Lidio Carraro Winery – Boutique Producer of Pure Natural Wines from Brazil

(June 2018) If you enjoy visiting small boutique wineries where you are invited to taste wine in the family home, then Lidio Carraro Winery in the Serra Gaucha wine region of Brazil is for you. Even better is the fact that Lidio Carraro is the Brazilian leader in producing natural wines, based on their purist philosophy of winemaking with no additives, no filtration and not even any wood on red wines! The result is fresh and delicious wines with distinctive personality.

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A Visit to Lidio Carraro WInery in Southern Brazil

Background of Lidio Carraro

The Carraro family emigrated from the Veneto region of Italy in 1875 to Bento Gonçalves, in the heart of Brazilian wine country. For many years the family grew and sold grapes, but in the 1990’s, Mr. Lidio Carraro decided to focus on cool climate Merlot with a vision to produce very high quality low-interventionist wine. Soon the whole family was involved, with sons Juliano and Giovanni involved in winemaking and daughter Patricia and Mama Carraro devoted to marketing and hospitality. With this dynamic family team, Lidio Carraro Winery launched in 2001, inviting customers to visit them in their small charming home to taste wines.

Today Lidio Carraro produces around 400,000 bottles per year, and exports wine to 28 countries. They sustainably farm 8 hectares of vineyards in Serra Gaucha and another 50 hectares of vineyards further south in the Serra do Sudeste wine region. They have six tiers of wine, beginning with the entry level Faces brand, to the mid-priced Agnus, Dadivas and Elos labels, and culminating with the luxury tier of Singular and Great Harvest – only produced in the best years. Styles and varietals ranges from sparkling, cool-climate merlot, chardonnay, pinot noir, tempranillo, malbec, teroldego, nebbiolo, and tannat.

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Wine Tasting at Lidio Carrano Winery

“I Don’t Want to Make Coca-Cola Wine”

So how did Lidio Carraro become the leader in Purist Natural Wine in Brazil? According to daughter, Patricia Carraro, who welcomed us to their small charming home to taste wine, “In the 1990’s my father, Lidio, became upset with the types of wines that were being made globally.  He called them Coca-Cola wines and said he didn’t want to produce wines that all tasted the same.” Therefore, the family decided to adopt a very purist philosophy, similar to what was being made in northern Italy in the 1800’s.

Today this purist philosophy fits perfectly into the “natural wine movement,” because Lidio Carraro produces their wines in a very natural fashion.  The vines are farmed organically with all work done by hand. Grapes are picked by parcel and fermented with natural yeast. There is no fining, filtering, or additions, and all wines are aged without oak. This results in wines with very pure fruit and earthy notes, and sometimes with the slightly cloudy texture that is desirable in natural wines. Each vintage is unique, and so the wines exhibit the influence of each year’s distinctive climate.

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The Carrano Family in their Vineyard. Photo Credit: LC Website

A Team of Powerful Wine Women

Though I have visited wineries all over the world, and have received extremely friendly welcomes, I must admit that Lidio Carraro was one of the friendliest wineries I’ve ever encountered. As I walked up the short flight of stairs to the old family home and into the living room, which was set up as an informal tasting salon, I was literally welcomed with open arms by four women. These included Mama Carraro, daughter Patricia, Export Manager, Monica, and Hospitality Manager, Leticia. They proceeded to entertain us with stories of the winery, their travels, and a fabulous line-up of wines to taste.

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A Warm Welcome from the Lidio Carrano Team

I was extremely impressed with the overflowing passion and enthusiasm of Patricia Carraro, as she described the deep symbolism that was expressed in the logo of the winery and the individual names of the wines:

“Our logo is a bunch of grapes in the shape of Brazil,” she explained tracing her fingers over the delicate Lidio Carrano logo, “and the red color is to express the life blood of wine and the beat of passion in our hearts.”

“The name of each wine is also very relevant,” she continued. “For example, our Dadivas line, comes from the Latin ‘Da Divas ‘and means “a gift from heaven’ and ‘to celebrate life.’”

Highlights from the Tasting

We tasted through a delicious selection of very unique wines. Following are some of my favorites:

  • Dadivas Espumante Brut Lidio Carraro NV – a 100% chardonnay with tart apple, lemon and yeasty notes. The official sparkling wine of the World Cup in Brazil.  Refreshing. 90 points
  • Faces Rose of Pinot Noir Lidio Carrano 2016 – a beautiful pale pink rose with soft strawberry, zippy citrus and a slight yeasty note. Lovely. 89 points
  • Lidio Carrano Merlot 2011 Grand Harvest – a superpower of a merlot with dark plum, chocolate, herbs, and structured tannins. Very complex and long. 94 points
  • Lidio Carrano Quorum 2008 Grand Harvest – masterfully crafted red blend of merlot and cabernet sauvignon, with complex black cassis, anise, forest floor and fine-grained tannins. It is pretty difficult to believe that there is absolutely no oak in this wine! 93 points

Casa Valduga – Brazilian Wine So Rare Thieves Steal It

(June 2018) It was a bright sunny morning when I visited Casa Valduga in the Serra Gaucha wine region of Southern Brazil. Elisa Walker, Export Coordinator, met us at the front door with a large smile, gesturing for us to enter the spacious tasting room and retail shop.  Immediately I was reminded of Robert Mondavi Winery in Napa Valley, not only for the large size of place with countless different types of wines for sale, along with grape-based cosmetics, glasses, and souvenirs, but because the winery was the first in the region to focus on tourism – just like Robert Mondavi’s vision to welcome tourists to Napa Valley. Today Casa Valduga remains one of the most popular wine tourist destinations in Brazil, with more than 150,000 visitors each year.

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Sparkling Wine Cellar at Casa Valduga

About Casa Valduga – Transitioning Thru the Generations

In 1875 the Valduga family emigrated from northern Italy to southern Brazil, but it wasn’t until 1973 that Luis Valduga had a dream to start a winery. At that time he primarily planted vitis lambrusca grapes, such as concord, that grew well in the cool climate. But as his sons grew older, they had a desire to make fine wine from classic vitis vinifera grapes. So they encouraged Luis to go on a long vacation, and while he was gone, they tore out most of the old vineyards and replanted with classic grapes of chardonnay, pinot noir, merlot and other varieties that were beginning to perform well in the region. When Luis returned from vacation, he was surprised about the changes, but agreed to help his sons transition the business by also investing in new technology and equipment for the winery. However, Luis continued to make concord wines for his own enjoyment.

Today Casa Valduga is still family operated with 240 hectares of vineyards, producing over 2 million liters of wine each year with 120 employees. They focus on producing sparkling wines made in the method Champenoise, and have the largest sparkling wine cellar in Brazil, with more than 6 million bottles – all hand-riddled! In addition, they also make still wines, with an emphasis on cool-climate Merlot and Chardonnay.  Casa Valduga practices sustainable winegrowing, and their wines have won numerous awards at competitions around the world. Currently they export about 8% of their wine, sell 10% direct to consumer (including via a wine club), and the remainder through distribution.

A Wine So Rare That Thieves Crave It

After describing the history of the estate, Elisa took us on a tour of the riddling cellar. It was massive, and very impressive. Probably most impressive was a single large magnum of red wine, called Luis Valduga, which was deep in the cellar and spotlighted on its own special pedestal.

“This is a very special bottle of wine that we only produce in certain exceptional vintages,” Elisa explained.  “It is very limited production and not for sale. Sadly, this year I took one bottle to ProWein to share on the last day of the event, but it was stolen and not recovered.  People were very disappointed that they could not taste it.”

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Wine Stolen by Thieves in Germany

This rare Luis Valduga wine has a partner wine called Maria Valduga, name for Luis’s wife. While Luis is a complex red blend, Maria is a sparkling wine that is aged for 48 months on the lees made from a blend of chardonnay and pinot noir from a special section in the vineyard.  Maria Valduga is for sale in limited quantities, and is considered to be the top cuvee of the estate, priced around $55 in Brazil, but much more on the export market (see bottle below as first in sparkling wine line-up).

Eight Categories of Casa Valduga Sparkling Wine

Casa Valduga produces a broad range of sparkling wines designed to match all consumer needs, ranging from sweet to semi-sweet and kosher wines, to sur lie and natural wines. There is something for everyone to enjoy.

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Line-up of Casa Valduga Sparkling Wines

Tourists Assist in Developing Innovative Sur Lie Sparkling Wine

As we wandered through the massive sparkling wine cellars of Casa Valduga we came across a very unique bottling line (see below). It was a woman who was dipping bottles of sparkling wine with a crown cap into hot black wax. When I asked what the woman was doing, Elisa responded:

“That is our new Sur Lie sparkling wine that is made in a very natural fashion where we do not disgorge and add dosage like regular method Champenoise sparkling wine. Since it doesn’t receive a cork and cage, we dip it in black wax to make the final package look attractive.”

I watched in fascination, and then asked how they had decided to make this special type of sparkling wine.

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Dipping Special Sur Lie Sparkling Wine in Wax

“It actually came about by accident,” explained Elisa. “During the visits of tourists in our sparkling wine cellar, we provided a different tasting experience by opening a bottle of sparkling wine still in process of remuage. We noticed that they greatly appreciated the product which motivated us to launch this sparkling wine.” Thus Casa Valduga Sur Lie wine was born.

“It’s such a fun wine to drink,” stated Elisa, “because the more you drink from the bottle, the cloudier the wine gets. Customers really love this aspect.”

Make Your Own Sparkling Wine

Casa Valduga also offers a unique “Blend Your Own Sparkling Wine Workshop.” Tourists who sign up for the workshop taste different cuts of the base wine as well as dosage levels from dry to semi-sweet to sweet. Then they get to learn how sparkling wine is disgorged, and are allowed to taste the wine without any dosage. Later the dosage they selected is added, the bottles are corked with wire cage, a personalized label is applied, and each couple is shipped 30 bottles of the wine they made.

Casa Valduga Restaurant, Weddings, and Beautiful Vineyards

As we came to the end of the sparkling wine cellar, Elisa asked if we wanted to see the vineyards. I nodded with enthusiasm and we exited the cellar through a beautiful wrought-iron gate with views of the vineyard and roses beyond. Chardonnay and pinot noir vines wove their way up the hillsides as far as the eye could see. It was a truly mesmerizing view.

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Chardonnay Vineyard at Casa Valduga, Brazil

As we continued through the expensive grounds of the winery, Elisa pointed out locations where they held weddings and other events for visitors, as well as small houses and apartments that could be booked to stay overnight. Eventually we ended at a charming restaurant with flowered tablecloths and rose bouquets.  A range of wines and crystal wine glasses were set-up on a table for our private tasting.

“We opened the restaurant a number of years ago,” said Elisa, “because we had many tourists who came from far away.  After wine tasting they were often hungry, and then some wanted to stay overnight. In the beginning Maria Valduga would invite them home to eat her Italian-Brazilian meals, but now we serve them at the restaurant, and people can stay overnight in our guesthouses.”

A Tasting of Casa Valduga Wines

When we sat down to taste some of the wines of Casa Valduga, we were joined by two winemakers (they have six in total), who were able to explain viticulture and enology practices. We tasted ten wines, and some of my favorites were:

  • Casa Valduga Sur Lies 2015 – ripe yellow apple nose, bright citrus, full bodied with persistent bubbles. Fun and approachable bubbly. Aged three years on lees. 89 points.
  • Casa Valduga Blush RSV 2015 – complex earth and dried cherry notes with touch of minerality and clean fresh finish. Beautiful rose pink color with creamy mouthfeel. “Like yogurt for breakfast,” was a quote from Elisa. 50% pinot noir and 50% chardonnay. Aged 25 months on lees.  91 points.
  • Casa Valduga Viognier 2018 – extremely aromatic with honey, peach and apricot blossom, yet bone dry with very high acidity on palate. My favorite type of viognier – extremely sensual and pleasing, but with the surprising shock of a dry finish. 92 points
  • Casa Valduga Chardonnay Leopolinda 2017 – pale golden color with nose of chalk and lemon, hint of oatmeal on the creamy palate. Extremely long, complex and elegant.  Seemed very much like a high-quality Meursault from Burgundy. 94 points
  • Casa Valduga Storia Merlot 2012 – opaque red/black color with blue plum and cassis, spice notes of anise and cola. Very concentrated with well integrated French oak, fine-grained tannins and crisp acidity on the very long finish.  Only made in top vintages.  Truly exceptional. 95 points
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Some of the Still Wines from Casa Valduga

Pizzato Winery – Waterfalls and Cool Climate Merlot in Southern Brazil

(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!

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View of Vineyards and Waterfall at Pizzato Winery

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.

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Flavio Pizzato (right) with his Father

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.

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Flavio Telling the Story of His Wines

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.

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Some of Pizzato’s Award Winning Wines

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.
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Pizzato Sparkling Wine Line-Up

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.

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Pizzato Chardonnay with Brazilian Slipper Lobster and Truffle Risotto