Loving those fizzy Italian reds

Back in the mid-70s, I remember my mother would sometimes keep a jug of Riunite in the door of the fridge. We were not a drinking family — my father was a health nut, into fitness and exercise (a frequent marathoner starting in his 50s) and didn’t approve of coffee, soda and especially not alcohol. Mom of course had her own rules — she was a smoker and would occasionally sneak a tipple after Dad went to bed, probably while watching Johnny Carson. She joined the craft group that met on Wednesdays at a nearby Episcopal church, not just to keep up her ceramics and have time with friends, but also because the priest would come by to conduct Communion, and the Episcopalians, unlike us Methodists, used real wine. Once when home from college I discovered a flask of Jim Beam tucked toward the back of a pantry shelf behind boxes of Bisquik. The Riunite was more common, usually leftover from having her ladies over for an afternoon chitchat or whatever. Dad tolerated it, or at least he didn’t complain about it in front of me.

Riunite was widely advertised — “Riunite on ice! That’s nice!” was the earworm jingle. It’s still available today, incredibly cheap, semi-sweet and semi-sparkling. And for my generation at least, it defined lambrusco. But this style of frizzante red wine can be strikingly good and remarkably food-friendly. It hails from Emilia-Romagna, after all, the heartland of (northern) Italian cuisine. I love its woodsy, earthy character that feels and tastes like a crisp autumn breeze while the leaves are falling. And of course, the palate-refreshing bubbles. Whenever I taste one I think of many of the foods I love — salumi and charcuterie, pizza, barbecue.

Yet I don’t drink it often enough. It’s like sherry — a wine I love and appreciate but rarely drink. I keep telling myself to do better.

Here are two wines I’ve enjoyed recently. And I just wrote myself into a corner, because they aren’t technically lambrusco. The first hails from around Naples. You wouldn’t know that if you didn’t read the label, though. And the second, while from a lambrusco producer, isn’t labeled as such, for reasons I was not able to discover. I suspect the vineyards that produce this particular wine may be outside some legally defined area to earn the name.

These reviews were published February 2 on WashingtonPost.com. Images are from the winery websites.

Salvatore Martusciello OttoUve Gragnano Della Penisola Sorrentina 2021


Italy, $17

This rosso frizzante hails from the Sorrento Peninsula south of Naples — think Amalfi coast, romantic vistas, and of course pizza. Think of it as a vacation in a bottle. The Washington-area importer, Michael R. Downey Selections, first brought this wine in for 2 Amys restaurant at the launch of the Neapolitan pizza craze. Fruitier than its more northerly cousins from Emilia Romagna, this wine has a dried plum character that reminds me of — dare I say it? — Dr. Pepper. But it’s an Italian Dr. Pepper. And a great value at the price. Alcohol by volume: 11.5 percent. Bottle weight: 631 grams (Sparkling).

Imported and distributed locally by Michael R. Downey Selections. (Purchased.)

After this review was published, a commenter highlighted the Dr. Pepper reference and asked, “Is that a recommendation or a warning?” The answer, of course, depends on your view of Dr. Pepper.

Medici Ermete Le Tenute Solo Reggiano 2018


Italy, $19

This “vino frizzante rosso secco” comes from a leading Lambrusco producer in Emilia Romagna. The wine is vibrantly ruby in color, earthy and fruity in aroma, and beautifully balanced on the palate with dark cherry and mushroom flavors. The bubbles make it refreshing and versatile with all sorts of foods. The classic pairing would be charcuterie or smoked meats, and it could also cut through the richness of heavier pasta dishes. ABV: 11.5 percent. BW: 775 grams (Sparkling).Imported by Kobrand. Distributed locally by RNDC. (Sample.)

Note: The label on the bottle I had said “Solo.” The photo presumably shows the label used in Italy.

About Dave McIntyre

Wine columnist for The Washington Post, co-founder of DrinkLocalWine.com, and blogger at Dave McIntyre's WineLine (dmwineline.com).
This entry was posted in Italy, Sparkling Wine, Wine and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Loving those fizzy Italian reds

  1. Allen Clark says:

    Thanks for sharing some memories from your formative years. I too grew up in a teetotaler household, mine driven by my mother, whose father was a stereotypical Irish hard drinker and died early as a result, when she was seven. She eventually let up a bit, allowing my dad to add a little “class” to our Thanksgiving meals with a bottle of Cold Duck! The classy selection most often made in a restaurant during my college days was Mateus.

    BTW, you assuredly have readers young enough to have no memory of Riunite (even though it was once the most popular imported wine in America), so providing its pronunciation would probably help them.

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