By Jeni Bonorino
February 24, 2009
Recently I asked a group of people, "What comes to mind when you think of Brazil?" It is no surprise that the words "beach, coffee, Brahma and samba" came to mind long before the word "wine." When I asked what they knew about the wines from Brazil, most people didn't know where to start.
Let's warm up with some basic facts.
In 1875 Italian immigrants launched Brazil's wine culture.
Brazil currently has over 1,000 wineries.
Miolo, Casa Valduga, Dal Pizzol, Pizzato, Salton, Chandon, Vallontano and Don Laurindo are popular wineries.
Red wines are more abundant than white wines.
Brazil is highly regarded for its sparkling wine industry.
Nine out of Brazil's 27 states cultivate wine grapes.
Vale dos Vinhedos is the name of an influential wine sub-region in Brazil.
Brazil is a country that excels naturally on the world's stage from the love for its culture to its richness in natural resources. So why not wine?
The production of "fine wines" in Brazil is relatively young. While Robert Mondovi started making Napa Valley wines in 1966, it wasn't until the mid-eighties that Brazilian wineries switched their focus from grape growing to making wines from their own vineyards. By the 1990's significant financial investments were made in winemaking technologies, helping Brazilian wines turn the corner from being a fail-safe hangover to fine wines that are elegant, bold and age worthy.
The export of Brazilian wines now span over 25 countries with wineries such as Miolo, Pizzato and Casa Valduga gracing intercontinental wine lists and appearing on the shelves of fine wine retailers. Wine industry leaders such as the influential French Oenologist Michele Rolland has added Brazil to his mouthwatering rolodex of global wineries for which he consults; while the well-respected wine critic Jancis Robinson has given her blessing to the optimistic Brazilian wine reviews written by her tasting team.
So what type of wines does Brazil produce? The wine selection is as diverse as the country itself ranging from white wines, to red wines, to sparkling wines. You will find that many white wines are made from the Chardonnay grape and are light to medium-bodied with a with a crisp and elegant nature. Brazilian white wines also tend to tread softly on the oak making them a perfect companion with meals from pizza to codfish. Red wines are commonly made from Cabernet and Merlot grapes (or a blend of the two) and are often aged in either French or American oak. The result is an elegant, medium to full-bodied wine best served with rich foods such as roasted red meats, risotto with mushrooms and hard cheeses such as aged Gouda.
The sparkling wines of Brazil are often a pleasant surprise for people learning about Brazilian wines. Considered a portfolio centerpiece for many wineries, sparkling wines range in style from brut (dry), to extra-dry (sweeter) to demi-sec (considered a dessert wine). Regarded as one of the best regions in the world for growing grapes intended for the production of sparkling wines , Brazil has many fine producers to choose from including Miolo, Chandon, Dal Pizzol, Pizzato and Cave Geisse. Recently Miolo Brut was selected as the best national sparkling wine in a blind tasting promoted by the magazine Veja São Paulo.
Brazil is the fifth largest producer of wine in the Southern Hemisphere with over 1,000 wineries and 880 hectares of vines planted between the 8th and 33rd southern parallels. Grapes are hand harvested and irrigation is not necessary except in the Vale do São Francisco, the world's biggest tropical vineyard, located in the northeastern state of Bahia. A very productive wine region that provides a grape harvest twice a year, the wines of Vale do São Francisco are fruity in nature and often reasonably priced.
Brazils' most important wine-producing state is the southern-most state of Rio Grande do Sul. Bordering the winemaking countries of Uruguay and Argentina, Rio Grande do Sul is home to over half of Brazils' grape vines and includes the important wine region of Serra Gaúcha which produces 90% of the country's wine. Developed in 1875 by Italian immigrants who brought their native vines and wine making culture with them, the wine regions of Rio Grande do Sul continue to be managed today by the 4th and 5th generations of these immigrants.
When visiting Brazil's wine country there is no doubt that a trip to the sub-region of Vale dos Vinhedos in the Serra Gaúcha region should be part of the agenda. Located an hour and a half northwest of Porto Alegre near the town of Bento Gonçalves, there is a strong European influence and obvious sense of pride for Italian ancestry. Home to chic hotels, a wine spa and 31 top wineries, Vale dos Vinhedos was proudly named as Brazil's first "Geographical Indication," which is a controlled identification given to regions such as "Champagne" in France. A region that produced 10 million bottles of wine on its own in 2007 wines from Vale dos Vinhedos display a numbered, white seal of origin guaranteeing many factors including the source and production of the wine.
As Brazilian wines continue to become part of the cool crowd in the school of wine it is important not to knock it until you try it. For further lessons on the subject my door is always open.