|If you know your ABCs of South American wine, you definitely know the A
and C, but what about the B? We have plenty of wine from Argentina and
Chile in the U.S., but wines from Brazil have been difficult to find in
most of our local markets, except South Florida—always a great market
for South American wines. I’m sure that many readers don’t even know
that wine is made in Brazil. But that is about to change, as Brazilian
wine producers have decided to concentrate on the huge markets of the
U.S. and Canada.
I recently traveled to Brazil’s main wine region
(Rio Grande do Sul), with an obligatory stop in Rio de Janeiro, and
learned some interesting information about this huge country. Brazil is
actually the fifth-largest producer of wine in the Southern Hemisphere,
after Argentina, Australia, South Africa and Chile; it’s even larger
than New Zealand, whose wines are now so popular in the U.S.
it comes to wine production, Brazil has been seriously
under-performing—perhaps because only small parts of the country, mainly
in the south, have suitable climate for growing wine grapes. Brazil
has the fifth-largest population in the world, with nearly 200 million
people, and is the world’s fifth-largest country in area —
the size of the U.S. Brazil now has a thriving middle class, and
interest in wine has been developing there within the last two decades.
Brazil Finds Its Niche in the Wine Market
Grande do Sul has a temperate climate, with four distinct seasons. Rain
and even snowfall in winter; in summer, the temperature is mainly in
the 80s (F°), ideal for grape growing. But there was no market for wine
in Brazil in the last century, traditionally not a big wine-drinking
country. And the Brazilian government has not helped, still taxing
Brazilian wine sales today in its own country as high as 50 %.
Fortunately, the taxation does not apply to exports, and so we can find
Brazilian wines at reasonable prices in the U.S.
Most of the
wineries in Rio Grande do Sul began in the late 1980s and early 1990s;
they were founded by third- and fourth-generation members of the
original Italian immigrant families. One huge Cooperative, Cooperativa
Vinicola Aurora (simply known as Aurora), and two large wineries, Salton
and Miolo, dominate the domestic and export market, although at least
18 wineries are now exporting their wines around the world. The largest
import markets for Brazilian wines are the United States, Germany,
Switzerland, the Czech Republic and Holland, with Canada and Singapore
The Brazilian wine region in Rio Grande do Sul
centers around the thriving town of Bento Gonçalves—really a city of
100,000 people, with its inhabitants enjoying the second-highest per
capita income rate in all of Brazil. During my visit, I visited eight
wineries and tasted wines from another eight. Many of the wineries and
vineyards are located in the appropriately named Vale dos Vinhedos,
making it easy for a visitor to travel from one winery to the other.
first surprise during the visit was that just about every winery makes
sparkling wines as well as still wines, and that these wines generally
are of very good quality. Three types of sparkling wines exist in
Brazil: wines made by Methode Champenoise, (aka Traditional Method);
Charmat (bulk method sparkling wine); and Asti-style Moscato, made with
the Muscat variety—and generally quite exceptional, by the way. I
discovered that Brazilians drink lots of sparkling wine, especially the
less-expensive Charmat sparklers and Moscatos. The market in the U.S.
for Brazilian sparkling wines is certainly limited right now, although
these wines have had some success in the Miami area. Miolo brings in at
least one sparkling brut into the U.S., made from Chardonnay and Pinot
Familiar with European Varietals a Marketing Boon
fine table wines are primarily made from the same European varieties
that we are familiar with: Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot are the big
players among the red wines, Chardonnay the main white variety. What I
particularly liked, however, was the huge range of varieties that are
being utilized in Brazilian wines. For example, Tannat, a fairly obscure
red variety from southwest France, is thriving in Brazil and
neighboring Uruguay. In France, Tannat lives up to its name; it is a
very dark-colored, very tannic, astringent variety that is used mainly
as part of a blended wine. Brazilian terroir, however, has tamed the
harsh Tannat quite a bit; it tastes fruitier, and is fine as a straight
Brazilian varietal wine—although it is usually blended in with Cabernet
Sauvignon and Merlot.
In addition to Tannat, probably the two red
Brazilian varietal wines that I enjoyed the most were Cabernet Franc and
Teroldego. Generally, I found that those wineries which produced
Cabernet Franc wines, such as Casa Valduga, often did better with this
variety than any other. Casa Valduga’s Cabernet Franc, for example, was
intensely flavored, with great structure. Probably because Cabernet
Franc needs less time to ripen than other varieties (such as Cabernet
Sauvignon) the mountainous Brazilian wine region is a plus.
is the principal red variety in the Trento region of Italy’s
Trentino-Alto Adige region, and a few Brazilian wineries produce it as a
varietal wine. I loved every Brazilian Terodego that I tasted; just
like Tannat, Brazil’s version of Teroldego is less tannic with more
appealing fruit than the more austere Italian Teroldego wines.
red Brazilian varietal wines that I tasted included Tempranillo (good),
Pinot Noir (just okay), Syrah/Shiraz, Barbera, Gamay, Malbec, Ancellota
(an obscure Italian variety from Emilia-Romagna and Switzerland),
Marselan (a new Mediterranean French variety made from crossing Cabernet
Sauvignon with Grenache), and Nebbiolo (just one, from Lidio Carraro
Winery, and quite good, with true Nebbiolo character).
Brazilian wineries make far more red wines than white (with just a
little rosé), but some of the white wines I tasted were very good. In
general, its Chardonnays are competent, but not spectacular. I
preferred its Sauvignon Blancs (I don’t think that Brazil’s climate is
cool enough for outstanding Chardonnays or Pinot Noirs). I did enjoy
Miolo’s Pinot Grigio and Viognier, and Casa Valduga’s Gewürztraminer was
Most of the wineries whose wines I tasted do
export their wines into the U.S., but often in limited markets. For
example, one small winery told me its wines are only in Colorado. The
two Brazilian wineries which have the broadest distribution in the U.S.
are two of the largest and the best: Salton and Miolo. Salton, which
produces 20 million bottles a year, is Brazil’s largest privately owned
winery. Look for Salton’s Family Reserve wines, especially its “Volpi”
line. Miolo, which has a magnificent new winery, produces seven million
bottles a year. I found all of Miolo’s wines first-rate.
other wineries that impressed me: Casa Valduga (run by the three
Valduga brothers, who rate an “A” for their warm Italian-style
hospitality); Lidio Carraro, a rather amazing, smaller winery which
ages all of its wines in stainless steel tanks—not an oak barrel in
sight—and whose wines are of a very high caliber; and Aurora, whose
Aurora brand wines all indeed impressive. Other Brazilian wineries to
look for include Pizzato, Panceri, Luiz Argenta, Perini, Courmayeur and
Brazilian wine exports have increased 127% since
last year, admittedly from a miniscule base. I visited Brazil with
limited expectations; I returned impressed. I found the wines to be
generally well-made, interesting and well-priced.
Two interesting facts about brazilian wines
1) 90% of its wines are produced in Rio Grande do Sul, the southernmost state, bordering Uruguay (which also produces wine).
Just about every winery, at least in Rio Grande do Sul, was founded by
Italian immigrants, almost all of whom arrived in Brazil between 1875
and 1900. And, in fact, just about all of these families came from only
two regions in Northern Italy, the Veneto and Trentino. The immigrants,
chiefly poor farmers, lured by the prospect of buying their own land at
low prices, settled in the mountains around the town of Bento
Gonçalves, and planted grapes as well as grains, exactly what they had
been doing in Italy.
BRAZILIAN WINE SELECTIONS
Family Vineyards, Vale dos Vinhedos (Brazil) Cuvée Giuseppe, 2004
($12): Miolo’s wines are among the best being produced in Brazil today.
Its 2004 Cuvée Giuseppe, a blend of 60 % Cabernet Sauvignon and 40%
Merlot, is an amazingly high-quality wine for this price. The Merlot in
the blend softens the wine enough to make it drinkable now.
Miolo Family Vineyards, Vale dos Vinhedos (Brazil) Lot 43, 2005 ($31):
Miolo’s finest red wine, Lot 43, is a blend of its choicest Cabernet
Sauvignon and Merlot grapes from its Lot 43 vineyard. This is definitely
one of the finest red wines I’ve tasted from South America during the
past year, with intense varietal character and concentration, and a long
finish. Compared to Chile’s premium wines in the $60 to $80 range,
Miolo’s Lot 43 is an excellent value. Salton Family Reserve,
Bento Gonçalves (Brazil) Volpi Talento 2005 ($13): Salton’s Volpi
Talento, a blend of 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot and 10 % Tannat,
is a fine blended wine, with a great balance of acidity, tannin, and
fruit. Aged in French oak, it is still quite young, and should age
nicely for several years; terrific value.