(June 2018) Pizzato Winery is halfway up a very windy road in the Serra Gaucha wine region of Southern Brazil. I had to hold onto the side of the car as we twisted and turned around mountain bends, with long drops into a tree filled canyon below. Finally we arrived at a small tasting room perched on the side of a hill, with a large deck overlooking a magnificent range of mountains with a long white waterfall in the distance. To the left were rows of vineyards stretching out across the hillside and fading into the distance. What a beautiful and magical view!
A Tasting of Twenty Pizzato Wines
A few minutes later, Flavio Pizzato, Chief Winemaker and Manager, arrived to greet us. After spending a few more minute gazing at the view and taking photos, we were invited inside the tasting room to take a seat at a high table filled with over 20 bottles of wine.
“They told me that I should limit the tasting to six wines,” said Flavio with a grin, “but I make so many wines I thought I would show you some of them, and let you decide. They are all my children.”
Well, how could I respond to that? It was impossible to deny one child over another, so seeing that a spittoon was sitting on the table, I agreed to taste them all. Flavio smiled broadly and launched into an animated tale about the history of the winery.
About Pizzato Winery
Like many of the wineries in Southern Brazil, Pizzato was established by Northern Italian immigrants who came to Brazil in the 1880’s. In the beginning they grew grapes on high pergolas trellises, just like in Italy, and they mainly made wine for their own consumption. It wasn’t until the 1940’s that they became serious grape growers, planting vitis vinifera vines and selling the grapes to other wineries. However in 1998 Flavio and his brothers and sisters decided to establish a professional winery and today they farm 45 hectares of grapes and produce around 280,000 bottles of wine per year. They make 25 different wines, and impressively sell 15% through their cellar door direct to consumers visiting the region.
But Your Sign Says “Pizza Too”
“I like the name of your winery, “I told Flavio. “It is easy for consumers to pronounce and remember.”
“Well, it is the family name,” replied Flavio, “but I found it can be a bit challenging when I’m doing professional tastings at trade shows. Several times I’ve had people approach me and ask where the pizza is. One time when I explained that I didn’t have any pizza, the person responded, “but your sign says ‘pizza too!’”
A Focus on Cool Climate Merlot
Though the Serra Gaucha region of Brazil is primarily noted for its excellent sparkling wine production, its second most famous wine is cool climate Merlot. I have to admit that this came as a bit of a shock for me, because traditionally most people don’t plant Merlot in the same place they plant chardonnay and pinot noir grapes to make sparkling wine.
However Merlot from this region tastes nothing like any other Merlot I’ve tasted. It doesn’t have the ripe plush tannins of California or the concentration of the Right Bank, but instead is bursting with black cherry, anise, earth, crisp acidity, and has a more elegant streamlined mouthfeel with medium body. In a blind tasting, I would be hard-pressed to guess it was Merlot because it is so different. However, it is delicious and very food friendly. Perhaps it is a cousin to some of the few Italian merlots I’ve experienced, though these are difficult to find outside of Italy.
Pizzato Winery is famous for their merlot, and I was able to taste several of them that were excellent. The majority had very light oak, but the more expensive ones were aged in 100% French oak.
Highlights from the Tasting
The tasting was a lot of fun, because Flavio kept up a non-stop conversation as he enthused over all of his children. In addition to the Pizzato brand, he also produces an entry level wine called Fausto that is more fruit forward, lighter bodied and less expensive. We tasted everything from chardonnay and semillon to tannat and sparkling wines. Following are some of my favorites:
- Pizatto Semillon 2018 – very fresh with grapefruit, minerality, and a textured medium body. 91 points.
- Pizzato Merlot 2014 – Black cherry, black plum spice, textured tannins, medium-bodied, with a crisp acid finish and a hint of black licorice. 91 points
- Pizzato Concentus Gran Reserva 2014 – a complex blend of merlot, tannat, and cabernet sauvignon aged 11 months in American and French Oak. It reminded me of a tannic red Rioja, and was quite enjoyable. The Latin term Concentus means concert or harmony. 93 points
- Pizzato Merlot Single Vineyard DNA99 2012 – very luxurious wine with rich allspice nose of toasty oak, black plum, and ripe berry in a very concentrated body with fine-grained tannins, crisp acidity and a very long finish. The wine is perfectly balanced, and is only made in years where this special merlot vineyard achieves a similar ripeness to the vintage of 1999 – thus the name DNA99. 94 points
- Pizzato Brut Rose Vintage 2016 – yeasty nose with dried cherry, lemon, and complex minerality. 87% pinot noir and 13% chardonnay. Made in the traditional method with 17 months on lees. 90 points
- Pizzato Nature Vintage 2014 – a sparkling wine with a surprisingly fruity nose of white peach and citrus. Very refreshing with high acid and long finish. Aged 40 months on lees. 91 points.
Last Night in Rio de Janeiro with Pizzato Chardonnay and Lobster
Whenever I travel I always try to drink the local wine. So on my last day in Brazil, I took a 2 hour airplane flight from Porte Alegre (the closest airport to the Serra Gaucha wine region in Southern Brazil) and flew north to much warmer Rio de Janeiro, where I had dinner at Sa Restaurant just across the street from Copacabana Beach. Since it was winter time in Brazil (June), I left the cool mid 50 – 60 F weather of Serra Gaucha to arrive in balmy Rio where the temperature hovered in the mid 80’s F. After a long walk on the beach, a nap, and a shower, I decided to eat at Sa, because it was located in my hotel (Miramar by Windsor) and had good reviews.
After looking at the dinner menu, I decided to order a local specialty called Brazilian Slipper Lobster, of which I had never heard. It turned out to be absolutely delicious and similar to langostino, and was served with a side of truffle risotto. Given my entre, I searched the wine list for a Brazilian white wine, and found a predominance of wines from Chile. However, since I was in Brazil, I needed to drink Brazilian wine. Eventually I found a half bottle of Pizzato Chardonnay 2017, which was fresh and crisp with bright notes of lemon and green apple, crafted in the style of Chablis. It was a perfect pairing, and a great last dinner in Brazil. I enjoyed the wine and food while gazing out the window at children playing along the sidewalk and the waves gently embracing the sands of Copacabana Beach.