Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Brazilian Wine: Salton's Bubbly to Tannat

The wines of Argentina and Chile are already fairly well known to wine drinking consumers. Uruguayan wines are just starting to gain entry through the door, impressing those wine lovers who have tasted them. Brazilian wines have just started knocking at the door so what will you find if you open that door?

You probably would be surpassed by the scope of the Brazilian wine industry, with about 84,000 hectares of vineyards and over 1100 wineries, most which are small. The history of wine production extends back to 1532, when vines were brought from Madeira, though the initial vineyards fared poorly due to the hot climate. The environment would remain a constant challenge and most of the vineyards are currently located in the southernmost region of Brazil, away from the equator.

About 8 years ago, I tasted my first Brazilian wines at a Brazilian rodizio restaurant and I very much enjoyed a red blend. Since then though, I've had Brazilian wines on only two other occasions, including at another rodizio restaurant, though both experiences were pleasant. I rarely see their wines available at any wine store so I'm sure most people have never tasted a Brazilian wine.

I recently received a media sample of two Brazilian wines from Vinicola Salton, including a sparkling wine and a Tannat.  Vinicola Salton was founded in 1910, but its roots extend back earlier, when Antonio Domenico Salton moved from Italy to Brazil. He settled in the Italian Dona Isabel colony in Rio Grande do Sul and was an amateur winemaker. His sons, Paulo, Ângelo, João, José, Cézar, Luiz and Antônio, started Paulo Salton & Irmãos, growing grapes and producing sparkling wine and vermouth. Salton, which is now the oldest, continuously operating winery in Brazil, remains a family business and sparkling wine is still their specialty.

The Salton Intenso Sparkling Brut ($15-$17) is a blend of 70% Chardonnay and 30% Riesling that was produced using the Charmat method. With an alcohol content of 12.5%, the bubbly had an appealing nose of floral and citrus notes. On the palate, it was dry with a nice acidity, flavors of green apple and pineapple, and a mild creaminess. Very clean flavors, a moderately long finish, and with plenty of character for the price. It would be a good food wine, and is a nice option at this price point, rather than many of the sweeter sparkling wines you often find at this level.  If this is a representative sample of the potential of sparkling wine in Brazil, it would be great to see more of it available in the U.S.

I've tasted dozens of Tannat wines from Uruguay, so my personal bar for Tannat wines is high. I've seen its potential, at all price points, so I was curious to taste a Brazilian example. The 2013 Salton Classic Tannat Reserva Especial ($10-$12) is made from 100% Tannat, aged for a short time in American oak. With an alcohol content of 13%, the wine was a dark red in color with an aroma of chocolate and black fruit. On the palate, it is a bit rustic, with moderate tannins, and flavors of chocolate, blackberry, black cherry and some herbal accents. This is a wine that would benefit from pairing with food, especially burgers and BBQ. It is a good wine, just not as soft as many Uruguayan Tannats at this price point, but that is merely a matter of preference, not quality.

Let's hope we see more Brazilian wines coming to the U.S., to better explore their potential.

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