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The Best of Brazilian Wine: My First Taste and Impressions

Call me curious, or just call me a big geek, but I get really excited when I get the opportunity to taste the wines from somewhere I've never tasted before. So when the invitation came in to attend an event focused on the wines of Brazil, I jiggled some appointments around and snuck out of work for an hour last week and spent some time on my "other job" -- the intrepid global wine explorer.

My experience with and knowledge of Brazilian wine before this tasting amounted to a big fat zilch -- never tasted it, never talked about it, never read about it.

Of course, in the back of my head, I knew Brazil was a wine producing country. A good portion of the country dips brazil_wine_map_full.jpgdown into the latitudes of places like Mendoza and Salta, two great wine producing regions of Argentina, but I knew little about the topology, climate, and history of this area of the country.

It turns out that, not unlike Argentina, Brazil has a relatively long history of winemaking (for the New World) thanks to the primarily Italian immigrants that settled the southern part of the country in the mid 1800s. Like many immigrants everywhere, they brought grapevines and a tradition of wine -- both a cultural custom and a welcome respite for a difficult life. The wine craft and culture of Brazil remained essentially a local agrarian village industry for the next thirty years, with only a modest amount of wine leaving the region to elsewhere in the country.

It wasn't until the mid 1960s that the industry began to seriously expand and invest in the modernization that would be required to compete on the global market. Family wineries began to send their children to universities to study oenology and viticulture, and new vineyard sites began to be selected based on soil science and micro-climactic measurements. Slowly the industry grew up.

In 1998 the Brazilian Wine Institute was created. Today the country has nearly 30,000 acres under vine and produces about 45 million liters (5 million cases) of wine per year, fairly equally split between red and white varieties. The vast majority of that wine production (90+%) still takes place in an area known as Serra Gaúcha which is at around 29 degrees south latitude, roughly parallel to Mendoza Argentina and sandwiched between Uruguay and the Atlantic Ocean.

Serra Gaúcha is a hilly plateau at about 640m/2100 feet above sea level and is planted primarily with red and white Bordeaux varieties, plus some Chardonnay, Muscat, Pinot Noir, and Gamay. Annual temperatures range from 12C/54F to 22C/72F, and the region gets about 68 inches (!) of rain per year.

In addition to Serra Gaúcha, additional vineyard development is taking place in a region called Vale do São Francisco, which is a very interesting sounding wine region. Located in the Northern part of Brazil, the flat plains of this are at a mere 9 degrees South latitude, and are extremely dry. The warm climate and the artificial irrigation required to grow vines allows two harvests per year.

Of course, that's interesting stuff, but all academic. Good background, but what matters, of course is whether the wine is any good, right?

And generally, I'm sad to say, it is not.

Many of the sixty or so wines I had the opportunity to taste at this event weren't very good. But there were a few that were decent -- decent enough to prove that it certainly is possible to make quality wine in the country. Whether or not it is possible to do it in quantities and at prices that would allow Brazil to carve out a little bit of the international export market I don't have the information to say, and which I am certainly not qualified to judge.

So while Brazilian wine must generally be avoided by those looking for predictably high quality wines, those like myself that are willing to experiment and explore will doubtless find gradually improving wines coming from the land of Carnaval.

2004 Casa Valduga Brut Premium Sparkling Wine. $17

2002 Boscato Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon. $40
2006 Casa Valduga Premium Chardonnay. $15
2002 Don Laurindo Gran Reserva Bordeaux Blend. $105
2005 Don Laurindo Malbec. $45
2004 Miolo Quinta Castas Portuguesas Red Wine. $23
2004 Salton "Talento" Red Blend. $25
2006 Salton Volpi Chardonnay. $13

NV Mioranza Sparkling Wine Brut. $20
2005 Mioranza Cabernet Sauvignon. $15
2004 Salton "Desejo" Red Blend. $29
2007 Salton "Flowers" Demi Sec White Wine. $7

2005 Boscato Cabernet Sauvignon. $21
2006 Brazilian Soul Chardonnay. $9
2005 Don Laurindo Cabernet Sauvignon. $35
2006 Miolo Reserva Chardonnay. $12
2004 Miolo Reserva "Terroir" Merlot. $45
2006 Mioranza Chardonnay. $15
2005 Mioranza Merlot. $15
NV Mioranza Moscatel Sparkling Wine. $18
2004 Pizzato "Concentus" Red Blend. $25
2004 Pizzato Merlot. $15
NV Marson Brut Sparkling Wine. $15

NV (Aurora) Conde de Foucauld Moscatel Sparkling Wine. $10
2004 Casa Valduga Duetto Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot. $14
2005 Don Laurindo Merlot. $35
NV Geroges Aubert Extra Brut Sparkling Wine. $16.50
NV Geroges Aubert Prosecco Brut Sparkling Wine. $12
NV Miolo Brut Sparkling Wine. $15
2004 Miolo "Lot 43" Red Blend. $35
2007 Pizzato Chardonnay. $15
2005 Pizzato "Fausto" Cabernet Sauvignon. $11
2005 Salton Volpi Cabernet Sauvignon. $13

2005 Boscato Reserva Merlot. $25
2004 Casa Valduga Cabernet Franc Premium. $14
NV Georges Aubert Moscatel Sparkling Wine. $12
2005 Marson Fami­glia Chardonnay. $15
2002 Marson "Gran Reserva" Cabernet Sauvignon. $15
2004 Pizzato Cabernet Sauvignon. $15
2005 Salton Volpi Merlot. $13

2006 Marson "Vale da Ferradura" Red Blend. $10
2005 Panceri Merlot. $6.50
2004 Pisani e Panceri Cabernet Sauvignon. $18.50
2007 Pizzato Merlot Rosé. $11

2004 Aurora Cellars Proprietary Red. $11
2004 Casa Valduga Gran Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon. $32
NV Geroges Aubert Demi Sec Sparkling Wine. $12
2006 Miolo Reserva Pinot Noir. $12
2004 Panceri Cabernet Sauvignon. $6.50

2005 Brazilian Soul Merlot. $9
2002 Marson Famiglia Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot. $15

2004 Aurora Cellars Merlot. $11
2004 Casa Valduga Merlot Premium. $15
2005 Georges Aubert Cabernet Sauvignon. $17
2004 Marson Reserva Merlot. $14
2005 Brazilian Soul Cabernet Sauvignon. $9

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Required Reading for Wine Lovers

The Oxford Companion to Wine by Jancis Robinson Wine Grapes The World Atlas of Wine by Hugh Johnson to cork or not to cork by George Taber reading between the vines by Terry Theise adventures on the wine route by Kermit Lynch Love By the Glass by Dorothy Gaiter & John Brecher Noble Rot by William Echikson The Science of Wine by Jamie Goode The Judgement of Paris by George Taber The Wine Bible by Karen MacNeil The Botanist and the Vintner by Christy Campbell The Emperor of Wine by Elin McCoy The Taste of Wine by Emile Peynaud