Brazil makes wine? This was the universal response when I suggested a tasting of wines from Brazil for one of the Arundel Wine Society monthly meetings.
We all know of the increasingly good quality wines from other South American countries, namely Chile and Argentina, but Brazil? Really?
Well, surprisingly enough, they have been making wine in Brazil for over 150 years, mostly started by immigrants from Italy, who still run many of the wineries to this day.
The main surprise about quality wine coming from Brazil is due to its latitude, much of the country being very close to the equator. The vast majority of the vineyards of the world are located in two bands of latitude running around the globe, one in the Northern Hemisphere and one in the Southern. The latitudes are 30 degrees and 50 degrees. Less than 30 degrees the temperature is too hot and more than 50 degrees, it is too cold. Brazil is located between 3 and 31 degrees. Great for grapes producing raisins, perhaps, but for quality wine grapes?
It’s all to do with temperature. If the climate is too hot, the wine grape vine Vitis Vinifera not only has difficulty surviving, it actually stops producing sugar in the grapes. No sugar to ferment, no alcohol produced. With very cold climates, the vines can be killed by severe frosts and those that survive, produce grapes that do not fully ripen, thus producing thin, acidic wines at best.
However, there are other factors that affect climate, not just the latitude and angle of the sun. Altitude can have a substantial cooling effect on climate and this is one of the factors brought into play in Brazil. Most vineyards in this country are found in the southern provinces, around the 30-degree latitude mark. They are also planted at high altitude, thus gaining from the cooling effect this brings. These high vineyards have a very large diurnal range of temperature, being very hot by day, but cooling down considerably at night. This is beneficial to the vines and results in slower ripening process, aiding quality.
Surprisingly, the southern areas of Brazil can experience fog, frost and even snow and have four definite seasons. A climate thus able to produce good quality grapes for making good quality wines.
But 150 years is a relatively short period of time for a wine region and although they are now making some quality wines, the general feeling is that the best is yet to come. With modern technology and more investment, particularly in identifying the best planting areas, Brazil should be able to produce very good wines in the future.
This is by no means to decry what is already being produced by some forward-thinking wineries. The wines of Brazil came a little bit out from under their stone with the FIFA World cup in 2014 and then even more so in 2016, with the Olympics in Rio. A pioneering specialist importer called Go Brazil Wines & Spirits has been importing wines from Brazil for the past eight years and has an interesting selection available to buy online. There are no indigenous grape varieties in Brazil, so all the varietals on the labels are recognizable and thus give some indication as to their flavour.
Six of these wines were tasted at the Arundel Wine Society event and all met with approval. Not all present liked all of the wines. But it was a surprising revelation to all who attended. The two wines that stood out the most, were a Riesling 2017 from the Don Guerino winery – fresh and zippy, with a just off-dry finish and tropical notes – and a full-bodied red Fausto Tannat 2015. This latter grape variety is often used in south-west France, and the Brazilian wine was vaguely reminiscent of a Madiran. Soft, ripe tannins, deep colour and hints of coffee on the palate with fruit and a long finish (£14 a bottle).
So, although Brazilian wines may not yet be on everybody’s radar, with the designation of the country’s first appellation of origin region, the Vale dos Vinhedos, there is obviously great potential for the future.
Richard Esling BSc DipWSET is an experienced wine consultant, agent, writer and educator. An erstwhile wine importer, he runs a wine agency and consultancy company called WineWyse, is founder and principal of the Sussex Wine Academy, chairman of Arundel Wine Society and is an International Wine Judge. Twitter @richardwje. Visit www.winewyse.com.
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