Cooking to the Wine: Pezzuoli Lambrusco Grasparossa di Castelvetro with Antipasto Pizza (#ItalianFWT)

The day we landed in Rome on our trip to Italy last September, we ran into some annoying travel problems. We landed after our long flight to discover that there were issues with our car reservation. Bottom line, there was no car. Neither of us had slept much on the flight (I can never sleep much on planes), so we were in that zombie state where it’s both hard to make sense or make sense of the world around you. It took a very long time to get ourselves sorted and out of the airport.

When we finally got ourselves settled, we muscled up enough energy to take an introductory stroll around the city. Eventually, all we wanted was something tasty to eat (we were in Italy after all) and something cold and refreshing to drink. Nothing complicated; just delicious.

The solution was clear: pizza and Lambrusco. We found our way to one of the pizzerias on our long list of recommended restaurants – Pizzeria Baffetto – and sat down to a big pie loaded with toppings and a cold, fizzy bottle. It was still hot in Rome at this time of year, and a big red just did not seem appealing. Nor were we in any state to really analyze and revel in a complex wine. Lambrusco was just the thing.

This Cleto Chiarli Lambrusco Grasparossa di Castelvetro was just what we wanted with this pizza.

That said, don’t assume I’m talking about the sweet, schlocky fizz that Lambrusco became associated with a while back. I learned there was a lot more to this class of wines a long time ago. One of the very first pieces I wrote on wine years ago was called “Lauding Lambrusco” for the now-departed Food Arts Magazine. It covered a seminar and tasting celebrating the wide range of styles Lambrusco comes in, and paired different versions with many different bites prepared by celebrated Chefs like Michael White. My appreciation for these wines started there, and since Lambruscos don’t tend to be very pricey it’s been easy to continue the relationship over the years and will usually have a bottle of two around.

Lambrusco is actually the name of a group of related grape varieties originating in Emilia-Romagna in northern Italy, although these grapes are grown in a few other regions as well. These sparkling wines range in styles from sweet (dolce), to off-dry (amiable) to very dry (secco). There are even rosé and white Lambruscos (these make a delicious pairing for sushi!), but by far and away the most common versions are red.

We’re not going to get too far into the nitty gritty of each one, but there are a few different varieties and some of them have their own DOC’s in Emilia-Romagna which include: Lambrusco di Sorbara, Lambrusco Grasparossa di Castelvetro, and Lambrusco Salamino di Santa Croce. (There are 8 different Lambrusco DOC’s in total.) Across the board, in all of these cases the wine must be made up of at least 85 percent Lambrusco grapes, and in some cases it has to be a specific sub-variety.  (The remaining bit can be made of different grapes depending on the DOC.)

Today’s wine is a Lambrusco Grasparossa di Castelvetro, which comes from a the town of Castelvetro di Modena. Grasparossa is one of the most full-bodied of the Lambrusco varieties, and it is the most tannic. This all makes Grasparossa a really good option if you’re looking for an alternative to a still red wine that you can served chilled.

Most of Lambrusco is made through the charmat method (similar to Prosecco) for sparkling wine, but some is still made via the traditional method (similar to Champagne.) You do have to be careful about where you buy them, because there are a lot of mass-produced versions. However, if you go to a store you trust you can find really solid bottles that aren’t that pricey.

I’ve had the pleasure of trying some beautiful, complex versions, but I’m not going to lie to you, I tend to grab these bottles when, like on this occasion, I’m just looking for refreshment and enjoyment. We were beyond exhausted and worn down on that first night in Rome, and the pizza and Lambrusco combo was the perfect restorative, comforting, simple pleasure.


I recently decided to take inspiration from this experience for a homemade pizza night. We popped a bottle of Lambrusco and decided to let the wine inspire the toppings, then sipped away while the pizzas baked in the oven.

Our wine for the night was the Azienda Agricola Pezzuoli Lambrusco Grasparossa di Castelvetro NV, which comes from 4th generation winemaking family that has been in working since 1932. Their are wines are still 100% estate made.

The Pezzuoli Lambrusco Grasparossa di Castelvetro gave us notes of tart blackberries and sour cherry, a bit of meatiness, a touch of balsamic and medicinal herbs in the background. It was juicy, but dry with a savory finish and had lots of mouth puckering acidity.

We definitely wanted some charcuterie on this pizza, so opted for some Calabrese salami. Without overthinking it too much, the wine moved us to use roasted red pepper spread as our sauce over the usual tomato sauce. Given all the acidity, we though the wine could handle some marinated artichokes, and briny black olives seemed a good option to pair with the wine’s savory finish. Topped it all off with buffalo mozzarella for that melty, oozy, cheesy factor. I also sprinkled on a favorite herb mix just before serving, to tie in some of those light herbal notes in the wine and I really think it gave it a nice pop of flavor. Here’s the one I used, but feel free to use your favorite. The combination of ingredients reminded me of an antipasto platter served up on a pizza, hence the name.

I’m working on my pizza crust game. A friend recently gifted me some of her sourdough starter and I’ve been starting to make bread at home, as well experimenting with sourdough pizza crusts. This was only my second attempt at a homemade sourdough crust. The skill is definitely still in development, but this second run was already a big improvement from the first, and I’m more than happy to keep at it. I used this recipe from NYT Cooking, but the flour between the recommended and whole wheat flour. I used the entire quantity for one large pie, baked for 12 to 15 minutes at 550°F.  Feel free to use your favorite of buy storebought dough.

We really liked this combo and the Lambrusco was full on chuggable alongside it. So yummy!

I highly recommend this as a low-stress pairing experiment. Have a selection of pizza toppings available. Pop open and taste your bottle of wine, then just go with whatever you feel like having with it. Don’t stress, just go with your gut. It’s pizza and wine — the results are bound to be good!


Lambrusco is remarkably food friendly. Charcuterie, panini, pasta — of course! 100% I can tell you from experience that adry, savor version like this one is AMAZING with a mushroom burger. it’s a pretty ideal candidate for a summer cookout when you’ve got meat going on the grill on a hot sunny day. I’d guess this would be particularly good would vinegar based BBQ sauces. Don’t eat meat? I’m certain it would also be excellent with a portobello burger with a little balsamic vinegar or soy sauce glazed on top.


I couldn’t find a tech sheet, but the estate vines are all grown through sustainable methods, with some organic practices in use. I believe it’s made through the charmat method.


I think I bought this wine for about $17ish (I can’t find the receipt) at Bay Grape. I that’s a really Solid Buy for a good representation of this style. 


The rest of the Italian Food Wine Travel Group is exploring Lambrusco this month as well. If you see this early enough, you can join us for our Twitter Chat tomorrow morning at 8 am PT/ 11 am ET by following #ItalianFWT. Check out the group's offerings here:

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  1. I really do love mushroom burgers (especially the one from Dad's Luncheonette), so I'm going to have to try the portabella with soy with lambrusco! However, the pizza you've made is extremely convincing. It looks like it's from a restaurant, and I'm extremely impressed by your patience for sourdough. A Grasparossa to pair would be my pick too. :)

    1. Thanks so much! I'm still working on the technique, but this crust turned out pretty good.

  2. I can attest to the wonderful pairing of the flavors of pizza and the Portabello. I found it to be very food friendly. I'm anxious to try a bottle from your vintner.

    1. It really is overlooked as a pairing wine - refreshing and versatile. Thanks Wendy!

  3. I was in Rome, Florence and Venice last August and tried Chianti, wines in Lucca, Barolo and table wines but no chilled frizzy wine. I kind of remembered seeing Lambrusco but didn't know enough to order it. The pizza you made with sour dough and artichoke looks so yum!

  4. Another homemade pizza fan over here! I've been using Ken Forkish's Elements of Pizza book lately, though I haven't tried any true sourdough crusts yet. I do love the fun side of Lambrusco with our pizza!

    1. I'm going to have to look into that book! Thanks for the rec.

  5. Love making homemade pizza, although I usually buy the dough. And your idea to substitute red pepper spread for tomato sauce is genius! I'm going to try that next time I put a pie together.

  6. More people should try lambrusco and pizza! Such a great summer pairing. Fun to hear about your trip. Cheers!


Thanks so much for leaving your comments and questions. I always love to hear from you!