In Part 1 we looked back on the history of wine in Brazil, dating back to the 1500s and the first Portuguese immigrants, followed by waves of Italians and Germans who dreamed of planting vineyards that reminded them of home. Then in Part 2 we explored the challenges facing Brazilian winemakers: a rainy, humid climate; the unfortunate mismatching of grapes to vineyard sites; and a local population that doesn’t drink much wine. While there’s not much to be done about the climate, the winemaking process has improved greatly over the years, resulting in commercially viable wines that are driving a renewed national interest in wine. Vivino, the wine app, reports that Brazil currently boasts the second-highest number of active users in the world, just behind the United States. In a year-over-year comparison, that figure represented growth of 60%. Brazilians are clearly interested in wine, and local producers are doing their best to impress them.
Over the years, growers have identified the most favorable sites for the successful planting of vinifera varieties. They have taken great pains to match early-ripening varieties to terroirs at risk of rainfall at harvest. And they have taken advantage of basalt-laden soils that can help insulate high-altitude vines from cooler temperatures. Perhaps the most interesting development though, one that places them squarely in the camp with innovative winemakers the world over, is their great interest in the natural wine movement.
On JancisRobinson.com, guest writer Wink Lorch reported on a wine summit that took place in Brazil last year. It brought together influential proponents of natural wines from France, including Jura superstar Pierre Overny (Arbois-Pupillin) with a group of Brazilians eager to incorporate these principles into their local vineyard practices. The summit was a collaborative effort of importers and restaurateurs seeking to offer “authentic” wines made by sustainable and/or organic methods. Bringing together Brazil’s winemaking pioneers with experts who’ve been utilizing these methods for 25 years or more, was an opportunity too big to pass up.
Members of the Old Guard brought samples of their wines for all to taste. And the Brazilians poured some of their creations, too: a sparkling wine made with indigenous yeasts, and a Ribolla Gialla that had seen significant skin contact. In fact, many of the local wines featured at the summit came from grapes we usually associate with Italy: Sangiovese and Barbera, especially. Not surprising when you recall that Italian immigrants helped promote early grape-growing efforts here.
Promoting Brazilian Wine
In 2002, the Brazilian Wine Institute (IbraVin) and the Brazilian Trade and Investment Promotion Agency (ApexBrasil) founded the Wines of Brasil Project. Essentially it serves as a bridge between local brands and international trade. Its goal is to promote Brazilian wine to international markets, by teaching producers the ins and outs of exporting their wine, creating successful advertising campaigns, and participating in wine fairs and competitions. It is open to all Brazilian wineries interested in entering the international market; currently there are 31 enrolled. Under the Wines of Brasil Project umbrella are several subprojects, each with a specific focus:
The First Export Project – This effort is aimed squarely at the five priority markets identified by Wine of Brasil: China, Germany, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, and the United States. Together these five nations comprise nearly 50% of Brazilian wine exports.
The Image Project – With the goal of building and promoting the reputation of Brazilian wines in all markets, the Image Project reaches out to wine critics, reporters, magazine editors, and international trade partners. They are invited to Brazil to participate in winery events, tastings, and sporting events, instilling an interest in Brazil’s wine culture that they may communicate to their followers.
The Buyers’ Project – Much more focused on the actual business of wine, the Buyers’ Project seeks to connect wineries directly with the importers, restaurants, retail shops, and hotels that might purchase their wines.
Finding Brazilian Wine Close to Home
It’s not easy, I’ll tell you that! I was lucky to find a few bottles at my local Whole Foods as part of a promotion for the Olympics. The Macaw brand is made by Casa Perini, one of the country’s largest producers. We tried the Tannat and the Merlot, both light in body (and alcohol, at 11.5%). Touted on the website as wines that are “friendly and uncomplicated,” both wines were agreeable, definitely at home with the Brazilian pão de queijo (dense rolls made from cheese and tapioca) and grilled steak salad we served at our party to celebrate the Opening Ceremonies.
The Tannat, especially, was surprising in its floral aromas and simplicity. If you’re looking for an easy summer quaff, this is it. That said, I’d really like to try some other Brazilian wines. My curiosity has been piqued by researching and writing these posts, learning how far Brazilian winemaking has come.
I checked the on-line inventory of a large wine shop in New York City, one that seems to have everything. It had a few additional offerings, all from large producers like Salton and Perini. My advice is to ask at your local store, or at a Brazilian restaurant – almost every city now has at least one churrascaria, or Brazilian steak house, within its limits. And keep your eyes open for wine tastings featuring Brazilian wines. Importers send their reps out every night and every weekend to conduct tastings and drum up interest in their wines (as I well remember, from my wine-selling days.) Hey, you never know: Brazilian wines might be coming soon, to a tasting near you!
For this series of posts I have consulted the following references:
Goldstein, Evan. Wines of South America; University of California Press, 2014.
Robinson, Jancis, et al. The Oxford Companion to Wine; Oxford University Press, 2015.