Brazil. The name evokes all sorts of associations, from lush rainforest to beach to carnival to exotic cruises down the Amazon. Now add this word: wine. Brazil may be the next emerging South American country to make an impact on the U. S. and global markets, following in the footsteps of its more established neighbors, Argentina and Chile.
This exciting new viticulture region, centered around the city of Bento, boasts a host of vineyards that are celebrated in Brazil but barely known outside, though that will change as hotels at the level of the splendid Hotel Spa do Vinho Caudalie open to welcome visitors. Driving around Bento is akin to taking a jaunt in Tuscany. Rolling hills give way to spectacular vistas; the countryside is magical. And the vineyards contain some magic as well; winemakers here are producing some excellent Merlot, Cabernet Franc and exceptional sparkling wine.
The wines are not widely distributed yet in the U.S., but soon be on the lookout for chocolaty, rich, fruit-forward Merlots from Pizzato, licorice-flavored Cabernet Franc from Casa Valduga as well as blends of Tannat, Cab Franc and Malbec that can stand up to the best of their neighbors. The Miolo Wine Group has commissioned consultant Michel Rolland, who has harnessed its modern facility to produce exceptional still and sparkling wines, including Meritage Bordeaux blends that sell in the $30–$50 range, where wines of comparable quality in Argentina and Chile are in the $50–$100 range. Lídio Carraro offers Quorum, a blend of Merlot, Tannat and Cab Franc that delivers huge flavors of mint and black currant spice, and their Singular is a Nebbiolo-based beauty that provides wonderful Piedmont characteristics.
But the big story here is the sparkling wines. Moët et Chandon has its own facility here to produce a Chandon Brazilian sparkling wine from Pinot Noir and Chardonnay fruit in all its toasty, fruity glory. In the $10–$15 price range there is alot to choose from. Aurora’s sparkling Chardonnay (along with its still Cab Franc, Carmenère and Cabernet Sauvignon) provide ample quality for its below-$10 price
point. Casa Valduga produces a crisp Malbec rosé, both still and sparkling. But the finest producer of sparkling wine in the region, hands down, is Cave Geisse. Situated in the South of Bento, the vineyards are at a very high altitude where the rolling hills are reminiscent of Tuscany but much cooler. Brut, Natural and Rosé Cave Geisse would all score in the 90s on any critic’s score card.
Brazil is evidence that South America is a continent undergoing substantial change, but there’s more. Chile is traditionally thought of as male-dominated, but as Michael Schachner reports in his article on the women winemakers of Chile (page 60), over the past decade, women have taken center stage as influential winemakers. Yet another tradition-bound country that is undergoing rapid change is Portugal—and in this issue, specifically the Douro. As sales of Port have flattened over the past decade—not due to any lack of quality, certainly, but mostly a shift in fashion and lifestyle—the winemakers of the Douro have refocused their considerable skills on crafting table wines. In the story that begins on page 76, European Editor Roger Voss unearths the gems for you to buy today.
The wine world is full of such surprises and unexpected pleasures in the glass. For example, wine lovers of a certain experience level who think they know Pinot Grigio might be surprised by the global report on Pinot Grigio/Pinot Gris that begins on page 67. There are some remarkable, stylish and distinctive wines being produced. It’s a terrific guide to a wine that people clamor for.
And if it’s well-priced, quality wine gems you’re looking for, I’m sure the cover story already grabbed your attention. One of our most popular features every year is our selection of the Top 100 Best Buys (page 42)—wines that are high in quality in relation to price. You will find a wealth of wines earning 90-plus scores whose retail price is $15 and below. It’s the definite article to take with you while stocking up on wines for your holiday entertaining.
In years to come, we expect the wines of Brazil to take their place among many others on such lists, including our Cellar Selections and Enthusiast 100 lists that will appear in upcoming issues. Our editor who covers South America, Michael Schachner, will be reporting on Brazil and reviewing its wines in future issues. We are happy to bring the surprises, the values and the quality to your attention.