Location: Whitby, Ontario, Canada

Born in Malta but in Canada since age 5. Has written three books and presently does several columns about wine and food for various magazines.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

April 11, 2012: Lidio Carraro, Casa Valduga, Aurora Winery

Lidio Carraro
Our second day in Bento Goncalves was welcomed by an overcast sky and threats of rain. However, we must keep in mind that it was the Fall season in Brazil and the rest of the Southern Hemisphere and that this was to be expected. I had every belief that the Sun would come out and that our day would be super!
Lidio Carraro was a unique and timely visit since ironically Roy and I had tasted on one Brazilian wine prior to embarking on this trip and it was from -------Lidio Carraro.
In visiting Lidio we inadvertently drew attention to the newer, smaller, winery (Lidio) versus the older, more established and much larger one next door (Milio). While smaller in size, we were to find out that the accomplishments and aspirations of Lidio's owners and managers was very large indeed.
Four Generations Of Wines
The actual date of the winery goes back to 1998 but the family has been in the wine business for many generations. We were greeted by one of the newer generations and also one of the prettiest!
Patricia Carraro eyes seemed to be the focal point of her soul as she welcomed us. Without having met her before I saw the intensity, passion and personality of one who loved people, wine and her family's business. She was petite but one would have been a fool to let the size influence the strength and knowledge within.
Patricia explained that her father was out in another part of the vineyards South of here in Terras do Encruzilhada do Sul. We, of course, were in the Vale dos Vinhedos.
Pure Wines
While tasting our first wine which happened to be a Dadivas Chardonnay I was surprised to hear Patricia mention that "none of their wines" went through oak fermentation or aging. I had thought that I detected a slight hint of oak on both the nose and the palate but Patricia mentioned that oak was not permitted since they only wanted the purest reflection of varietal character in their wines.
"What you probably are sensing is the fact that we allow this wine to spend much time on its Lees." she said. She went on to say that the "hint" of oak that I sensed reflected also the fine integration and balance that they sought for in wine. "We want pure wines and do not oak or filter!"
Lidio Carraro practiced forms of Organic and Biodynamic principles. All harvests were done by hand and gravity was used in the pumping of the wine. This in fact did not only serve to keep the "varietal integrity" of the wine pure but also made sure that the grapes were minimally damaged during harvest.
The other side of the coin here is the tremendous research that is being done by the family members to do research and experiment. One advantage there is to being "small" is that attention can be given to looking for new innovations and new plantings.
The WinesIt was obvious that the wines of Lidio Carraro were exceptional. We could not taste all of the wines but the reputation of the winery preceded itself. Roy and I had already tasted the red wine Agnvs in Canada. It was an easy wine to enjoy with ripe red fruit (Strawberry, raspberry, cherry) with hints of cocoa and mint. The wine had a nice mouth feel on the palate with good body.
The Dadivas Chardonnay was very impressive and more so when I found out that the oak I tasted was not. With tropical notes on the nose and a creamy texture accompanied with a certain minerality. The wine was very pleasing and may I add very long in finish.
The other red wines we tasted were exceptional also.
The Elos made from Touriga Naciional and Tennat was a fine example of dark fruit and violets plus a hint chocolate and pepper. The mouth feel was amazing and full. The Grand Vindima Tennat 2006 was a huge wine that needed much time to mature but it showed its great potential. The Merlot/Cabernet Sauvignon with its ripe fruit, great tannins and chocolate spice was a superb wine ready now and able to stand some time also. Our trip to Lidio Carraro ended when winemaker Julieno came up with a barrel sampling of luscious but definitely yet ready wine with great potential. We said goodbye to the great Carraro family and were off to our next winery, Casa Valduga!
Casa Valduga
Not far from Lidio Cararro is Casa Valduga! The Casa was founded in 1875 which was the time of the great Italian migration from Veneto to Bento Goncalves and the Vale dos Vinhedos. A sign overlooking the meticulously kept vineyard proudly exhibits the date of origin. The Casa has gone through many incarnations since that time but one thing has remained the same and that is the family. Six generations of Valdugas have been born and grown at the estate.
Two restaurants and hotel accommodations now grace the large vineyard area. Add to that new cellars and investment in wine technology and you have a winner.
One of Valduga's great accomplishments is its Sparkling Wines of which the 130 Methode Champenoise is amazing. Stories say that when the French President came to Brazil for a visit, he was given some of the 130 to taste. He proceeded to congratulate the host (the then Brazilian President) of his choice and quality of Champagne.
The winery is a winner no matter which way you look at it. The magnificent pink building is ultra modern in design and equipment.
We were met by Alfredo Garcia who gave us a tour and an exceptional wine tasting of top Valduga Sparkling and Still Wines. Valduga is reputed to have the largest sparkling wine cellar in Brazil.
The ironic factor here is that while I prefer such wines as Pinot Noir, Syrah, Carmenere and Merlot to any sparkling wine, the Valduga 130 Methode Champenoise was utterly amazing and one of the best wines of any kind that I have ever tasted. The fine bubbles seemed to go on forever. The superb bouquet and sublime taste on the palate was an experience not to be forgotten.
This does not mean that I did not like the white and red wines tasted. They were in themselves magnificent. However, every once in awhile comes a wine that is so sublime that it supersedes any other in its class and the 130 did this.
After we had a barbecue luncheon at the Valduga Restaurant along with some super Merlot.
Aurora Winery
The Aurora winery was a co-operative that was capable of putting out over 38 million liters of wine per year. The winery itself has a storage facility of 70 million litres. It was founded in 1931 when sixteen families of grape producers getting together to found the Co-operative. Now, with 1100 wine families who share a part of this winery, Aurora is the largest winery by volume in Brazil. It's mission: "Great wine made by small families." A huge, larger than life statue of Bacchus sits in a corner of the main building cellar. The water surrounding it is coloured red to resemble wine and a pump pushes "wine" through Bacchus's cup. While touring the massive cellar we came upon a smaller life size figure of Bacchus that was anatomically correct and obviously designed to be a bit "naughty". Sandie and I played up a bit to the naughtiness!
Our guide was Andre, who was one of the winemakers. There were four of them with a head winemaker as chief. We met him briefly as were touring huge barrels. One such barrel that was on the outside had a capacity of 4 million litres. Imagine!
Andre told us of the vast number of Aurora products from wines, to juices, jellies and other ready to drink products and they make some lovely brandies. There were far too many to taste even if one was ultra moderate and did not swallow the liquid.
We tasted some superb sparkling wines and realized why Brazil was now at the "top of the heap" in sparkling wine production. I had a marked preference for the absolutely amazing line of "Reserva" line of wines. My top favourite was the Aurora Millesime 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon. It was aged for 12 months in French and American Oak and only made in the best years. It was amazing with floral and black fruit aromas, with a touch of vanilla chocolate. The palate was very integrated and full in body. The finish was very long. The wine showed Old World complexity but has a strength that denoted some New World power.
Shortly after the tour, Sandie, Roy and me were led up to the dining area and kitchen where a special barbecue was being held for us. What a meal!
Food in the form of Bacon Wrapped Pork Fillets, Beef, Chicken, Ribs, Salads and Vegetables flowed as quickly as the wine was poured. The staff of Aurora joined us and it was a pleasure meeting such competent people such as the Export Manager, Rosana Pasini.
As with most parties, song soon broke out headed by none other than Sandie Kraft our co-host and obviously a talented leader. Passionate was not just a word here. Sandie's rendition of "We Are The Champions" by "Queen" spurred all of us on to sing----Louder and LOUDER!!!
There were some fifteen persons at the table. All took turns singing along.
The night was boisterous and fun. So much so that a certain sommelier at another winery was disappointed that he was not invited. But that is another story!
The evening ended with us heading for the hotel in a very great mood!!!!
Wines Used With The Meal
Aurora Sparkling Wine Pinot Noir (aperitif starter)
Aurora Chardonnay Pinto Bandeira 2011 (with salad)
Aurora Reserva Merlot (with Pork, Beef Ribs and Picanha) 
Aurora Sparkling Wine Rose Moscatel (with Segu and Cream)
Aurora 1931 Brandy VSOP (with Coffee)
End of Day Two!!!