Three Modern Lambruscos

10th April 2024

Lambrsuco DOC Production Levels

When I moved to Washington DC, I made a few professional wine friends who introduced me to their favorite imported wine specialties: the Hubert de Montille 1982 Volnay, the Giuseppe Quintarelli 1979 Valpolicella “VQPRS” (before the modern hierarchy system was established by the EU authorities). Impressed with my newly acquainted friends’ wines, I also wanted holiday sparkling, while demanding a red wine party to accompany the seasonal Christmas Goose with a Pomegranate glaze.

I had just met Jeremiah Tower (the San Francisco Star’s Restaurant chef / owner, cookbook author) at a legendary book retailer in a Virginia Mall, signing his latest cookbook peppered with his Star’s Restaurant recipes, and including memoirs from his 19th century Russian oligarchs family heritage! I had recently been interested in Ms Cecilia Chiang’s (also a San Francisco restaurateur) for Chinese Five Spice and Tea Smoked Duck recipe. What is a Goose, but a well fed large Duck, with an attitude?! My mother said the Goose dispensed about three times the rendered fat of a Duck, I needed to proceed with caution in accommodating the roasted rendered fat, with trimming the bird’s excess well in advance. I was such an ambitious young man, exceeding my food ability or ego.

When my friend Todd Ruby mentioned a pal who imported Emilia-Romagna Lambrusco and offered to give him a call and introduce me. His colleague’s Lambrusco imports were simply brilliant, available from producers I’d never in my life heard of before: Cleto Chiarli, LINI 910, and Medici-Ermete. The last was one of my introductions to organic wines made from indigenous Modena Lambrusco grapes. This was a time in the USA when imported Lambruscos were dominated by the Banfi companies marketing cash cow brand ‘Reunité on Ice, so Nice’ was all the rage. My mother always instructed me to never pooh-pooh another’s delights, and as a professional sommelier, it might reveal my own prejudiced peccadillos.

My dinner choice of Black Tea Smoked Goose, and finding food friendly holiday sparkling red wines attempting to illustrate French and Italian wine regions. As I was designing, a menu basics ‘reverse critical path strategy’: set a dinner date, invite + RSVP the attendees audience, curate the food menus & the accompanying wine schedule; procure the menu’s foods (two weeks planning), with 12 day’s shopping well in advance!

“I love when a plan comes together!” often exclaimed George Peppard when playing the character Hannibal Smith from ‘The A-Team’ TV’s comedy-drama series.

I lived three miles from the wholesale butcher who claimed could find and deliver the whole goose within a week. ‘Should I salt dry-cure, or submerge wet brine the Goose?’ Overnight wet brining was the method I chose, then oven roast with Chinese Five Spice seasonings and glaze with Pomegranate molasses vinegar to achieve the burnished skin. Then place on a raised trivet to slowly smoke the Earl Grey Tea Smoke Wok (an aluminium foil package place holes in the top aluminium package allowing the smoking washed Jasmine rice, 100 grams short brew rinsed Earl Grey tea leaves, 100 grams Turbinado brown sugar as a catalyst, with a double thick aluminium base) method, placed at the Wok’s bottom with a crossbar cradle above the smoking aluminum supporting the partially rendered roasted goose. Place a lid over the goose, rolling additional foil to lock the smoke escaping the lid’s rim package.

Turn the stove to medium high, when the smoke begins, reduce heat on low to gently smoke the Earl Grey, Jasmine rice, Star Anise, and Turbinado sugar (DO NOT INCINERATE the smoking mixture, you don’t want Carbon Test Positive bitterness!) for an additional hour, with the wok lid wrapped with aluminium tightly capturing the smoking bird! Allow the Goose to rest, cooling off the heat, with the lidded Wok attached for 30 minutes. This aids the relaxation of goose meat and sets the savory smoker flavors.

The Lambrusco served after the still red ‘82 Volnay, and ‘79 Valpolicella were poured, setting a reliable foundation for the Lambrusco with the Goose.

The wines were Cleto Chiarli, who was the proprietor of Modena’s Osteria dell’Artigliere restaurant in the mid nineteenth century. His natural affinity for wine pairing established blending Lambrusco’s Grasparosa and di Sorbara grapes which led to the 1987 Lambrusco Chiarli wine style. While balanced, fruity and generous, the Chiarli wine seemed best destined for Emilia-Romagna antipasto classics like Po Valley Lard Bread aka: Pane Frittola with Prosciutto!

The second wine was the LINI 910 cuvée, a slightly richer and drier Lambrusco Scuro (a dark and dry bottling) in a Non Vintage cuvée. A more serviceable Lambrusco getting close to our ideal pairing with the Goose and the Pomegranate glaze.

The Medici-Ermete Concerto bottling is a 100% Lambrusco Salamino organically raised grape vines. This Lambrusco simply smashed the pairing with Earl Grey Tea Smoked and Chinese Five Spice Pomegranate glazed Goose out of the park. I am rarely glib to give credit to unknown fanciful wine protocols, like biodynamic or organic wild ferments, especially back when biodynamics may cast character aspersions.

The Medici-Ermete Concerto bottling was just two years out of vineyard experimentation, the results gave me hope the management was on course with their wines! I had zero idea what to expect, nor any idea how conventional Concerto tasted before?! I only knew whatever had been done to wine would be intensified by adding carbonation. This wine was a unilateral success with the Goose preparation: the rich Lambrusco texture, abundant dry flavors, and ability to handle the Goose’s fatty richness, without tipping over the edge.

My father used to say, “I’d rather be lucky than good.” to deflect his natural abilities whether in Golfing, Baseball, or fixing an automobile. Frank was a man of many talents, the condition of his preparation plus luck being his.

We four Christmas Goose diners were sated with five wine bottles opened, yet only partially consumed, and with the cheese course yet to be served. Epoisses (freshly aged ten days to achieve ‘fait bien’ – the perfect oozing creaminess condition) served with a Framboise sauvage (wild raspberry) Eau de Vie by Pierre Sorrel of Grenoble, the French Alpine ski resort. For our digestif, we served thimbles frozen Chartreuse VEP liqueur with freshly brewed strong Earl Grey Tea to complete the Tea Smoked Goose service.

The meal, plus accompanying beverages did not disappoint. It was a Christmas miracle!

Peter Birmingham

Restaurant General Manager, Corporate Beverage Director, & Hospitality Consultant, with these qualities he represents a Triple Threat: a culinary tableside historian, an accomplished wine taster with the casual ability to make flavor relationships and beverage quality value accessible.