consorzio Tutela del Lambrusco di Modena

This is the smallest wine producing region, located south of the town of Modena. 85% of the wine must be from lambrusco. The most tannic Lambrusco hails from this region.

Cleto Chiarli Lambrusco

Now we dive into the actually winery. This winery and it’s history are part and parcel of the story of Lambrusco itself. Cleto Chiarli, owned Osteria dell’Artigliere, a restaurant in Modena in the mid 19th century. As most osteria owners, he made his own wine to sell. He made the wine, of course, from Lambrusco. His wine was so popular that in 1860 he founded Cantina Cleto Chiarli, Emilia-Romagna’s first wine producing company.

The family watched the wine become an international phenomenon. They pioneered the “chamant” or tank method of production. Before this, all the wines had been made in the “ancestral” method. This created fizzy, dry, cloudy wines that had been bottle fermented. The charmant method, allowed them to filter the wine. Now the wine would be clear and they could add more pressure to increase the fizz. It also allowed them to retain residual sugar.

In 2000 the company formed Cleto Chiarli….Here’s what they had to say. Keep in mind this is translated from Italian.

The challenge

A century and a half of wines, the same family, millions of bottles produced, appreciation all over the world, desire to do better and better.

Thus, in 2000 Cleto Chiarli was born: more than a cellar, a project of a world where the ideal wines are born, the perfect cradle where the owned grapes can give their best.

Modern structure, adequate technologies, in an environment where you can always breathe history and tradition.

From the Cleto Chiarli site

Cleto Chiarli Lambrusco Grasparossa di Castelvetro Amabile

Centenario Lambrusco Grasparossa di Catelvetro DOC from Cleto Chiarli
Centenario Lambrusco Grasparossa di Catelvetro DOC from Cleto Chiarli

Clelto Chiarli presses grapes traditionally and mascerates them on the skins for 36 hours, giving it that lush purple color. The pressure causes it to have a lovely purple froth on the edge when poured. It is rich and sweet and fizzy in a rich velvety way.

Was this a crazy pairing?

Okay…yes, as you look at it, it might seem crazy. This deep purple frothy wine with a creamy spicy Indian chicken dish? Madeline suggests that the creme in the dish allows it to pair with the a deeper, more tannic red wine. After tasting, I agree! Also the sweetness in the wine perfectly tempered the heat in the dish. The tart fruit notes tied in with the tang of the dish and elevated both.

On the other hand, Michael liked both the dish and the wine very much, but he did not like them together. I guess it’s something you can try for yourself and see. Opinions evidently vary!

Want more on Emilia-Romagna and Lambrusco?

You can also read some pieces where we’ve tasted a bit of Lambrusco before:

Have you been doing a little #travelinabottle? Share with us the place you have visited in person, in memory or virtually!

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Robin Renken CSW (photo credit RuBen Permel)

Robin Renken is a wine writer and Certified Specialist of Wine. She and her husband Michael travel to wine regions interviewing vineyard owners and winemakers and learning the stories behind the glass.

When not traveling they indulge in cooking and pairing wines with food at home in Las Vegas.

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Robin Renken
[email protected]
  • advinetures
    Posted at 16:11h, 03 May Reply

    We know very little about this region and its wines. As for the pairing, I think this sounds delightful. Doubt very much we would have come up with this choice but fully see why she recommends it…curious to give it a try!

    • Robin Renken
      Posted at 18:08h, 03 May

      It was fun to dive a little deeper into the region. I enjoyed the pairing and the wine. It’s such a beautiful region for amazing food and the photos I found…I really want to book a trip to Italy! This is also the region for Albana in the Romagna-Albana DOCG, which was the first white wine region in Italy to receive DOCG status. Then of course there is balsamic from Modena, Prosciutto di Parma and Parmigiano Reggiano…my mouth is watering.

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