The Italian term (also Lambrusca) means "wild vine". Already the Roman author Cato the Elder (234-149 B.C.) mentioned a Lambrusco variety and called it "Trecenaria" (three hundredth) because it yielded 300 amphoras of wine per jugerum (equivalent to one morning). Many varieties selected from wild vines and bred further were called Lambrusco. It is therefore neither a single grape variety nor a family of grape varieties, but the term is used in countless grape variety names and synonyms. The many varieties are mostly not related to each other (the same phenomenon also applies to the name groups Malvasia, Muscat, Trebbiano and Vernaccia). Lambrusco varieties are particularly common in the regions of Emilia-Romagna and Piedmont, but also in Apulia, Basilicata, Lombardy, Sicily and Trentino-Alto Adige. However, the term is not only used in grape variety names, but also in DOC designations; in some cases, DOC and grape variety names are identical.
Lambrusco wines used to be mass-produced and were the typical everyday drink in Italian restaurants. Especially in the USA, sweet Lambrusco was popular in the late 1970s and 1980s. In 1985 the maximum consumption of 13 million cases was reached. There were also reduced-alcohol and pasteurised light versions, which became a real export hit. These were even filled in aluminium cans to achieve better sales, especially in the USA as an alternative to Coca-Cola. For some time now, however, people have been returning to quality. In Italy the Lambrusco varieties are mainly used to produce fruity Frizzante (sparkling wines) or Spumante according to the Méthode charmat (tank fermentation), but also many still wines. The equation "Lambrusco = sparkling wine" is therefore misleading.
For the cost-effective production of simple Lambrusco sparkling wines, the base wines are completely fermented and stored temporarily. For the final production, RTK (rectified grape must concentrate) and yeasts are added in a pressure tank, the mixture is fermented to the desired residual sugar content and the wine is bottled. For the technically much more complex and cost-intensive production of thus more aromatic quality Lambrusco, the must is cooled down to almost 0 °Celsius after pressing. If necessary, the grape must is heated, then yeasts are added, fermentation is interrupted at the desired residual sugar content by means of cold shock and then the wine is bottled. There are also mixed variants. Lambrusco wines produced by bottle fermentation (champagne method) are the exception.