Expert’s choice: Brazil
Getting your hands on them can be a challenge, but the best wines offer some fascinating alternative styles. Dirceu Vianna Junior MW picks out the top drops
The rise of the smaller producer is improving diversity and quality. Dirceu Vianna Junior MW
VINES wErE INtrODUCED to Brazil’s São Paulo in 1532 by Portuguese explorer Brás Cubas, but conditions were not judged ideal and the experiment was abandoned. Subsequent Portuguese settlers tried to cultivate vines in several different areas, but the place which responded best to viticulture was rio Grande do Sul, the country’s southernmost state, bordering Argentina and Uruguay.
this area is responsible for about 90% of production today. In the green hills around Bento Gonçalves it is possible to find excellent sparkling wines, the best crafted with Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Still white wines can be good but are generally less exciting. reds, mainly from Bordeaux grapes, can be surprisingly good as they possess an Old world framework plus crisp acidity, firm structure and attractive savoury character. these wines are not as overt or fruit-forward in style as their counterparts elsewhere in South America.
Modern viticulture has enabled other areas of Brazil to be explored and a growing number of exciting wines are being produced in high-altitude vineyards in Santa Catarina. People who associate Brazil with sunshine and sandy beaches would be astonished to see vineyards
covered in snow and winter temperatures of -10°C. Yet the conditions here are ideal for viticulture, and are especially suited to Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir.
Projects are also appearing in other states. Ironically, some of the very best Brazilian wines today are made in São Paulo, previously dismissed as too hot and humid. In the north of the state, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Viognier make interesting whites, and Syrah grown on high-altitude sites is producing exceptional reds.
Brazil has only achieved mixed success in international markets, and opportunities to establish Brazilian wine as a serious proposition have faltered. The key issue is that large producers are still chasing volume rather than trying to position the country as a serious producer of quality wines. Due to small production scales, high labour costs and punitive taxation, the industry simply can’t compete on price with Chile and Argentina. Wines must be of exceptional quality to ensure that consumers who buy one bottle, most likely drawn by its novelty factor, return for a second.
While the industry did not take full advantage of the opportunity to market its wines during recent sporting events hosted in the country, Brazil still enjoys a positive image with international consumers – a great platform to build a successful marketing campaign. Instead of fighting a losing battle at lower price points, Brazil should emulate New Zealand and work towards building an image for quality at the mid to premium end.
Exciting smaller projects are popping up all over the country, so there is more critical mass than in the recent past and, generally speaking, quality has never been higher. Additionally, the 2018 vintage is set to be one of the greatest ever. Brazil has not yet managed to carve its share of the market, but there is still a chance.