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Kisses (and Vino) from Rio

by Courtney Cochran

The dating life is tough. Take, for example, an unfortunate coincidence that came up between two good friends of mine not long ago. Both ladies were living in Manhattan, working hard by day and - unbeknownst to each other - enjoying romantic dates with same dashing bachelor by night.

Both believed her relationship was "getting more serious," when in reality the guy was more interested in dating most of Manhattan than moving closer to any sort of commitment. It wasn't until said gentleman went on vacation to Brazil and sent both women flirtatious text messages signed, "Kisses from Rio" that they made the connection.

As you might imagine, they then promptly made a disconnection from the guy who became known infamously in our circle as "Kisses from Rio."

When Vino Calls

Vacationing cads aside, there's something undeniably exciting about Brazil. Perhaps it's the way Brazilians roll their "r"s, their perpetually upbeat personalities or their perma-tans. No matter what it is, I was anxious to see if the wines of Brazil matched up to the hype when I attended a tasting of Brazilian wines in San Francisco.

Fresh back from the event, I'm thrilled to report that my expectations were not only met, but also exceeded (to return to the dating metaphor, a rare thing indeed).

The event - held fittingly at a Brazilian restaurant - featured wines from 11 Brazilian producers, most of whose wineries are situated in the southern part of the country, not far from the Uruguayan border. They poured primarily dry red and white table wines, although there was a surprising abundance of very good sparkling wines available, as well. It turns out that besides sunbathing and Bossa Nova, Brazilians are terrifically good at bubbles!

Tasting Highlights

Overall, the best wines I tasted were Bordeaux-style reds made chiefly from Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc grapes. Besides these mainstream players, the inky, tannic Tannat grape is also grown fairly widely in Brazil and showed up as a blending partner amongst these other grapes in a number of wines. Pizzato winery was a standout in the red category and won me over with a beautifully nuanced and balanced $11 Cabernet Sauvignon made under its second label, Fausto. Another favorite was the $35 "Lote 43" Cabernet Franc-based red from Miolo Wine Group, founded over 100 years ago by Italian immigrants (a common theme for many of the wineries present).

When it came to the whites, I found the sparkling wines the strongest of the category. The Mioranza Brut, made from Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grapes, caught my attention with its yeasty, Champagne-like nose and approachable, Prosecco-like fruitiness ($20). Even easier to like was the Mioranza Sparkling Moscatel, which was a super-aromatic, refreshing romp with lovely pear and sugared lime notes ($18). Several producers also poured Chardonnay, but I found most of it fairly homogenous and far less interesting than a handful of offbeat, aromatic still whites I sampled, such as a charming blend of Malvasia, Moscatel and Gewürztraminer called "Flowers" from one of Brazil's most critically-acclaimed wineries, Salton ($7).

Signing off, with kisses, from San Francisco.