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“Lambrusco or West Coast Cooler?” How daggy drinks are getting cool again

Fancy a barbecue or dinner this weekend? Grab a bottle of lambrusco, oaky chardonnay or a West Coast Cooler and you might just find yourself on the cool side of a resurgence in popular drinks in the 1980s.

“Lambrusco is one of my favorite drops and comes in so many styles,” says Gill Gordon-Smith, oenologist, winemaker and Italian wine expert.

“It’s not just the sweet purple juice we drank. There’s a lambrusco for every taste and every price. It’s a revelation. Some of the most amazing and delicious cocktails can also be made from of Lambrusco.

It’s not just the sweet purple juice we drank. There’s a lambrusco for every taste and price, says wine expert Gill Gordon-Smith. Photo: Mark Hatfield



Lambrusco is a family of grapes found in the Italian regions of Reggio Emilia and Modena. It took a hit in the image stakes thanks to the overuse of ultra-sweet, super-sparkling commercial wine in the 1970s and 1980s.

Today, modern Italian producers and enthusiasts like Gordon-Smith are working hard to produce artisanal examples of lambrusco and change the sweet and unhealthy connotations.

“Lambrusco is not just one biotype but many and is quite possibly the oldest family of native grape varieties in Italy,” says Gordon-Smith.

“There’s definitely a nostalgic element to it. They conjure up memories of being younger and having fun with what were often sickly sugary drinks.”

“It comes in a rainbow of colors and styles. Most are made using the tank method and range from dry to sweet, but some are bottle-fermented.”

Locally, Victoria’s Chalmers Wines has produced a Lambrusco in every vintage since 2012. Traditional Method Drop is made from the Lambrusco Maestri grape and is bright, fresh, dry and acidic.

Meanwhile, in the Yarra Valley, Tim Ward Wines produces I’ll Fly Away Lambrusco Pet Nat, a blend of the salamino and maestri varieties of lambrusco.

Back in Italy, Gordon-Smith notes producers such as Medici Ermete (one of the region’s oldest family wineries) which produces everything from traditional demi-sec to sweet lambrusco. She also suggests looking for the Paltrinieri Radice Lambrusco di Sorbara (a very dry pink sparkling).

Sydney-based online wine retailer Different Drop has a handful of lambrusco producers for sale.

“They’re much more vinous and structured than what people knew from Italian lambrusco in the 1980s,” says Tom Hollings, co-founder of Different Drop.

Chardonnay is more refined than it was decades ago.

Chardonnay is more refined than it was decades ago. Photo: Tammy Fullum



“It’s the result of importers such as Giorgio de Maria, who owns Podere Sottoilnoce wines, enhancing the range of artisanal examples rather than the big company slosh.”

Hollings and his team also noticed an increased demand for chardonnay.

“Oakier chardies are definitely back,” he says. “People want taste. The Chardonnays of the 80s and 90s were really oaky and lacked freshness, then they went the other way and became too anemic with no wood and unripe fruit.

2021 Tim Ward Wines I'll Fly Lambrusco, $24.

2021 Tim Ward Wines I’ll Fly Lambrusco, $24. Photo: Supplied



“People were trying to imitate Chablis but we don’t have the terroir for that.”

While some customers collect wine from France’s Chablis region and seek the lean Chardonnays from Tasmania and the upper Yarra Valley, Hollings says the general punter just wants flavor, ideally in the $25 price range. at $35.

“Warmer climate things like Scarborough from Hunter Valley, Domaine Naturaliste from Margaret River and some of the most cuddly chardonnays from Beechworth and Yarra Valley. These are the types of wines that people keep coming back to.”

Hollings thinks Australian chardonnay is currently in a good place.

“Chardonnay is more refined than it was decades ago,” he says. “Nowadays there’s a better understanding of when to pick fruit so it’s ripe, textured and fresh. These are the ones people keep coming back to.”

Pernod Ricard’s chief winemaker, Dan Swincer, agrees. “There will always be some ABCs [anything but chardonnay] drinkers, but when people say they don’t drink chardonnay it’s usually because they still feel like it’s like the 90s – too oaky and creamy.

“Fashions change over time… but what we are seeing now is this balance between fruit, oak and malo [the malolactic fermentation process that produces an oil-like texture]. I consider Chardonnay to be a winemaker’s variety because you can do so much with it. »

For consumers like Katie Clark, that’s good news. “I love lambrusco, oaky chardonnay, white zinfandel and anything a little daggy,” says the wine merchant and sales manager.

“There’s definitely a nostalgic element to it. They bring up memories of being younger and having fun with what were often sickly sugary drinks. It was usually the first thing you grabbed from the cupboard. to your parents’ drinks, but now they’re made in a more style conscious way and are delicious.”

The West Coast Cooler is an iconic example of the cyclical nature of alcohol. The blend of white wine, sparkling water and fruit flavors was launched in 1984 and paved the way for what is today a booming ready-to-drink (RTD) market.

“It was launched at a time when things like wine-based coolers were starting to become popular,” says Eric Thomson, Marketing Director of Pernod Ricard Winemakers. “West Coast Coolers went out of fashion for a while, but we’ve always had a very loyal following. The drink has always been around, but they’ve skipped a generation.”

Pernod Ricard relaunched the classic bottled drink in March, adding two versions of hard seltzer (lime and mango flavor) to the range. Low-alcohol options have been a hit with Gen Z drinkers.

“RTDs are a perfect fit for the Aussie lifestyle as the format is super outdoor and refreshing,” says Thomson. “Like everything, trends come and go. The big things always seem to come back into style and RTDs and ready-to-drink beverages are more popular than ever with young people.”


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