In this episode of “End Of Day Drinks,” VinePair’s editorial team is joined by Julia Prestia, the co-owner of Venturini Baldini. The team chats with Prestia about all things Lambrusco. Lambrusco has seen a recent rise in the American market. However, Prestia wants to usher in a new generation of wine lovers to the authenticity of the variety. Though Lambrusco got a bad rep in the ‘80s, oenophiles are rediscovering the wines of Emilia-Romagna.
The Venturini Baldini estate takes pride in producing its wines using organic agriculture since 1976 — a trend that has since caught on. Now, Prestia aims to be at the forefront of the rebirth of Lambrusco.
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Keith Beavers: Hello and welcome to VinePair’s “End of Day Drinks” podcast. My name is Keith Beavers. I am the tasting director of VinePair, as well as the host of VinePair’s “Wine 101” podcast. Today I am excited (like, excited) to welcome Julia Prestia. She is a co-owner of Venturini Baldini, which is an historic producer of organic Lambrusco. Yeah, Lambrusco and sparkling rosé wines in Emilia-Romagna. An amazing place. Welcome, Julia.
Julia Prestia: My pleasure. Thank you.
K: I am joined by a bunch of people. We have Katie Brown, Emma Cranston, Tim McKirdy, and Cat Wolinski, and this is all part of our editorial team here at VinePair. I’m very excited about this, but you were nice enough to send us some bottles of Lambrusco. I have all three of them open, and I’ll be drinking them, because this is very exciting. I want to get this conversation started about Lambrusco, about the idea of Lambrusco, and how we as American culture have experienced Lambrusco. In the ’70s and the ’80s, we had certain brands that came over here that had a certain texture and flavor to them. They were sweet, they were bubbly. We got into it, and it was cool. That’s what we thought was Lambrusco. Now, we’re starting to see more Lambrusco coming onto the market. I think that it’s very, very exciting. It’s one of my favorite Italian wines. I love it so much, and I love what you’re doing with it. You might be part of this new movement of Lambrusco and showing what it actually is. Can you talk a little about that?
J: It’s really an exciting time. I feel Lambrusco is being revived as what you described as a new generation of Lambrusco. What is so exciting about it for us is, we’re going back to the old traditional way of making them because it wasn’t supposed to be the sweet drink that you had in the ‘70s and ‘80s. In terms of quantities, it is one of the most exported wines from Italy. It’s a broadly distributed wine. However, especially in the ‘70s and ‘80s, a lot of people associated it with a completely different type of wine than it historically was and should be. The traditional type of Lambrusco is a dry, premium type of Lambrusco. It’s a serious wine, but it’s still the cheerful, happy wine that it should be. It fits really nicely in the mood of the moment this way so it’s a very exciting time for us.
K: I love it. I love the dryness. I remember when I first tried a real Lambrusco, I was like, “Oh, so this is what it’s like.”
Katie Brown: I’m curious, because you mentioned the Lambrusco of the ’80s. What are some of the biggest misconceptions you think that consumers have right now about Lambrusco?
J: Well, I think one of the biggest misconceptions is still that all Lambrusco is sweet. Arguably, I understand where that’s coming from because a lot of the wines that came especially to the U.S., but also to other countries at that time, were really, really sweet. They’re still around and there are producers who produce that very sweet Lambrusco, but there’s more of a trend to go back to the dry version like we historically made it. I think that’s one of the biggest misconceptions is that people need to see that it’s not supposed to be sweet. It’s still the happy wine, as I call it, because it’s a very social wine. It’s a very drinkable wine, but without being sweet. Then, I think the other thing that people don’t necessarily see is how versatile it is and how it’s really a spectrum of tastes, colors, and grapes, for that matter. There’s such diversity in it.
K: I love that. It’s interesting, the thing about Lambrusco is this idea of fun and enjoyment of it. What’s awesome about Lambrusco is it is bubbly. It has effervescence and this idea of fun, but it is your wine in your region. It just so happens that it’s fun, it’s seriously made, but also fun to enjoy, if you will.
J: Yes, I agree.
K: This is another thing about Emilia-Romagna that people may not know, but this is the place where we get balsamic vinegar. We get the Parmigiano Reggiano. I’m curious, it said that the Lambrusco in this region was initially meant for digestion because of its dry, bubbly nature, it helps with the food. Is that correct?
J: Well, I personally think it’s the right wine for the food that we’re producing in our region. There’s definitely a fit between the food and the wine. It’s also the acidity that comes with it. If you look at some of the grapes, the Sorbara grape, for example, has a really beautiful acidity to it. That really helps with digesting and setting off the fatty food. Yes, it is predominantly heavy food from our wheat, but it is very delicious. The funny thing is people know Parmigiano Reggiano, the balsamic vinegar, the prosciutto, also Ferrari, Maserati. It’s all from the same region, and it’s amazing when you put it all together and you say that this is actually all coming from one region, and it’s Emilia-Romagna.
Emma Cranston: Julia, I actually wanted to circle back because you just mentioned vinegar. I was super curious about the vinegar on your property. Could you tell us a little about what the vinegar tasting tours look like and your ancient vinegar cellar?
J: To describe our property, we are an atypical estate because it looks more like Tuscany or Piemonte. It has a very Tuscan feel with the cypress trees and the gravel roads going all the way up into our hills. We’re in the hills between Parma and Reggio Emilia alongside the Villa Emilia that cuts across Emilia-Romagna. On the property, you have vineyards, trees, forests, lakes, and just a lot of green. We also have an acetaia. Acetaia is a vinegar cellar. It’s actually under the roof, so it’s more like an attic in reality. It’s one of the oldest, in general, and it’s the oldest in Reggio Emilia, from the 17th century, so it’s a really magical place. It’s almost like a museum because it’s completely intact. Luckily, it has never suffered any earthquakes or anything like that, so it’s a very unique place. The family that used to live on the property made personal vinegar where you will see a lot of barrels making that vinegar. There’s definitely a lot of vinegar being produced, and we’re continuing this tradition. We were inviting people to see the acetaia. They can taste the balsamic vinegar that we produce. We produce the traditional balsamic vinegar and then balsamic condiments. It’s a wide spectrum of things that people can taste. With the wines, they get a tour of the vineyards, learn about the history of the estate and the traditions of how to make balsamic vinegar. People can see, smell, and taste everything. It’s a really beautiful, magical place.
K: Oh, that sounds amazing. One thing about this from the production side, you’re really big about organic agriculture. I’m curious about what that’s like in your area. Are you spearheading this, or is this something that’s become a standard practice or gaining in popularity in your area?
J: It’s definitely gaining in popularity. I think all across Italy you see a movement both from the consumer side, but obviously a lot from the producer side. I’m very happy about that personally. As you know, it’s my lifestyle. It’s a very rewarding thing to see that people are trying to convert to organic practices. It’s difficult, it’s a process, so it takes time. We are lucky because when the winery started operating, they started from the beginning as an organic winery. The certification that we have goes back to the ’80s. It’s a very unusual thing because in the early, mid-’80s, no one was thinking about organic farming in Italy, let alone the certification. That helps a lot because it’s been established. We don’t have to think about it every day, of course, but we do take it a bit for granted. Perhaps that’s the right way to say it, but it’s a very, very important part of our lifestyle. You need to cut me off if I talk about this too long, because I could get very passionate about it. Yet, when you live in the vineyards and you live so close to nature, you see it even more. You see how important it becomes to be able to respond to nature. We have the most natural ecosystem that we can provide. It’s not perfect, but it’s as close to perfect as we can make it. It definitely helps, especially with the current climate situations that we see becoming increasingly extreme in the last years.
Cat Wolinski: Hi, Julia, this is Cat. I’m curious about the organic certification there. Is it something that you feel consumers are looking for in the region, in Italy, or even in Europe? It’s very trendy here now, organic, biodynamic, and natural wine. Not that these are all the same thing, but is it something that you did to respond to a market need, or were you doing this from the beginning?
J: We were doing it from the beginning. When my husband and I bought the estate in 2015, we were looking for an organic estate. My husband also produces one in Sicily that is also an organic winery. It was a very important part of our list of things that we wanted to see. The fact that Venturini Baldini started out as an organic estate, as I said, definitely helps, because it becomes part of you. I completely believe in it, and it’s beautiful for me to see also that there were recent studies that show people perceive the wines to be better-tasting wines. For me, it’s a really big part of how we operate, and I firmly believe that it’s a healthier way of living. In terms of consumers, the states are often leading in a lot of development. You guys always seem to be a step ahead in most things. In Europe, depending a bit on the country, it’s definitely already a big part, and it’s only increasing. With every new generation, I think it’s becoming more important that we see a lot of people specifically looking for organic ones.
Tim McKirdy: Hi, this is Tim here. Just wanted to piggyback off that point you’re talking about there. I know that you produce a wonderful sparkling rosé, which most folks might not associate with Lambrusco. I was wondering if you can chat about how that’s come about and sparkling rosé in Italy in general. I believe it’s going to be a pretty big year. I think U.S. consumers are set to see a lot of that as well. I was wondering if you can tell us how you stand out in that market because I think that’s going to be huge this year here for us drinkers.
J: Yes, and it’s a really good question because we come from Lambrusco land. Our wines are Lambrusco, the indigenous grapes from our area. It’s a very traditional wine in Emilia. However, what we really wanted to achieve is also to bring a new generation to Lambrusco. A generation that we talked about before had a bit of a prejudice against Lambrusco. There is still a long way to go, because people sometimes associate completely different things with Lambrusco. In the end, they have a revelation when they taste it, and the Cadelvento we were talking about earlier really helped to bring a whole new group of people to taste and discover Lambrusco, and then really start discovering Lambrusco. It’s opening the door. It is still a very completely authentic Lambrusco. It’s a DOP, so it was almost an add-on that we discovered a little bit later. It was not intentionally the idea from the beginning, but it was a big part of the success of the Cadelvento. It also spoke to people who weren’t necessarily looking for Lambrusco, and then they discovered the whole world of Lambrusco behind it. Now, rosé has been having a huge success in the past years. The spectrum of Lambrusco with its various shades of red, pink, rosé, the various grapes that you can use, especially Sorbara, which is a very light grape. We have a very short skin contact in this wine, which goes a lot in the rosé direction, so yes, I think this is sparkling rosé’s year for sure.
T: I think it’s great, as you say, that name that’s very recognizable to consumers, the Lambrusco. It is also something new for people to discover and also draw them into the region.
J: Yeah, I think it is important and it’s a revival. I call it the rinascita, or the rebirth of Lambrusco. It’s important to bring that new generation of Lambrusco to people and introduce them to what we have and what we believe in. That has definitely allowed us to talk to people who haven’t discovered them yet.
Katie: For people that are new to the Lambrusco category, what type of glassware would you suggest drinking your wines out of? I think a lot of us are used to drinking sparkling wine out of a flute glass. Is that the glassware you would suggest, or would you prefer it out of a coupe glass or a regular wine glass?
J: I tend to use either a regular wine glass or the coupe, for example, which is perfect for the Cadelvento. It fits the mood as well, so either the regular wine glass or just a very open wide sparkling wine glass. I wouldn’t go for the narrow flute.
Katie: Right. And can you explain why?
J: I think it’s a personal preference. I think it’s the way the bubbles work. It’s slightly effervescent wine. I think even the regular wine glass just fits much better. It can open up the taste in a much better way.
Katie: That makes sense.
K: Well, I wanted to talk about this because of the fact that sparkling rosés are very popular, and I think that Lambrusco is set to be very popular. Actually, I was in the D.C. market for a minute a couple of years ago, and there was a wine bar restaurant in D.C. that actually had Lambrusco Week every year. They made sure to expose people to what Lambrusco actually is. I don’t know of another wine on the planet that’s popular, sparkling, and red. I think it’s very unique, and we are poised to really get into this idea of Lambrusco. You had mentioned before, Sorbara, and Salamino. Lambrusco the grape is not just one grape. It’s multiple varieties of one style of one family. Each one has a different uniqueness to it. I just want to add that there’s something about this I think is important because as we start to get into Lambrusco on the American market, to give a sense of why it’s dry. For example, there’s one that has more of a violet aroma, one that has more of a dry, or more of a dark. I wonder if you could give us a sense of what these grapes are doing and how we’re enjoying them in these wines.
J: This is exactly right. It’s a family of grapes. Lambrusco comes in many different types of grapes. We have about eight or nine, I think, on the estate and they have very different personalities. They’re very different grapes. For example, the Sorbara that you mentioned has a very strong acidity, beautiful acidity. Often, it comes as a 100 percent Sorbara, which you can imagine the very strong acidity in the wine. We decided to blend Sorbara with Grasparossa, which is another grape that is much more mellow and rounded.
K: That’s another Lambrusco grape, correct?
J: Yes, these are all Lambrusco grapes. Sorbara and Grasparossa are the more frequent ones. Salamino is a very common one. Salamino makes our Montelocco, for example, so it’s 100 percent Salamino. Then, we have Maestri, Marani, and Monstericco, so there are lots of different grapes. The beauty of Lambrusco is that you can make it so versatile and so different. There is not one Lambrusco that is the whole spectrum.
K: And you can make it your own. You have these varieties you work with and blend to make your own statement on your Lambrusco.
J: Absolutely. Some grapes are dominant in some areas of our region. There is a difference perhaps in terms of geography but yes, we are lucky that we have quite a large variety on the estate. You blend, and so the Marquis Manodori, for example, is a blend of four different types of Lambrusco grapes. We use a lot of the common ones such as Salamino, Grasparossa, and Maestri, perhaps. It’s very exciting. For example, we made a still red wine out of a grape that was always used to blend Lambrusco, and it was never used for still wine. That is the exciting part of winemaking. You can experiment.
K: Actually, I’m drinking the Marquis Manodori right now. This is the thing about sparkling wine made from red wine grapes. Am I experiencing tannin? For the listeners out there, tannin is the drying sensation in your mouth when you drink red wine, and this is a sparkling, chilled red wine made from red grapes. Do you let that weave in, or how do you mess with that?
J: You’re right, you are experiencing that. Maestri and Marani contribute a lot to that type of experience. I don’t know if that’s what you were aiming to ask, but the way you make it is in the steel tank. You have different ways of making Lambrusco. You can make it in a traditional way, like Champagne, or you can make it in the méthode de Charmat, which means you do a second fermentation in the steel tank, or you do it in the ancestral way where it’s fermented in the bottle. There are very different ways of making Lambrusco.
K: I just find it fascinating that I’m drinking it right now. I’m drinking this awesome red wine that’s bubbly and fruity. The wine is alive, and it has a dryness to it that makes it tasty. It is so refreshing and there’s tannin. It’s the coolest thing. I could sit here, eat, and drink this by myself with this glass, or I could have some cheese with this. It has such versatility to it. I think that’s what’s so exciting about this wine because as we get more excited about Lambrusco on our market, that’s what is going to really kick it off. It’s this feeling of “Oh my gosh, there’s depth here?”
T: I agree with you there. You said something earlier, too, which is this idea of Lambrusco being the only region and wine in the world that is popular, sparkling, and red. Hearing about and tasting the tannins in a sparkling wine, I think it really takes us somewhere else. It’s something new for us to enjoy. Sparkling wine, oftentimes I find it goes down too easy. Having something that is sparkling in the glass, but maybe a bit more contemplative, I think would be great. I can really see, as Keith says, people discovering that and loving it.
K: This is going to be a wild question, but if you’re in New York or if you’re in the United States and you have your Lambrusco and you’re not in Modena, what would you eat with Lambrusco?
J: Spare ribs, or a good steak.
K: Steak and a Lambrusco? That makes complete sense. Isn’t that weird? You just said steak and Lambrusco, people in America would say that’s awesome. We were just talking about tannin, that structure of the wine. For American ears to hear Lambrusco and steak is kind of crazy, but man, that would absolutely work.
J: When we spoke about the food from Emilia-Romagna, there’s a lot of meat in our food. It’s funny, actually, because you see similar traditions in many countries. It’s not just the pasta. It’s not just the pizza, because that’s often what people associate with Lambrusco. It’s a lot of meat. As I said, it’s the barbecue, the steak, or boiled meat. Also, I find spicy cuisines, Asian cuisines to have amazing pairings. It wouldn’t be the first idea you had, but it really works. Any time you have fatty food, like salmon, for example, it really goes well with Lambrusco. I wouldn’t have thought about it at first, but it makes sense.
K: That is so cool. Here we are now, we’re basically just showing the diversity of this wine, but having Lambrusco in America is awesome. I can’t wait for us to get more and more into it. I think it’s something that we really should be getting into. However, as this health crisis goes away and people can start traveling again, people can get on planes to go over and see you and experience it over there. Emilia-Romagna is very welcoming to tourists, right?
J: It is. It’s never been an overly touristy area, but Emilia-Romagna is a new discovery. I think it’s the food, it’s the Motor Valley. Bologna has been having a huge success in the last few years. People are discovering all the cities around us, and we are really at the heart of it, which is wonderful, because everything is in a short distance from our place. It’s really an exciting region to discover, and it’s right in the middle of Italy.
K: Exactly, it literally is the center. How can people find you? You’re on Instagram and people can go on the website and they can see potential tours and stuff like that, right?
J: Yes, we are on Instagram, @venturinibaldini. Our winery has its own very special Instagram. It’s @roncolo1888, which is the date of when the villa was built. If you start with Venturini Baldini, you’ll find everything. If people want to contact us, we are here, we are opening now in April, even though it’s still a slow season with Europe not clearing travel yet, but we are looking forward to an exciting year.
K: So go to Emilia-Romagna, go to Roncolo 1888, have a tour of balsamic vinegar, and drink the amazing bubbly red wine. That sounds basically awesome. Start here in the United States, guys, then and go over there. Because the Lambrusco here, it needs to be a thing. It’s awesome.
T: Watch some Fellini before you go out there, he’s famously from Emilia-Romagna. A nice way to prepare.
K: All right, I like that. Queued up in the queue. I don’t know what I’m talking about. Thank you so much, Julia, for joining us today. I know you’re actually in Italy, so thank you so much for taking the time.
J: Thank you.
K: I look forward to the season coming up with Lambrusco. I am very excited for it to be on our market, enjoying it, and actually saying, “OK, this is actually Lambrusco.”
J: Thank you so much. It’s been a real pleasure.
Thanks for listening to this week’s episode of “EOD Drinks.” If you’ve enjoyed this program, please leave us a rating or a review wherever you get your podcasts. It really helps other people discover the show. And tell your friends. We want as many people as possible listening to this amazing program.
And now for the credits. “End of Day Drinks” is recorded live in New York City at VinePair’s headquarters. And it is produced, edited, and engineered by VinePair tastings director, yes, he wears a lot of hats, Keith Beavers. I also want to give a special thanks to VinePair’s co-founder, Josh Malin, to the executive editor Joanna Sciarrino, to our senior editor, Cat Wolinski, senior staff writer Tim McKirdy, and our associate editor Katie Brown. And a special shout-out to Danielle Grinberg, VinePair’s art director who designed the sick logo for this program. The music for “End of Day Drinks” was produced, written, and recorded by Darby Cici. I’m VinePair co-founder Adam Teeter, and we’ll see you next week. Thanks a lot.
Ed. note: This episode has been edited for length and clarity.