Guide to Brazil
Brazil offers more than sun, samba and sand. It also boasts a winemaking tradition that dates to the late 19th century.
Originally, Brazilian vineyards grew Vitis labrusca grapes—North American varieties like Concord and Niagara that are generally made into juice and jelly rather than into fine wine. Today, the country succeeds with “international” Vitis vinifera ranging from Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Chardonnay to Riesling and Viognier.
From the mid-1870s until 1900, more than two million European immigrants arrived in Brazil, the majority from northern Italy. Most of the Italians with wine backgrounds settled in the Serra Gaúcha region in Rio Grande do Sul state, where fertile mountainsides closely mimic the hills of Piedmont, Tuscany or the Veneto.
Today, Italian-style cooking still dominates the region’s cuisine, and many older residents speak a northern Italian dialect mixed with Portuguese.
More than 15,000 families are involved in grape growing and winemaking in Brazil. Grapes are grown in five regions, boasting almost 1,100 wineries. However, 90 percent of fine-wine production takes place in Serra Gaúcha.
—Mike DeSimone & Jeff Jenssen
The only red grape that can be labeled as a single variety in Serra Gaúcha’s Vale dos Vinhedos, it conveys flavors of black cherry, blueberry, cassis and mint. Styles range from fruity and vibrant to complex and rich.
Brazil’s unsung star may well be sparkling Moscato, made from Moscato Bianco, Moscato Giallo, Moscato de Alexandria and Moscatel Nazareno. Smooth and sweet, it offers aromas and flavors of white flower blossoms, citrus and stone fruits.
This white grape, with flavors of tropical fruits and green apples, finds its way into still and sparkling wines alike. Vinified in stainless steel, its crisp fruit and mineral character shines through, while oak-aged versions lean toward toast, butter and vanilla.
Both Malvasia Bianca and Malvasia de Candia exist here and are used in dry white and sweet sparkling blends. Expect flavors of white peach and apricot, with nutty flavors developing as the wine ages.
Dry Pinot Noirs tend to show flavors of cherry, chocolate and citrus zest. Sparkling wines made from Pinot Noir, in both the traditional and Charmat methods, lean toward crisp, clean minerality.