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Wines Under $20

Not Your Grandmother's Lambrusco

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At least if your grandmother drank Lambrusco—mine, of course, was a whiskey-drinking hell-raiser who drove a Camaro late into her seventies, and wouldn't have touched a purple fizzy wine even if you'd paid her fifty bucks.

Anyway, enough of that. The real point is this: I recently tasted some artisanal Lambruscos that will make you forget you ever heard the word Riunite. The producer is Lini, and the wines are made by fourth-generation winemaker Alicia Lini, whose family has been producing Lambrusco in Correggio, in Reggio Emilia, since 1910. This isn't zillion-case production plonk, as a lot of Lambrusco is; these are fresh, vibrant sparkling wines, ideal for summer drinking, and not overwhelmingly expensive, either.

Lini Lambrusco Blanco "Labrusca" ($14) White lambrusco is actually quite common in Emilia-Romagna, though it's virtually unknown here. Made without any skin contact, this has a scent of red apples and white grapes, and a racy zestiness that makes it an ideal aperitif wine.

Lini Lambrusco Rosé "Corrigia Cerasa" ($16) Crisp strawberry aromas, and bright strawberry-cherry fruit (appropriate, since "Cerasa" means cherry in Italian). This is made from the Sorbara grape variety, whose light skin naturally supplies the pale red color.  

Lini Lambrusco Rosso ($14) The brisk bubbles in this scour your tongue in an entirely appealing way, while the fresh, crushed-berry fruit and mild hint of earthiness give a hint as to how good this would be paired with a plate of grilled lamb chops.

I hesitated to write about these wines, since they actually aren't in the country yet (I tasted some pre-arrival samples), but then figured what the hell—they'll be here come June, which is just around the corner. Initial distribution will be minimal; you'll be able to find them at the Manhattan restaurants I Trulli and Centovini, and at the wine shop Vino (they're imported by Domenico Valentino Selections, if anyone's interested). But the long-term plan—no big surprise here—is to build the wines' presence in the overall market, so with luck they'll be in other stores and restaurants soon.

And yes, I was just kidding about my grandmother. Though she did drive a very cool ice-blue '63 Thunderbird for quite a while.

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