One of the great things about attending a wine festival is discovering something new: A new vintage, a new grape, a new winery or in the case of the NYC Autumn Wine Festival, an entire country. I’ve had South American wines before; Malbecs from Argentina and of course numerous white wines from Chile, but until this point I’ve never had any Brazilian wines. That was soon to change. After a quick stop to visit with Barbara Frank of Dr Frank Vinifera Wine Cellars, I headed over to table #20 where the Wines of Brasil were serving wines from Salton, Monte Paschoal, Lidio Carraro and Pizzato wineries.
I was not the only one who was unfamiliar with Brazilian wines. According to Monica Tartaro, promotional analyst for Wines of Brasil, “There was a queue of people curious to taste our wines. Most people never had contact with Brazilian wine and had a pleasant surprise.” I started with the sparkling brut from Salton Winery. Salton’s history started in Italy in 1878 when Antonio Domenico Salton, an amateur winemaker, left the Veneto looking for better opportunities in Brazil. The winery was established by his children in 1910, when they started to grow grapes and produce still and sparkling wines under the name Paulo Salton & Irmãos. The brut is a blend of Chardonnay, Riesling, Malvasia, Trebbiano and Semilliion. It has a bright yellow color with subtle aromas of fruit and a nice acidity. A fantastic start to my introduction to Brazilian wines.
Next up were a trio of 2011 reserve reds from Monte Paschoal: Tannat, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. Towards the end of the nineteenth century, Victor Basso arrived in Brazil from Italy, where he began producing wines. He brought with him the knowledge of past generations of winemaking and a few seedlings. His son Hermindo Basso founded the Rural Cantina winery in 1940. Today the winery is known as Monte Paschoal and produces premium reds. The highlight of the tasting for me was the Tannat, a red grape from southwest France which is now grown prominently in South America. The Tannat had a primitive, earthy taste with aromas of truffles and black fruits. According to Monica, “After the sparkling wine, the Tannat drew the most attention as it was a new variety to many of the guests at our table.” While great on its own, I could see this wine being a perfect match with game, cured meats and strong cheeses.
Brazil has been producing wine since the beginning of its colonization, but the wine industry only came into prominence with the arrival of Italian immigrants to the Gaucho Highlands in Serra Gaúcha in the mid-19th Century. “This immigration marked the introduction of the modern-day wine industry in Brazil,” Mari Balsan, Project Manager at Wines of Brasil, explained. “Today the Brazilian wine industry has greatly improved since those early days, with new technologies; many developed by the Italians here in Brazil. We are always searching for new methods of vinification, and now have a high quality product with world-wide competitiveness and a world-class profile.”
Lidio Carraro is another Brazilian winery with an Italian connection. Lidio Carraro decided to concentrate on grape cultivation, rather than winemaking and in the 1970’s became one of the leaders in the vinifera movement in Brazil and was one of the pioneers in the planting of Merlot. In 2001, Lidio Carraro started operating as a winery. With a Purist philosophy that valued the integrity and produced wines with minimal intervention. Like many of the Brazilian wines I tasted, their 2013 Agnus Merlot was a full-bodied wine with a deep ruby color. This unoaked wine also had an aroma of dark fruits with well-balanced tannins.
Another family business of Italian origin, Pizzato was founded in 1998 and focuses on red wines. I ended my tasting with the 2009 Alicante Bouschet Reserva. Alicante Bouschet, a I was not familiar with, is a French grape variety developed from crossing Petit Bouschet with Grenache and is now cultivated widely in Portugal. It has a deep dark color and is often used in blending. This wine was even more rustic than the Tannat from Monte Paschoal and had hints of forest berries, licorice, tobacco and cocoa. This wine was savored with cheeses from an adjoining table.
Of course there were many other wine regions represented at the Autumn Festival, many of which I sampled, but because this was new territory for me, Brazilian wines were my main area of concentration. I urge anyone who has not yet had the pleasure of tasting these wines to do so soon. “Tchin Tchin” to Monica, Mari and Eduardo Hidalgo (of MundoVino) for introducing me to these wonderful wines.