Lambrusco. I am told it is making a comeback in the U.S., but having quite a hard slog of it. Those of us of a certain age remember it well: cheap, red, sparkling and shatteringly sweet; the headache wafted out as soon as it was uncorked. It was nothing that one would intentionally buy after one ceased being a student and had a job and a little money.
So, how come there was a bottle of it in the house to drink on Saturday? Well, it’s like this. A few months ago – I think it was around Christmas or New Year’s – the Wall Street Journal ran an article on rationally-priced sparkling wines to pair with every course of a festive meal.
Two of them were in stock at my local wine shop; for a third, the sales guy assured me that this bottle – handing me the Lambrusco – would be exactly like this one – pointing to one on the list. I think I looked horrified. Lambrusco? He laughed and assured me that it wasn’t what it once was.
I find it so hard to be broad-minded. There is so much silliness about. But, I thought, how much trouble can I get into being broad-minded about Lambrusco? It is, after all, rationally-priced.
So I bought it and put it in the cellar and forgot about it, until Saturday.
On Saturday, sometime late morning, my mouth had finally convinced me that a nice fresh white would be just the thing for the lunch I was cooking (roast chicken, roasted potatoes, butternut squash, spinach, cranberry sauce, all followed by baked custard from my grandmother’s recipe.) Ordinarily I wouldn’t take so much convincing, but, it is Lent, after all, and wine falls squarely in the column headed “indulgence.” On the other hand, we were having this fabulous lunch because I needed to do something to counteract the hopeless feeling one gets in the spring after a of a week of rain, sleet, cold and snow. Wine could only help here, so I went and checked the cellar. There is always something there.
Well, there wasn’t. I have no idea how the wine racks got into such a state. Except for this one bottle of Lambrusco, they were completely naked. But, as my mouth had now done such a good job of convincing me that I couldn’t possibly serve this lunch without some wine, and as it was sleeting sideways so that I had no intention of leaving the house, no matter how dire the wine situation, I brought the bottle upstairs and shoved it into the refrigerator.
So get to the point: How was it? Were the WSJ and the sales guy right? Was it as delicious as promised? Was it different from the plonky syrup you remembered from university? How would you describe the modern version of this storied Italian sparkling red?
I’ll begin at the beginning. The nose was more Easter egg dye than Easter celebration. Honestly, that’s the first thing I thought of as I inhaled – those little cups filled with vinegar and water and into which you plopped a fizzy tablet of dye. The next thing I thought was that it rather looked like the red dye, as well.
But, remembering that I had bought this because I was being broad-minded, I thought I should go on and taste. That I should judge this wine on the whole experience.
It tasted like what I would imagine a watered down version of Easter egg dye might taste like, if it were cut with a little grape juice. It wasn’t sweet – I’ll grant you that (so the sales guy had been correct.) But it wasn’t luscious, fruity, full-bodied or elegant as promised, either.
Lambrusco now belongs to my “goat cheese category” of things. I think I’ve mentioned before that I loathe goat cheese. I have tried it numerous times, each time being assured by a trusted friend or family member that I will like this particular one, which I never do. I dislike it so much that I can confidently say all goat’s cheese tastes like a goat standing in the middle of a manure pile.
So it goes for Lambrusco. I have my early experience with it. And now, thanks to my broadmindedness, I have my late experience with it. It tastes like an Easter-egg dye induced headache. It is shrouded in disappointment.
Having said all that, for reasons I can’t explain, we re-stoppered the bottle after lunch and put it away in the refrigerator. There was really no excuse for this.
But all things work out for the best, as I realized the next day. Sunday was the Oxford-Cambridge boat race. Ever since I discovered P.G. Wodehouse, this boat race has loomed large in my imagination.
From Bertie Wooster’s descriptions it appears to be a day of riotous celebration, lasting far into the night, involving buckets of champagne and, if you’re among the right sort, pinching policemen’s helmets. If you’re not careful to give the helmet a forward shove (so as to disengage the chin strap), the whole policeman will come with the helmet, which means you will likely be arrested. This will then launch a whole chain of wild events, finishing up with a happy ending, but only after a few hair-raising escapes. At least I assume that’s what happens, because that’s what always happened to Bertie.
Most likely this race would have stayed focused on the celebration rather than the sport had I not acquired a son-in-law who rowed for Cambridge. Now, I focus on the rowers, and sometimes even on the technique and strategy.
This Sunday it was split decision: the Cambridge women easily won their race; the Cambridge men barely lost.
At lunch (yummy leftover roast chicken and bacon sandwiches), I said to The Hunter that it being Boat Race Day, I thought we should have something celebratory with our lunch and what about a slug of that dreadful Lambrusco?
The Hunter was confused: “But your team lost?”
Not completely, I explained; after all, the women won. But the real reason is that I would hate to be drinking something really good, something that makes me happy, to celebrate Oxford’s victory. It seems to me that the Lambrusco – celebratory, yet sorrowful – is just perfect.