I know many people are going to disagree with my ratings for many of these wines, primarily because they are made in a style that does not closely adhere to what we believe to be the popularly accepted style. In fact, some of the most vocal criticism is likely to come from those in Brazil itself!
How can these wines possibly be scored so highly when they fail to approach the style, power and consistency of an Argentine or a Chilean wine? That “failure” is exactly why these wines are so appealing. For the most part, they buck the trend of adapting an international style. I think this is because producers realize that they simply cannot make wines like that.
Instead, Brazilian producers have embraced what the land and the climate have given them and in turn have produced wines that are different and unique. These are wines that speak to me. Defending wines that lack the power, richness, depth of fruit and opulence that have become synonymous with “great wine” over the past two decades is a funny position to be in, but the wines of Brazil remind us that there was great wine before this all became the norm. In fact, there continue to be wines that are great for the palate yearning for something other than the norm. Sometimes, you just have to look a little harder to find those wines.
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Undoubtedly one of the stars of Brazil and the finest set of wines tasted on my trip, these wines define what is possible in the region. Surprisingly, the winery does not use any oak for aging. Instead, the fruit is allowed to express itself simply and unfettered as it is aged in stainless steel.
The vines that Carraro uses are located around the winery and in the neighboring region of Campanha. Founded in 1998 and first producing wine in 2002, Carraro has grown production from 40 hectares (100 acres) of vineyards to some 11,000 12-bottle cases a year. The youth of the winery should not be mistaken for inexperience though, as Lidio is the fifth generation of Carraro grape growers. He is now practicing organic and has years of experience in the industry. It shows, but experience alone is not sufficient to produce these wines. There is genius at work here.
Top Wine Tasted: 2006 Lidio Carraro Tannat Grande Vindima 94pts
42 hectares (103 acres) produce some 12,000 cases of Pizzato wine, and you can taste some of that earth in virtually every wine produced here. As is typical of Brazil's wine industry, sparkling wines play an important role in the production of Pizzato, but the reds are more interesting. While the sparklers naturally taste of technique, the reds show terroir; salty, ashy, basaltic terroir.
Whether you like these wines or not is a different argument, but you can't argue that Pizzato is capturing something in every bottle. I know I like these wines more than most will, but then again, I am a sucker for finding something unique in a bottle instead of just another bowl of oak-aged berries. Pizzato's wines are well made and seem to be among the most terroir-driven wines I encountered in Brazil.
Top Wine Tasted: 2006 Pizzato Concentus 91pts
Salton is the granddaddy of Brazil's wine industry. The winery is over 100-years-old and produces some 165,000 cases of wine, much of which is rather impressive sparkling wine. No knock on sparkling wine, but they are not the best for revealing the terroir and potential of a region. Leaving those aside for the moment, it is worth noting that Salton produces an impressive array of white and red wines as well.
The style here is a bit difficult to pin down since a range of wines is produced, but the best wines do share a richness, albeit one that is distinctly modern in feel. In general, the wines are very high quality and nicely blend modern winemaking with the terroir that Brazilian wines are capable of expressing.
Top Wine Tasted: 2007 Salton Talento 91pts
It is surprising that Valduga dates back only to 1973 since the winery seems to have grown to be very successful while retaining a historical feel. This is because the roots of the modern winery do date back to 1875, the earliest days of the local wine industry. With so much experience, it's no surprise that the winery is well suited to receive guests, with some of the finest tasting rooms, shops and restaurants that I saw on my travels through the region.
Again, sparkling wines are very important and well represented in the Valduga line-up, but it should not be surprising to find white and red wines playing a significant role as well. The guard at the front gate still speaks the rural Italian of the local immigrant population. Production runs about 150,000 12-bottle cases per year, with fruit coming from 50 hectares (123 acres) of estate vineyards supplemented with 160 hectares (395 acres) in Encruzilhada do Sul. The wines of Valduga are roughly similar to those of Salton in that there is a nice balance between fruit, terroir and intelligent winemaking, though the wines here do seem to have a little something extra.
Top Wine Tasted: Casa Valduga 60 Brut 91pts
Miolo is one of Brazil's most successful wineries, attracting several hundred thousand visitors a year and selling a significant volume of wine through the tasting room. With 1,200 hectares (nearly 3000 acres) under vine, it's not surprising that Miolo has the scale to produce attractively priced wines. They do, but a significant percentage of the 135,000 or so cases a year are premium wines.
Miolo's wines are good in that they are quite clean and consistent, but there is more winemaker here than terroir at times and the winemaking seems to be pushing for a rather international style. I would prefer to see Miolo make wines that speak more abut Brazil’s terroir and the potential it affords than about the ability to produce rather satisfactory fighting varietals.
Top Wine Tasted: 2008 Miolo Lote 43 91pts