While a trip to Brazil might not be in the cards for this year, it is a place you should put on your bucket list as a wine destination. Just like its people, Brazil’s wines are diverse, colorful, and joyful. From their impressive sparkling wines to their great reds based on international varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Tannat or the host of Italian varieties grown there, Brazil’s wines are ones to look for.
Brazil is the world’s fifth-largest country with 27 states and the fifth largest wine producer in the Southern Hemisphere. Brazil has six main wine regions: Serra Gaúcha, Serra do Sudeste, Campanha, Campos de Cima da Serra, Planalto Catarinense and the Vale do São Francisco to the far North. The largest one is called Serra Gaûcha in the southern state of Rio Grande do Sul. Bento Gonçalves, in Rio Grande do Sul, is the center of the country’s wine industry. To enter the town, you will drive through a wine barrel. You get the idea.
Starting in 2002, Brazil began to embrace denominations of origin. Today, Brazil has one Appellation of Origin, AO Vale dos Vinhedos and four Geographical Indications, which someday might be made into AOs – GI Pinto Bandeira, GI Monte Belo, GI Farroupilha, and GI Altos Montes. These denominations are found within the Serra Gaúcha. Brazil has about 150 wineries of large dimensions and more than 1,100 small farms, approximately two hectares per family. They grow about 89,000 hectares of vines.
Brazil has been producing wines since the beginning of its colonization. The first vines were brought to Brazil in 1532 by Martim Afonso de Souza who came from Portugal intending to disseminate agriculture in the new colony. However, it was the arrival of Italian immigrants, a process initiated in 1875, which spurred the sector’s growth. Most Italians who immigrated to Brazil came from two specific regions in Italy, the Veneto or Trentino. Many of their descendants who run the wineries speak regional dialects. They all consider themselves both Brazilian and Italian and many are seeking Italian citizenship. Brazil has one of the largest populations of Italians outside of Italy, approximately 25-35 million people with Italian heritage.
Unlike Argentina and Chile, there is no signature Brazilian grape as of today. The industry has undergone enormous changes in the past 15-20 years. Producers large and small in Brazil are making sparkling wines of excellent quality with a good price/quality ratio. These sparklers tend to be drunk young and are perfect with Brazil’s climate and attitude. They also specialize in making still and sparkling wines from Moscatel or Moscato, particularly Farroupilha.
The Brazilians did not pay much attention to the bad rap Merlot got with the movie Sideways, and many have planted this grape throughout the country. Well-crafted, balanced wines with berry, chocolate, and bramble notes abounded. A couple of wines had a minty note, and some were oaky, but across a host of different wineries I visited, the Merlots were all outstanding, as were many of the Tannat-based wines. Serra Gaúcha is very close to Uruguay, where Tannat reigns supreme.
There are great wineries to visit in Brazil when world travel opens, but for the moment, here are five wineries to visit virtually, and wines that are available for purchase.
Miolo – Giuseppe Miolo immigrated to Brazil from the Veneto in Italy in 1897. Upon his arrival in Brazil, Giuseppe went to Bento Gonçalves, a southern town newly founded by Italian immigrants. Today Miolo sells about 10 million liters per year from approximately 1,000 hectares. The winery is very modern with all sorts of contraptions, including Gyro palettes. They make a variety of wines. The Merlots are great, as are the sparkling wines.
Salton – Founded in 1910 by brothers Paulo, Ângelo, João, Cezar, Luiz, and Antônio Salton, who cemented the business, following in their father’s footsteps. These Italian siblings started to cultivate grapes to make wine, and vermouth, under the name “Paulo Salton & Irmãos” (brothers), in downtown Bento Gonçalves. Today, Salton is the largest producer of sparkling wines in Brazil, and the fourth generation is guiding the winery.
Lidio Carraro – The Lidio Carraro family also immigrated from Italy. Patrizia, who runs the winery today, is the fifth generation to guide the winery. Lidio Carraro has been at the forefront of soil mapping in Brazil. They are very well-known for their work in Encruzilhada do Sul as well as Serra Gaúcha.
Valduga – The Valduga family emigrated from Rovereto in Italy to Brazil in 1875. Today the winery is run by three brothers: Erielso, Juarez, and Joçao Valduga, and their children, the fourth generation. They are active in wine tourism with a guest house, restaurant, and other accommodations in the DO Vale dos Vinhedos.
Cave Geisse – Cave Geisse was founded by Mario Geisse, who hails from Chile. He left Chile in 1976, where he worked for Casa Silva to manage Moet & Chandon’s facilities in Brazil. In 1979, he started his own winery, which he runs with his son Daniel. The winery is in Pinto Bandeira in the Vinhos de Montanha, south of Bento Gonçalves. The site is high up, and when you visit, they take you through thick vegetation to show what the immigrants faced in the late 1800s. They only grow Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. They also hire entire families to work their land and give them a house.
A few other important wineries to visit are Aurora – a vast cooperative, Casa Perini – very specialized in Moscato and Pizzato – and a fantastic winemaker with lots of technical knowledge and great wines.
Wines to try:
Grapes: Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot
Aromas: Black and red fruit, bramble, oak
Palate: Full-bodied, structured wine with fine, silky tannins and a long finish
Pairing: Roasted meats, grilled steak
Grapes: Chardonnay, Trebbiano, Glera
Aromas: Green apple, floral notes, and brioche
Palate: Fine, creamy bubbles with yeasty, toast flavors and refreshing, bright acidity
Pairing: Aperitif, seafood, fish, past
Lidio Carraro, Dadivas Chardonnay
Grapes: 100% Chardonnay
Aromas: Tropical notes, apple, pear, yeast
Palate: Exceptionally fine bubbles, creamy mouthfeel, and a burst of acidity, minerality.
Pairing: Chicken, Salmon, Asparagus Risotto, or a special aperitif
Valduga Brut Rose
Grapes: 60% Chardonnay, 40% Pinot Noir
Aromas: Strawberry, rose, and apple
Palate: Creamy mouthfeel, numerous, fine bubbles, and a long length
Pairing: Seafood and fish dishes or as an aperitif
Cave Geisse Blanc de Blancs
Grapes: 100% Chardonnay
Aromas: Citrus notes and white acacia flowers
Palate: Great acidity, minerality, and fine, persistent bubbles
Pairing: Perfect with Ceviche or Oysters
Feature photo credit: Fabiano Mazzotti