Brazil, promised to a bright future

We are only a few hours away from Rio de Janeiro, its frenzied beaches and electrical atmosphere. Yet, it is to discover a wine industry undergoing a revolution that we are in Brazil. Here the production of quality wine – although promised to have a bright future – just turns 25!

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It is in the south of the country, in Serra Gaucha, that we have an appointment to visit the country’s largest producing region (1), where the vine was introduced by the Jesuits in 1626 (2). Arriving by bus from Montevideo, we were expected in Porto Alegre by Joana Monteiro, a team member of Schenker Do Brasil, who accompanied us to discover the Brazilian vineyards.

A young viticulture to be taken (very) seriously

No sooner than we arrived in Bento Gonçalves, the capital of viticulture, we were invited to lunch by the team of Wines of Brasil for a brief lesson of history and the opportunity to enjoy a delicious Churrasco (3). The round of servers, with their meat dishes one more appetizing than the other, was relentless. What a wonderful welcome!

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We learned that Brazil is the fifth largest wine producer in the southern hemisphere and has been cultivating vines since the beginning of its colonization. However, it was only with the opening of the market to imports in the early 90s – which allowed consumers to realize what was considered as “good” wine on an international level – that Brazil began to turn to serious quality. “Without prior references to other wines of the world, it was difficult for Brazilian wine producers to know how their wines compared in the global market place and to pull their quality of production upwards”, one said.

The Vale dos Vinhedos, an air of Tuscany

Our program of visits were largely concentrated in the Vale dos Vinhedos, the first Geographical Indication recognized in Brazil since 2002.

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The landscape is of a wild and naive beauty and is curiously reminiscent of Tuscany – the region from which many Italian immigrants came from. Here we were facing steep hills. A fragmented topography with small hills culminating to 700 meters where vines are mostly planted on the hillside, requiring arigorous manual labor.
It was late December and can one could feel the excitement of the harvest which was to begin soon (4).

Perini

Perini


The Vale Trentino, 1 hour east of here, is also a region with great potential, where wineries like Perini, bordered by vast wilderness and forests, take production forward.

World-class sparkling wines

The conclusion is clear, the Brazilian bubble is a fine wine. And we feasted with it! Whether made from the traditional or Charmat method (5) (more industrial, but able to give very nice results, like at Chandon for example), we were amazed by the consistency and the freshness of Brazilian sparkling wines. With a promising future, they are today at the center of attention.  Just at Casa Valduga, no less than 12 effervescent wines are produced in the range!

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Heart stroke for Cave Geisse, a beautiful estate in the heights of Pinto Bandeira, that produces exceptional bubbles, on volcanic and basaltic soils of the Jurassic. Daniel Geisse, the winemaker, is a perfectionist. You can judge for yourself : average aging between 2 to 5 years (going up to 15 years for magnums!), a maximum of 30-days stock, disgorging every day, traditional riddling and manual harvest in cases of 3 to 5 kg. When you realize that the winery stocks 600,000 bottles in the cellar while it produces only 200,000 per year…we are speaking about world class bubbles.

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Our Brazilian heart strokes in sparkling wines:
Extra Brut 2011 from Cave Geisse  (50% Pinot Noir, 50% Chardonnay ; 3 years on lees)
Gran Nature 2009 from Casa Valduga (70% Chardonnay, 30% Pinot Noir ; 5 years on lees)
Safra Nature 2009 from Cave Geisse (50% Pinot Noir, 50% Chardonnay ; 5 years on lees)
Brut 2011 from Miolo (50% Pinot Noir, 50% Chardonnay ; 18 months on lees)
Excellence Prestige Rosé NM from Chandon (20% Chardonnay, 80% Pinot Noir, Charmat method, 3 years old based wine ; 12 months on lees)
José “Bepi” Salton Nature NM from Salton (50% Pinot Noir, 50% Chardonnay ; 4 years on lees)

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Aurora, the wine cooperative with a thousand winegrowers

Located in the center of Bento Gonzalvez, the Aurora wine cooperative – which represents 10% of the Brazilian wine production – is a tremendous economic lever that preserves the rural history of the region. Established in 1931 with 16 farmers, the cooperative  now has over 1,100 families of winegrowers, all shareholders and spread over 3,000 hectares of vineyards. Each winemaker is a co-owner of the entity. Buying grapes thus depend on sugar levels rather than mass, in order to encourage families to focus more on quality. Brillant.

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Our heart strokes in Brazilian still wines:
Grande Vindimia Merlot 2008 from Lidio Carraro (100% Merlot)
Raizes Corte 2010 from Casa Valduga (40% Cabernet Sauvignon, 40% Cabernet Franc, 20% Tannat)
Sesmarias 2011 from Miolo (Touriga Nacional, Tinta Roriz, Tannat, Petit Verdot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot)
Talento 2009 from Salton (40% Cabernet  Sauvignon, 30% Merlot, 10% Tannat)
Merlot Reserva 2011 from Pizzato (100% Merlot)
Pinto Bandeira Pinot noir 2013 from Aurora (100% Pinot Noir)
Quatro 2009 from Perini (Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Tannat, Ancelota)

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Wine tourism, the charming asset

Brazil has it all, oenotourism is everywhere! In a world where overproduction and competition are raging, the key to success and recognition begins with a strong (and positive) image. Otherwise, any new wine – however good it may be – can never receive the recognition it deserves.
Already at Casa Valduga, Maria Valduga, the caring grandmother, was a pioneer in terms of wine tourism in Brazil : she loved offering dinner to every passing visitor.

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Today Brazilian estates compete for creativity and tourism initiatives, as at Miolo with the “Winemaker’s project”, where wine lovers come five times a year to learn how to make wine and leave with ten cases of it with their own label. At Salton we enjoyed an unforgettable visit of the “Cave da Evolução” on lantern  8 meters deep underground and amid religious songs that captivated us. At Don Giovanni, the seven-bedroom hotel has no television and no internet, to fully recharge your vitality and to better learn to live in the community.
At Lidio Carraro, one of the wines from the estate was chosen in 2014 as the official wine of the FIFA World Cup in Brazil. A friendly hand to a winery that began in 1998, the year of the famous 3-0 for France against Brazil. A sweet memory, which already seems far away.

Miolo

Miolo


With our harts heart full of emotions and discoveries, we finished our stay with a brief passage in São Paulo for an interview with the national channel Globo. We stayed with our friend Janaina Costa Pereira and her family. The moment was touching because it was the first time they invited strangers home. All their family and friends made the trip to dine with us. Despite the language barrier, we spent a wonderful time where grilled meat, caipirinha and laughs punctuated the evening until dawn.

 

 WineExplorers’cheers,
JBA

 

Thank you to Casa Valduga, Miolo, Lidio Carraro, Aurora, Cave Geisse, Salton, Perini, Peterlongo, Pizzato, Don Giovanni and Chandon estates for their warm welcome ; to Joana Monteiro for having accompanied us, to Wines of Brazil for the great organization of our stay in Brazil and for the planning of visits and tastings ; to Schenker Do Brazil for their support and time, to Janaina Costa Pereira and her family for their extraordinary welcome and accommodation in São Paulo despite the language barrier ; to Vino e Arte and Barbarella Bakery for these beautiful tastings in Porto Alegre.

 

(1) In addition of Serra Gaucha and Campanha regions in the South, the state of Bahia, far north, defeated the laws of nature in terms of wine production, only 1,050 km from the equator, in the Vale do Sao Francisco (9° parallel South) .
(2) The first vines were brought to Brazil by the Portuguese Martim Afonso de Souza in 1532, with an agricultural foremost goal. It was only in 1551 that the first Brazilian wine was made. But it was not until 1626 that the industry really started, spurred by the Jesuits (for religious celebrations).
(3) Churrasco : Brazilian barbecue
(4) Harvests in Brazil are from the end of December to early January for sparkling wines, early February for white wines and from late February to early March for red wines.
(5) The Charmat method forces the second fermentation to happen in a large stainless steel tank prior to bottling, rather than in the bottle like the traditional méthode champenoise. The Charmat method is a cheaper means for pushing a wine through second fermentation and is best used on sparkling wines that are meant to be consumed young and relatively fresh. 

For more information on Brazilian wines : http://www.winesofbrasil.com.

Uruguay, among cattle and good bottles

Having left Bolivia on a Tuesday morning at dawn, we needed no fewer than three flights, two stops and a full day in transportation to rally Uruguay at nightfall!

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Direct flights are not common between these two countries. After the journey from Tarija-La Paz, La Paz-Buenos Aires to Buenos Aires-Montevideo, we were greeted at the airport by Pablo Huarte, a school friend native to Montevideo whom we met a few years earlier during our respective studies in Bordeaux.

The second home of Cognac

Our journey began with Bodega Juanico (1 hour North of Montevideo), the most important estate of Uruguay, with 360 hectares of vines over five regions. It accounts for 1/4 of the wine production of the country. Suffice to say that during harvest time, no fewer than 200 workers are required. Because in Uruguay harvesting is done exclusively by hand!

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Owned by the government between 1945 and 1979, the history of Juanico is touching. The concrete cellar of the estate, created in 1945 for the production of Cognac, was a gift from France. Yes, yes, a production of Cognac. In acknowledgment of the meat sent by Juanico during World War II to help our country. A beautiful lesson of humanity and a rare exception in the world since the Cognac appellation is protected. Except for an Uruguayan micro-production…

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With 2000 mm of rain per year (more than twice the rainfall in Bordeaux) distributed over the periods July-August-September and January-February, combined with heavy clay and limestone soils, the region is prone to disease and quite a few treatments are required, both preventive and curative. Fortunately, the breezes brought by the ocean help to dry the vines and enable the production of good quality wines. Evidenced by their delicious Botrytis Noble 2010, blend of Gewurztraminer, Sauvignon Blanc, Gros Manseng, Sauvignon Gris (90g of residual sugar).

El Vino de Mesa

The history of wine in Uruguay dates back to the Italian and Spanish immigrants in the eighteenth century. Today, 95% of the 9 000 hectares of wine in the country are stamped “Vino de Mesa” and are usually sold in Tetra Packs or in one liter bottles. These wines are chaptalised (1) and consumed exclusively in Uruguay.

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Most of the wineries are producing Vino de Mesa, like Juanico (40% of the production) or Varela Zarranz (90% of the production) for example. Because even if these wines are of little interest to the amateur of fine wines, they are inked in the traditions of the country and many consumers love them for their sweetness. It also allows wineries to keep only the best grapes for their production of great wine, and thus increase their quality.

Tannat & Co

Fancy a ride on a bike or in a golf cart? Welcome to Finca Narbona, in Puerto Carmelo, where you can walk freely visiting the 15 hectares of vines in this beautiful place classified Relais & Château.

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Here, the granite stones are ideal for growing red grapes because of their high pH. White varietals are planted in the South, near Punta del Este and the famous beaches of the “St Tropez of South America“, where the fresher oceanic climate, is more suitable. A nice surprise with the cuvée Blend 001, a red blend with varieties kept secret and made from three vintages (2010, 2012 and 2013!). I suspect it to have some Tannat… but the mystery remains.

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We ended our journey with Pisano winery, in El Progresso. I must confess, it was our Uruguayan heart stroke. Pisano is a family vineyard run by three talented and lovely brothers and it benefits from clay and limestone soils with very high pH (7.5 to 8), which give mineral and complex wines. Located in the heart of the great wine region of the country, 95% of the vineyard  is organic. The estate is constantly innovating. One of their latest creations : the surprising and delicious Tannat Brut Nature 2011, a red sparkling wine with a nose of dark berries, fine bubbles, a good freshness and very fine tannins. It matches perfectly with the bloody and juicy pieces of meat from the asado served at lunch!

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Some other wines we particularly appreciated:
Bodegas Carrau, cuvée Tannat de Reserva 2003
Varela Zarranz, cuvée Brut Nature Chardonnay
Pisano, cuvée Arretxea Gran Reserva Tannat 2009
Vina Progreso, cuvée Suenos de Elisa 2011, Tannat fermented in barrels with the whole berries

The asado, much more than a tradition, an institution

We were warned: with 52kg of meat consumed per capita per year, Uruguayans are among the biggest meat eaters on the planet. Not surprising considering the quality of the meat here and how much Uruguayans love to prepare their traditional asado.

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The cooking process involves exposing the meat to the heat of the coals for slow cooking and tender meat ; regularly basting with pan juices. This traditional dish, a national pride, is also a social catalyst ; a custom rooted in the country since the beginning of time. “Every Uruguayan house is built with an outdoor stone oven-grill, especially for cooking asado”, one said.

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Tasted several times and to our great pleasure – with friends on Montevideo or during lunch when meeting with the winemakers – like here at Pisano, the Uruguayan “asado” is way more than grilling, it is an institution (2).

 

WineExplorers’cheers,
JBA

 

Thank you to Pisano, Juanico, Varela Zarranz, Narbona and Bodegas Carrau estates for their warm welcome, and to Pablo Huarte for having arranged these meetings.

(1) Chaptalization: adding sugar to the must to increase the final degree of alcohol in the wine after fermentation.
(2) A friendly rivalry endures on the quality of the meat since forever between Argentina and Uruguay.

For more information on Uruguayan wines : http://www.winesofuruguay.com