Brazil may not be the first country that comes to mind when you are thinking of drinking Merlot for #MerlotMe Month in October but I assure you, once you get your hands on one, you will be hooked, just like I am. Brazil is the fifth largest country in the world with about 200 million people and produces wine in six regions. 85% comes from one region Serra Gaúcha which I was lucky enough to visit last year when I was collaborating with Wines of Brazil.
They promotional agency was hot to promote Brazil as a sparkling wine destination which they have been doing quiet successfully these past years and I agree the sparklers are delicious and appealing, well priced and fun but it was the Merlot that captivated my heart.
Interestingly, I went back through my notes about the various Merlots that I tasted among the producers I visited, Lidio Carraro, Miolo, Pizzato, Salton, Valduga, Cave Geisse, Aurora, and a couple of others. My notes from 2019 matched those from 2013 when I participated in a blogger weekend with Wines of Brazil and Snooth in New York. There too, I had commented on the Merlots.
What I find with Brazilian Merlot is that there are all the black and red berry fruit, cedar, earth and structure that I expect as well as enveloping sweet spice and fine tannins. There is also a decidedly minty and minerally note in my view. They are moderate in alcohol and generally drunk young but can age. Many I daresay most do spend time in oak but I don’t find them overdone. Apparently producers harvest Merlot a bit early than in some other places so to avoid getting caught in the rain at the end of the vintage in Southern Brazil where most of the wine regions are located.
Merlot tends to account not just for many monovarietals wines but also to dominate blends, usually being 60% of a red wine blend.
If you look at the countryside in the Vale dos Vinhedos, the country’s first and for the moment only appellation of origin (AO), you wouldn’t know you were in Brazil necessarily at least not the general idea of Brazil a hot climate with beaches. Serra Gaúcha is very hilly with lush green vegetation and is mildly warm rather than hot with good diurnal temperature changes.
We spent five days in Brazil and visited 9 wineries. Three of them on the second day of our trip, all of whom had great Merlots which I had tasted in 2013 to my surprise.
Lidio Carraro was the first stop on our second day of visits. A family owned winery of Italian descent, we spent three hours tasting many wines and talking with Patrizia, the owner about her family. They were the first in Brazil to focus on integrated management and to create soil mapping, as well as clonal selection and microclimate studies. They have low yields, vinify by parcels, hand harvest all the fruit, do not filter or fine their productions and use gravity flow in their winemaking. They do not use oak.
Lidio Carraro owns vineyards not just in Serra Gaúcha but also in another region called Encruzilhada do Sul. The soils here are sandy granite with limestone in some parcels and little organic matter. In addition to low intervention in the cellar, they are also attentive to vineyard management on each parcel.
We tried three of their Merlots which stood out to me. One from the Agnus line, with the lamb on the label symbolizing the purity of these wines, true to terroir and grape variety.
We also tried Merlot from the Grande Vindima line which is only made in outstanding vintages.
Lidio Carraro Grande Vindima Quorum was lovely. A Merlot dominated blend with blackberry flavors and ripe, sweet spice and sleek tannins.
Quorum is a blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and Tannat. Tannat also grows very well in Southern Brazil and is less rustic than it’s Uruguayan neighbor’s wines, generally speaking. I have tasted their 2006, 2008 and 2011 Quorum, all lovely expressive wines with great layers of red and black fruit, spice, chocolate and savory umani notes. Acidity is also something I found in all of these wines as well as that minerality and minty note I mentioned.
The Pizzato family, also immigrants from the Veneto in Italy has two vineyards, Santa Lucia and Dr. Fausto and 45 hectares (111 acres). Antonio Pizzato came to Bento Gonçalves in 1875 and brought his grape growing skill him.
Before selling under their own Brand name in 1999 they sold the grapes from their vineyards which were first established in 1968 and 1982, respectively. They make their own brands and still sell some of the grapes. Merlot helped them make a name for themselves.
I loved all of the Pizzato wines we tasted. This Merlot was a single vineyard and was a beautiful expression of Merlot. Flavio was incredibly smart and knowledgeable and is apparently a reference for many other vintners in the country. His wines were in the restaurants in the airports which was surprising because so much wine is imported into Brazil. We were told one way to spot tourists in Brazil, is to look for those drinking Brazilian wines in restaurants.
The Brazilians were drinking imported wines. Brazilians in generally do not drink that much wine per capita so all Brazilian wineries need to also focus on exports.
Pizzato has been making Merlot in Brazil since 1999 and it’s become their flagship wines. I generally liked all the wines from Pizzato but his Merlot release was a huge treat.
Pizzato makes a number of different Merlots, some only in outstanding years like the single vineyard Merlot but they produce Merlot every year and believe it to be the most important red grape in Brazil, adapted to the terroir.
Another great series of Merlot wines from Brazil are from Miolo. I wrote about them recently here. I liked the Merlot above with its graphite notes and elegant tannins and long finish. The oak on the Miolo wines was more pronounced in my view than in some of the other wineries. They also produce a number of Cabernet Merlot blends where the latter dominates. The Giuseppe Cuvee was spicy with rich black and red fruit while the Lot 43 was more restrained. Miolo is a very large player in Brazil, together with Salton. The Miolo family hails from Italy and Giuseppe came over in 1897. Many of their descendants who run the wineries speak regional dialects. They all also consider themselves both Brazilian and Italian and many are seeking Italian citizenship, interestingly enough. Miolo produces about 12 million liters a year on over 1,000 hectares divided among four wineries. This 2015 was luscious and juicy and very fruit forward with a hint of mint. The 2012 which I tried for this tasting, had the same notes. It was very fresh and still had a lot of life in it which I found impressive. Already in its 7th year, I think it could go another 3-5 years. Merlot is really a surprise in Brazil, refreshing with depth, I wish I could try an even older version of this wine. Together with Sparkling wine, these wines are Brazil’s future.
Wine Pairing Weekend #MerlotMe Celebration Number 6!
This is our 6th year and our group continues to have a great time celebrating the Merlot grape in October. Join us as we chat all things Merlot on Saturday morning, Oct. 10 at 11-12:00pm EST. Just look for us on Twitter at the hashtags: #MerlotMe and #WinePW. Here are our posts, and be sure to look out for more in October, as our bloggers will no doubt be adding more posts!
- Andrea at The Quirky Cork shares “Three Turkish Merlots”
- Camilla at Culinary Adventures with Camilla shares “Merlot: A Varietal That Plays Well with Others”
- Cindy at Grape Experiences shares “Sip Merlot with Vegetarian Favorites”
- Deanna at Asian Test Kitchen shares “Fall Vegan Menu Paired with 2016 Napa Merlots”
- David at Cooking Chat shares “Merlot Food Pairing: Tips and Favorites”
- Gwendolyn at Wine Predator shares “Meatloaf and #MerlotMe with Sonoma’s Selby and Columbia Valley’s L’Ecole No. 41”
- Jane at Always Ravenous shares “Merlot Pairing: Baked Pasta with Sausage Ragù”
- Jeff at Food Wine Click! shares “A Tale of Two Merlots at the Grill”
- Jill at L’Occasion shares “What’s So Special About Merlot?”
- Jennifer at Vino Travels shares “Fall is Here! Warm up with a Merlot and Pot Roast Pairing”
- Lauren at The Swirling Dervish shares “October is #MerlotMe Month: Here’s What I’ve Been Sipping”
- Linda at My Full Wine Glass shares “Kicking off #MerlotMe in the Pacific time zone”
- Liz at What’s in that Bottle? shares “Make Room for Merlot!”
- Lori at Exploring the Wine Glass shares “Leaves on the Ground and #MerlotMe in my Glass”
- Lynn at Savor the Harvest shares “Next Gen Merlot From Where It All Started”
- Martin at Enofylz shares “A Meatless #MerlotMe Redux”
- Nicole at Somms Table shares “5 #MerlotMe Nights”
- Payal at Keep the Peas shares “Kicking Off Autumn With #Merlotme”
- Pinny at Chinese Wine & Food Pairings shares “#MerlotMe with Markham and L’Ecole No. 41 Merlots and Army Ramen”
- Robin at Crushed Grape Chronicles shares “Merlot from elegant to badass. Time to #Merlotme.”
- Rupal at Syrah Queen shares “#MerlotMe – Best Food Pairings For Merlot”
- Susannah at Avvinare shares “Brazilian Merlot Is Always Welcome At My Table”
- Terri at Our Good Life shares “Merlot Me with Noodless Lasagne”
- Wendy at A Day in the Life on the Farm shares “Woohoooooooo….It is #MerlotMe month”