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Exploring Lambrusco at Roma Deli in Pasadena

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Welcome to Varying Hues, a new column in which Wine Steward Maxwell Leer explores unsung, colorful wines from around the world.

Roma Deli in Pasadena is unapologetically Italian. Everything encountered in-store is the best of the best, be it rosé from Sicily, sharp Pecorino Crotonese that sits, sweating on the counter, or a mammoth loaf of ciabatta made in house. There are literally hundreds of other tasty Italian foodstuffs and drinkstuffs, too. The patriarch of the enterprise: Rosario Mazzeo. Rosario has personified Roma’s for 57 years on Lake Street, perhaps prior to the disappearance of grape vines from the historic Lake Vineyard from which the street bears its name. His demeanor is calm. He sits patiently behind the meat fridge, awaiting customers. One by one, customers approach the counter, each bearing the subtle grin of anticipation any sentient creature would when viewing his offerings.

Roma’s sells simple Italian wines. Mostly inexpensive, regional wines that offer traditional Italian wine flavors. Valiant whites from Friuli for instance. Or volcanic rosé made of Nerello Mascalese from Mt. Etna. The real catch, however, are the Lambruscos. Lambrusco is a sparkling (or, frizzante in Italian) red wine made in four distinct growing regions in Emilia-Romagna in Northern Italy. As with most styles of frothy, frizzante wine, there are those that are dry and those that are sweet and those that politely decline to be simply one or the other.

Industrial manufacturers such as Cantina Reunite have all but spoiled our perception of Lambrusco as a thickly sweet beverage. Rosario, on the other hand, has an excellently soft and lightly tannic creature: Tenute Ferrarini “Montericco” Lambrusco, Reggio-Emilia, Italia ($12.99/bottle). For those who feel like reading an Italian wine label is harder than dissecting a mudpuppy, here is how this particular label breaks down: Tenute – Estates (‘Estate’ is Tenuta); Ferrarini - Name of the family who owns these estate vineyards; Montericco - Hilly province (specifically: Colli di Scandiano e di Canossa) outside of Reggio-Emilia where the indigenous strand of Lambrusco montericco is cultivated; Lambrusco - Grape varietal; Reggio-Emilia- A city some sixty kilometers West of Bologna in Central, Northern Italy. My advice would be to rip the foil, twist the twine, blow the cork and pour ad nauseum; this is one joyous quaffer! Its lovely bubbles and crisp texture make it a dangerously delicious libation.

The Ferrarini Lambrusco Monterrico is also a fine compliment to food. As one wanders through the aisles of Roma’s there are plenty of ingredients from which to construct a food pairing. Blistering globe grapes in your oven after bathing them in aged balsamic vinegar, being one idea for a pairing. Afterwards, let these grapes cool to room temp and spoon burrata everywhere, add olive oil, salt, and toast slices of Rosario’s ciabatta. This combo-pack, when consumed with a softly textured and freezing cold Lambrusco, belongs in the annals of prolific gourmandism. If in the mood for a pasta, Roma’s literally has a library of the lesser-known strands: thick pipes resembling Penne called Pennoni, other goofily shaped tubes known as Paccheri Lisci, or beautiful golden locks called Fusilli Capri. If looking for an exceptional brand, Rosario recommends Il Vecchio Pastificio Gragnano. “It’s just the best,” Rosario will shout without a smidgen of second guessing. For a do-it- yourself sauce to accompany your gorgeous noodles, purchase a can of Sicilian tomatoes, half pound of pancetta, one head of garlic, a bushel of basil and add a touch of Lambrusco to boot. After all, it is these kitchen aromas that define a healthy household.

Los Angeles boasts a community with some of the finest, old school grocers in the United States, oftentimes hidden in unassuming strip malls. Two grocers that come to mind are (i) Olson’s Scandinavian Deli (in its sixth decade), as well as (ii) Papa Christo’s Greek Deli (been in business since 1948). In fact, many American cities have their own, local grocers like Roma’s. In Minneapolis, there is Kramarczuk’s Polish deli in Dinkytown (since the late 1940s). In San Francisco, there is Lucca Ravioli in the Mission, which has been in business for nearly one hundred years. In New York City, there is Di Palo, originally a dairy-shop built by Basilicatans in the 1920’s. One thing these stores have in common: passionate elders maintaining food and drink traditions of their respective countries. Further, these groceries are usually accounted for by handsome old cash registers whose receipts remind us that each penny does matter. Money spent at Roma’s is flavor hard earned.
·Thinking Through Wine: Consider the Rose [~ELA~]
— Maxwell Leer

Roma Deli

918 N Lake Ave., Pasadena, CA 91104