Why you need to try this Brazilian wine before (or after) the Olympics

Brazil produces a ton of wine, most of it in the temperate south with its four seasons. The fact that Brazil makes wine at all is something that most people in this country probably don’t realize, given how Chile and Argentina, with their marketing muscle, dominate South American imports and sales. I can’t recall being queried about my interest in wines from Brazil -- until this summer with the obvious Olympics tie-in.

You’re not going to find many (or any) bottles from Brazil in your local wine store or in restaurants, unless, of course, they’re serving Brazilian food. I can see that changing, however, if more of them knew about wines like Lidio Carraro’s 2014 “Agnus” Tannat.

Carraro, which, like many Brazilian wineries was founded by Italian immigrants in the late 19th century, notes that tannat is Brazil’s “emblematic” red grape, as it is in neighboring Uruguay. The variety was transplanted years ago from southwest France (think Madiran), producing tamer, less tannic wines across the ocean, much as malbec, also from France (think Cahors), does in Argentina. Did you know that tannat actually means "tannin"?

Carraro’s tannat, which Wine-Searcher lists at seven retailers and is priced, astonishingly, from just under $11 to $13, is a bright and fruit-forward wine marked by smooth tannins, good balancing acidity and minerals (the grapes are grown in granitic soil), all of which enhance a blackberry-blueberry core accented by coffee bean and cocoa notes. Alcohol is a reasonable 13.5 percent. There’s a lot to enjoy here for not much money. Sounds almost medal-worthy, wouldn't you say? (Imported by Winebow, Inc., New York; received as a press sample). 


Beating the heat with these refreshing whites from France's little-known Quincy

It’s mid-August, and with the heat and humidity truly stifling here in New York, I have no use for wines that aren’t fresh and light (while still interesting, of course). Among whites, sauvignon blancs immediately come to mind. For the “interesting” component, my mind -- and palate -- naturally veer toward France’s Loire Valley.

The Loire is sauvignon blanc country, unparalleled in its quality and range of perspectives on the grape, from the racy and relatively uncomplicated wines of the large Touraine appellation, to the complex and celebrated offerings from Sancerre and its neighbor Pouilly Fumé.

Somewhere in between are the wines of Quincy, a storybook village in the upper Loire that lives in the shadow of its
more famous neighbors like Sancerre. I remember thinking the first time I was there that lunch didn’t get much better than a hunk of the local chèvre, a baguette and a bottle of Quincy (although the young woman I was with may have had at least something to do with it).

If Quincy (pronounced can-SEE)  is not a great sauvignon appellation, it is very good, and the prices reflect its less rarefied place in the pecking order. That said, I was reminded on tasting several samples sent to me this summer just how satisfying the wines can be.

Take Domaine Mardon’s 2014 Quincy “Tres Vielles Vignes,” listed online for $15 to $20. Apricot, orange and lime notes are softened by a subtle creamy overlay that also gives it richness. A steely minerality keeps it sharply focused. This mineral component, by the way, is what defines good sauvignon and other Loire wines, both white and red.

Another standout is Domaine Sylvain Bailly’s 2015 Quincy “Beaucharme,” fresh and zingy, light and complex with citrus, herb and subtle vanilla notes. It’s about $16 and available here. The stated alcohol level of both wines is a relatively modest 13 percent.