Neighborhood Restaurant Group Wine Director Brent Kroll is on a mission to make Lambrusco happen. The oft-maligned Italian wine has suffered a reputation as “sugary, syrupy junk,” he says, or “cheap fizzy red wine.”
But Kroll says it’s not just some bad cheesy Italian wine. “If I’m having a charcuterie plate, it’s my absolute favorite wine on the planet." If you go to the Emilia-Romagna region of Italy—famous for pecorino, balsamic, mortadella, and prosciutto de Parma—the wine is actually celebrated. Small family producers that have been around for a hundred years make dry styles with low sugar levels more similar to Brut Champagne. “If you step off the plane what they’re going to do is double fist you with meat and with a cup of cold Lambrusco to walk the street with,” Kroll says.
Kroll wants to mimic that idea with the launch of the inaugural Lambrusco Week at The Partisan next week. “I’m going to hand people as the come in a cone of meat and a splash of Lambrusco," he says.
From Aug. 11 through 17, the meat-centric Penn Quarter restaurant will feature seven Lambruscos for $6 a glass as well as Lambrusco and charcuterie flights with three or six pairings for $17 and $30, respectively. Meanwhile, Red Apron Butcher at Union Market will also feature a Lambrusco to pair with its bologna sandwich. And at the Mosaic District location, guests can get a 10 percent discount on a three-bottle pack of Fiorini Lambrusco. On Aug. 16, Kroll will also pour the wine at the Glass Alley Block Party from 4 to 7 p.m. in Merrifield, Va.
Kroll says most Italian restaurants in the District who want to have a serious wine program might put one Lambrusco on the menu, but they expect that no one will really order it. He says he’s never seen a restaurant in the area dive into it with a dedicated page or a diverse selection. “That’s what I aim to do here,” he says.
Converting the masses is easier, Kroll says, thanks to the millennial generation. "They don't know a lot of these misconceptions, so we have a really easy time going through Lambrusco," he says. Five or 10 years ago, that would have been a lot harder.
And it turns out that that bad rap isn’t such a terrible things. As a result, the prices aren’t as high as more popular styles. “Because people think Lambrusco is so shitty, you get some of the best Lambruscos that you could possibly get for $30 or $40 a bottle on a wine list, maybe $20 retail.”
Photo courtesy Brent Kroll