History & Heritage
As we never tire of saying, there is nothing new about Brazilian wines – just maybe that you haven’t tried them yet! The Portuguese ‘discovered’ Brazil in 1500 and it was not long afterwards that Jesuit missionaries first introduced grape vines to the country. However the challenging climatic conditions and lack of technical expertise were key detractors to producing good quality wine, which continued until the arrival of Italian immigrants in the late 19th century. These immigrants had arrived mainly from the Veneto and Trentino regions of northeast Italy and are credited with establishing Brazil’s first commercial wineries (in around 1875) in the most southerly state of Rio Grande do Sul.
Fast-forward to the late 20th and early 21st centuries, and Brazilian wines have advanced spectacularly: investment in modern vinification equipment, much improved vineyard practices and a better understanding of export markets have combined to produce wines that are regular award-winners on the international stage. Indeed, Brazil’s first ever Gold Medal at the International Wine Challenge competition was won back in 2011 – one of well over 4000 awards that have been won internationally by Brazilian wineries in the last decade.
Illustrating further the recent progress made by local winemakers, in the October 2018 edition of Decanter magazine, some 17 of the 20 Brazilian wines sampled were awarded 90 points or more. A year later, Decanter featured an in-depth 5 page article on Brazil, written by Dirceu Vianna Junior MW, together with the author’s ‘Top 12’ selection – and we were delighted that half of the wines mentioned are imported by ourselves!
At Go Brazil we pride ourselves too on being pioneers not just for Brazilian wine but also for highlighting unusual viticultural techniques and grapes varieties. Our 2021 portfolio, for example, features a Semillon aged in acacia and oak barrels; an un-disgorged Traditional Method sparkling wine; a single varietal Alicante Bouschet; and two Syrahs which were harvested in Brazil’s mid-winter.
We offer an extensive range of sparkling, red, white and rosé wines, sourced directly from a wide range of producers and regions of Brazil, so are confident you will find a wine to suit your tastes. Based in Ipswich, Suffolk, our wines are stored at a bonded warehouse close to London.
What type of wine will I be drinking – and which grapes will I find?
Stylistically, Brazilian wines sit between the Old World and the New World, due in no small part to the enduring influence of European immigrants (especially Italians). The wines are generally very well made, clean, with pure fruit and at times can be highly aromatic. They tend to contain less alcohol than equivalent wines originating from similar latitudes in Chile or Argentina, for example. Barrel ageing is used but mainly only for reds and often only for short periods of around 4-6 months, in either new or used oak. While not overly tannic, many of the reds seem to find the ideal balance between fruit, acidity and tannins after several years, while the best examples are capable of great maturity. The whites are at their most expressive when planted at altitude, where they show delicate tropical and floral aromas, and are best drunk young.
Perhaps the key difference between Brazilian and other south American wines is their naturally fresh acidity, belying the myth that it is too hot and humid in Brazil to produce high quality grapes (it isn’t!). Indeed, in the south, where around 90% of fine wines originate, the altitude, varying between 150-1,400m, plays a key role, with temperatures routinely dropping to between 0-10C° in winter. Fog, frost, rain and occasionally snow are all to be found in this ‘tropical’ country!
Brazil does not have any indigenous grape varieties, so plantings are dominated by the so-called ‘international’ varieties such as Chardonnay and Merlot, although these are frequently blended or made into sparkling wines. The volume of reds harvested outweighs whites by about 3:1. Reflecting the industry’s Italian heritage, there are small plantings of Nebbiolo, Teroldego and Ancellota, for example, while other European varieties such as Tempranillo (Spain), Touriga Nacional (Portugal), and Cabernet Franc, Tannat, Malbec, Marselan, Petit Verdot and Alicante Bouschet (France) can also be found.
In recent years, wine critics and commentators have remarked on the good quality – and good value – of Brazilian sparkling wine, particularly the sweet Moscatos made using the Charmat (‘Tank’) method. For those whose preference is for drier styles, however, at Go Brazil we would highlight the excellent Traditional Method sparklers from wineries such as Familia Geisse and Campos de Cima. A Chilean national, Mario Geisse managed Moët & Chandon’s operations in Brazil during the 1970s and in 1979 established his own business. For the last 40 years it has focused exclusively on producing high quality Traditional Method sparkling wines, made only from Chardonnay & Pinot Noir. Campos de Cima is a much younger winery, where until 2019 Frenchman Michel Fabre was head winemaker, and it shares the distinction with Familia Geisse of having won several medals at the International Wine Challenge.
Moving on to still wines:
Our personal favourites are the aged Tannats, Syrahs and Merlots. Examples from the best vintages, from old vines, show huge concentrations of fruit, great balance, complexity and real smoothness. As we say below, they make great food wines but are equally approachable on their own. Those from Pizzato, Don Guerino and Guaspari are all to be recommended.
Although not professional foodies ourselves, we can confidently say that the naturally high acidity of Brazilian wine is an advantage, especially where a dish might have a high fat or protein content, or when well seasoned. The strong Italian influence on the culture of southern Brazil is evident in the kitchen: as well as pizza, pasta and polenta, meat dishes (especially beef, lamb and game) are popular, and the region’s red wines are generally well matched with them.
In our experience, a powerful, dense Tannat would work well with stews, casseroles or venison, for example, while an aged Merlot or Bordeaux blend is a good match for roast beef or lamb.
In the whites, the local Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay and dry Moscatos all have a pleasantly fresh acidity and can be paired with creamy chicken dishes, salads, grilled or poached fish or, if very dry, with seafood.
The dry sparklers make great aperitifs, with the best Brut or Extra Brut styles working very well with delicate seafood, white fish or light salads. At the other end of the scale, the sweet Moscato fizz can be surprisingly clean, refreshing and citrussy, and is ideal with fruit salad, meringues and dark chocolate – or Christmas cake!