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Paltrinieri is a family winery three generations and running. Achille Paltrinieri built the house and cantina in 1926. His grandson Alberto now takes care of everything in the vineyard and cellar, while Alberto’s wife, Barbera, is the factotum (and always brings us warm gnocchi fritti when we visit).

The vineyards and winery are just north of Modena in Emilia-Romagna, right off of the A1 autostrada, Italy’s main vertical thoroughfare. ‘Il Cristo’ is the Paltrinieri’s main vineyard. It got its name from a neighboring trattoria and well-known waystation just north of Modena, situated between the two rivers Secchia and Panaro. The locale and trattoria were established before the town and appellation of Sorbara. It’s a convivial and ancient waypoint for a pick-me-up when you’re a bit tired from traveling.

The Paltrinieris have 15 hectares of vineyards. Farming is a carefully-calibrated lotta integrata (lutte raisonnée in French; “sustainable” is probably the closest analogue in English), meaning that the producer will spray when rot or pest pressure in the vineyard dictates in their view. All fermentations, both primary and secondary, are with native yeasts and are longer than the norm. The longer fermentations “help preserve what’s there” in the grapes, according to Alberto. Total production is about 100,000 bottles per year.

As the Paltrinieri wines demonstrate, Sorbara’s Lambrusco is different from other Lambrusco DOCs, starting with its pale color of crushed cranberries. The sluicing acidity and less evidently fruity flavors suggest something savory, elegant, and even serious – which it is. ‘Leclisse’ is the cru bottling from the historical Vigna del Cristo. ‘Piria’ is the still-serious but also great picnic or barbecue wine that drains quickly. ‘Radice’ goes back to the ‘Roots’ of Lambrusco, pre-1950s, when the wine was traditionally fermented in the bottle.

Alberto likes to say that his wines are “semplici ma non banali” – “simple but not banal”. (Semplice is usually a genuine and heartfelt compliment in Italian, meaning direct, honest, and authentic.) That could be the epigram and rallying cry for all good Lambrusco and for many of the other wines from Italy and elsewhere that we love to drink.