Why, one asks after yet another fine bottle of Brazilian red has been sampled at a media gathering in the Pampa Brazilian Steakhouse, has there been so little Brazilian wine available in Canada before?
After all, it wasn't that difficult, after Pampa proprietor Oscar Lopez and his wine guy Nelson Gomes of FineVine Imports decided to focus on Brazilian wines in a restaurant specializing in Brazilian-style spit-cooked meat shop, to get the stuff.
They made a trip or two to Brazil's wine country to its south, met the growers and vintners, and simply fired up a not-too-difficult process of importing wine by the case from vintner to restaurant ... with a few bottles left over for FineVine to distribute through its retail network.
It appears that Brazil has not gone after the export market for its wines, which, in price and quality, can easily compete with the much better known Chilean and Argentinian brands from South America.
So the perceptive Mr. Lopez not only has a unique style of cooking and presenting great meat, he has wines on offer at reasonable prices only available at his restaurant.
At Pampa on 109th Street near the provincial legislature, 10 different meats are primal-cut in Brazilian rather than North American styles, and all are roasted over special coals with nothing more than a Brazilian salt for additional flavour.
The waiters then bring each roast to your table on a spit, slicing as much as you like on to your plate. For a set dinner price of $45, you are invited to eat as much as you can handle. ALL the meats are delicious, but for my money, you can't beat the bottom sirloin cooked Brazilian style.
Another Pampa tradition is to set a bottle of Brazilian wine on every table ... which might interest the customer to engage in a conversation about Brazilian wine with their initial waiter, who has been well trained on the varieties and price range of the Brazilian wines on offer by the glass or the bottle. The waiter then mentions, if a small party chooses not to consume the entire bottle that evening, they are most welcome to take it home for post-Check Stop consumption.
Pampa offers its Brazilian wines by the six-ounce glass for $10 to $11, the price per bottle is in the median range of $40 to $70.
A brief sketch of some of the Brazilian wines now on offer at Pampa. (Some of these wines are also available at the Sherbrooke, Select, Crestwood, Atlone Liquor and Wine & Beyond liquor stores.)
Here are some of my favourites from the wine introduction evening at Pampa this past Monday. I hasten to add I am the last thing from an expert in wine and my personal tastes tend to reds that are smooth, rich and velvety. My wine focus is on finding such wines in my favourite liquor stores retailing for no more than $20 a bottle!
The Casa Valduga 2010 Cabarnet-Franc was an excellent pairing with Pampa's leg of lamb, and naturally the vintner's Casa Vaduga Grand Reserve 2006 Cabarnet-Sauvignon was that much better, and priced accordingly.
Tannat is a little-known grape in this part of the world, but in Brazil is as well-known as malbec is in Argentina. Blended, or on its own, tannat is a wine exploration unto itself, certainly meeting my own criteria. Salton is a major grower and producer in Brazil. Its Salton Talento - 50% cabarnet, 40% merlot and 10% tannat was truly balanced. A 100% tannat Lidio Carraro was quite delicious, but as one of the best Brazilian wines in a 2005 vintage year, it's expensive! The Don Laurindo oaked tannat (fermented in oak barrels for nine months) was another taste treat.
On Wednesdays and Thursdays, Pampa offers a special wild boar cut, with a kitchen-made blackberry jam, with which, Oscar suggests, the Pizzato Concentus, a tannat/merlot/cabarnet blend, pairs beautifully.
I'm an admirer of Mr. Lopez, who spent eight years working on and perfecting the Brazilian steakhouse concept for Edmonton before he was ready to open. He and his Brazilian chef partner have presented a one-of-a-kind dining experience that's reasonably priced, is consistent, provides excellent service and is of interest to every possible city socio-demographic diner, from the oilfield worker to the most skilled doctor. Believe me, the ladies like their meat as well!
Watch for Pampa to slowly grow, especially since the barbecuing method doesn't necessarily rely on the expertise and signature of a single chef. A second Pampa opens this coming spring in Calgary and it'll be a roaring hit in a town as meat-mad as ours. Lopez also sees Pampa opening in Fort McMurray and Grande Prairie. It's a new concept, but based around traditional beef flavours that every Albertan loves. As for the Brazilian wines ... they just make the entire Pampa experience that much more special.