Outside of Italy, Lambrusco has a poor reputation which precedes itself. Perhaps its because it sounds like a new flavour of every thirteen year olds’ favourite £1.50-for-a-litre bottle of bubbly, Lambrini.
Yet, whilst more mature drinkers might scoff at what was once a deeply unfashionable wine outside of Italy, only ever found on the bottom shelf at the supermarket, Lambrusco has made somewhat of a comeback in the UK - served up on the menu of many a trendy pop-up Italian restaurant.
In Emilia-Romagna, the real Lambrusco is something to be revered. Crimson, frothy and slightly fizzy - it is one of Emila-Romagna’s greatest accolades.
Usually plonked down on the table to accompany a hearty meal, or served as an aperativo, Lambrusco is the wine of choice here. It’s traditionally a red wine, though degrees and shades differ depending on the vintage, grape and place of production.
Wanting to learn a little more about this lovely bubbly stuff, I paid a visit to one of Modena's best kept secrets - Gavioli Antica Cantina, in the small town of Nonatola.
And, because I am so lovely and only write about things available to everyone, you can do it too.
Gavioli is an old company, which dates back to 1794 and spans over two hundred years of wine production history. Today, it is owned by the Giacobazzi family who, along with Gavioli, own popular wine brands Donelli and Giacobazzi, both of which have played a key role in the development of Lambrusco as a formidable export to an international market.
A few years ago, Antonio Giacobazzi - antiques afficiando and wine connoisseur - decided to open up the site to the public, like a sort of modern day Willy Wonka, to share his passion and to highlight the long illustrious historical heritage of this typical regional wine.
For someone such as myself, who knows very little about wine production, but likes to drink it a lot, the entire experience was fascinating. The tour comprises three stages: a tour around the museum, a tour around the cellar, and a tasting at the end.
The Museum is housed in the oldest part of the Cantina and provides a pretty comprehensive overview of the history of wine-making in the region. Most of the historical artefacts on show have been inherited from Gavioli’s long history, from barrels used in the early 19th century by women and children to squash grapes, to newer, niftier machines for peeling grapes, to various pumps and devices used to wash the grapes.
My personal favourite device was a Chitty Chitty, Bang Bang-like contraption, designed for local pageants and festivals to retrieve glasses, fill glasses with lambrusco and serve wine from wooden trays to happy local inhabitants. All without human hands.
The museum also houses an impressive collection of Ferrari cars, a welcome surprise for any Ferrari enthusiasts. Giacobazzi and Ferrari have a long history of affiliation. Since the mid-twentieth Century Giacobazzi has sponsored Ferrari, and Sergio Scaglietti famously designed and signed a line of bottles (Lambrusco Reggiani and the sparkling wines) for Gavioli.
Whilst much of the Lambrusco is produced off-site, at two of the other wineries, visitors are welcome to have a peek in the cellars where bottles of Cru, a sort of humble interpretation of champagne or prossecco, is kept, and to learn about this particular fermentation process, which sees the wine ferment in the bottle, rather than barrel, over the course of a few years.
At the end of the tour visitors are invited to taste various varieties of Lambrusco, such as Lambrusco di Corbara (dry and sparkling) and, my own personal favourite, Lambrusco Grasparaossa di Castlevetro. Its not difficult to see why Gavioli has enjoyed such popularity over such a long lifespan. Not only does it taste exceptional, but it responds well to the modern market. For example, Donelli (which is made of pure grape juice and contains no alcohol) has found a popular market in the Middle East.
Perhaps what is most remarkable about this place is that the entire experience is free. The family are driven by a desire raise awareness of the tradition of winemaking by people unfamiliar with this art.
All visits must be booked in advance. Visit Gavioli Antica Cantina for more details.
(You can reach the museum by bus (take the 551 from Modena Autostazione) but buses are more infrequent during the summer, once the university has broken up. The Cantina can be easily reached by car - a twenty minute drive from Modena City Centre).