Cleto Chiarli Centenario Lambrusco
Wild Blackberries, Boysenberries, Fresh Blueberry, Raspberry Jam
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"Our first feature may come as a shock to some of you, and for good reason. Although a sparkling wine is always one of our picks for December, rarely is it a deep red, Italian. The Cleto Chiarli Lambrusco Amabile is a true giant in its category, representing not only an incredibly high standard of quality but also a major turning point in the oft- misunderstood category of Lambrusco.
Though many quality examples exist, until recently the sparkling wines of Lambrusco were often believed to be cheap, simple, and sweet. Many American consumers are surprised to learn that historically, Lambrusco is often bone-dry, cloudy, unfiltered and generally higher in alcohol. Until WWI, most examples of Lambrusco were bottled on demand at the wineries outside Modena, Italy. The food-friendly nature was not lost on the locals, as Modena is one of the culinary capitals of Italy. Cleto Chiarli, the estate’s founder, was one such winemaker, whose sparkling red wines grew so popular that in 1860, he established Cantina Chiarli- at the time, the first commercial wine producer in the region.
Before too long, dry Lambrusco had become one of Italy’s most celebrated wines. However, there were drawbacks to the “ancestral method”— the process of natural bottle fermentation resulted in dry, cloudy wines. Bottle-fermented wines pose challenges when it comes to quality control, and often are hard to sell to a brand-conscious audience used to “fully- sparkling” wines such as Champagne or Prosecco. As a result, the wines were not particularly well-known outside of Italy.
In 1960, the Chiarli family revolutionized Lambrusco by becoming the first large producer to switch over to the Charmat method, which is the same method of tank fermentation employed by Prosecco producers. This allowed the resulting wine to be filtered safely, increased its effervescence and allowed for a little residual sugar to remain, a style that would later grow to define Lambrusco as a whole. This resulting wine; light, bubbly, and semi-sweet, was an instant success on the international market, becoming particularly popular among American wine drinkers. This transition is what gives the Centenario its name: 1960, the winery’s hundredth anniversary, and the year that the family’s innovative thinking would come to define modern Lambrusco.
Fast-forward to 2002, when Mauro and Anselmo Chiarli, the current owners and Cleto’s great-great-grandsons, assumed control of the winery. Though the winery’s exports, as well as the amount of wine produced, had grown, they wanted to separate their family’s name from the oceans of mass-market, sweet Lambrusco that now dominated the category. They built a new winery in the heart of the Lambrusco Grasparossa di Castelvetro DOC, and today all of their fruit is not only estate-grown, but certified sustainable as well." - Tim Varan