They’re actually most correctly called pergolas, but who could resist a title like that?…What?… Well, minus the snark, what I’m referring to is a training system for grapes. And when I say training system, I don’t mean a computer course for fruit, but rather the way that the trunks and canes of any given variety of grape are planted, pruned, shaped, staked, etc.
Most vines grown in more temperate climes are trained in literally dozens of variations of what might look to the untrained eye like shrubbery, with canes coming from the trunk in the round like an umbrella, or along horizontally strung wires like a menorah or just one half of a menorah, or like a fan, etc., all this according to the particular grape variety being grown, the needs of the vineyard manager, and the minute details of the terroir of the growing zone. In very hot climates, training systems called “bush” (very low to the ground and extensive) or “basket” (trained in coils directly on the earth, or onto low cylindrical wire frames) methods are employed to conserve precious water, and reduce the exposure of the fruit to the scorching sun.
But in the Lambrusco grape’s homeland of Emilia-Romagna, as mentioned above, it’s all about the pergola. For those unfamiliar with this ancient viticultural aid, it basically looks like a ladder elevated 7 or 8 feet in the air by four poles fixed at its corners. At one or more of these poles is a vine trunk that rises up along or even entwined around the pole, with the canes then woven through the “rungs” of the “ladder”. So why such a departure from the training norm? Three reasons. First, Lambrusco seems to like it that way. Lambrusco is an exceedingly ancient strain of vitis vinifera that has a somewhat unusual genetic signature, and it has been cultivated in this area for over 3,000 years, first by the Etruscans who would indulge Lambrusco’s love of climbing by training them up the trunks of trees. Second, the climate in Emilia-Romagna is fairly cool and very damp, so training the vines up onto pergolas allows air to pass all though the vines, keeping them dry, and therefore free of molds and rot. Finally, when grapes are fully ripened on a pergola they hang down through the “rungs”, putting them just above head level, making harvesting much quicker and easier than in any other (hand harvested) training system.
In the glass, Lambrusco is typically colored a very deep shade of purple, with lots of earthy, wild fruit flavors, with very high levels of acidity that is further accentuated by the fact that this wine is nearly always produced as a frothy sparkling wine, with low levels of alcohol (typically 10%-12%). All these attributes make Lambrusco a perfect match for earthy, hearty dishes, and even more so, the very rich and complex cuisine of Emilia. So with this in mind, I made a soup with a deep and rich beef broth with rice and smothered cabbage with the local Balsamic vinegar, and then a tray of baked crespelle (crepes) stuffed with shredded boiled beef and tomato paste, covered with a basic bechamel sauce.
Fiorini Lambrusco Grasparossa di Castelvetro “Terre al Sole” 2011
Completely opaque black/purple color with a bright and fine magenta froth. Quite an elegant and delicate nose for a Lambrusco with aromas of black cherry, raspberry, black walnuts, damp earth, wildflowers, cream soda, and a subtle black licorice note. The palate opens with very fine bubbles that pop out flavors of pink plums, myrtle berries, cocoa powder, coffee beans, and wild mushrooms in a very spunky but supremely well balanced frame. Long minerally finish.