There are a few gems among otherwise forgettable Brazilian wines
It’s estimated some 100,000 Americans are attending the ongoing Rio 2016 Summer Games.
Other than wondering how many versions of the 1964 hit “Girl from Ipanema” will be played 24/7 to the delight of gringo tourists, it’s curious to think what else these Norteamericanos will find in this immense land of nearly 200 million people and its 219 million cattle.
We can count on friendly natives, great music and food, maybe a samba or two (see above) and, of course, a lot of superb athletes running, jumping, swimming and all that stuff.
And the wine, don’t forget about the wine.
Well, you might forget about a lot of it, since much is forgettable.
Despite being Latin America’s second-largest wine consumer behind Argentina and the third-largest wine producer in South America, Brazilian wines aren’t often on the table.
The Brazilian Wine Institute (BRAVIN) said that country’s per-capita wine consumption is 1.9 liters per year, about half of the U.S., indicative of Brazil’s preference for beer and spirits, particularly the sugar cane-derived cachaça.
Most wine consumption in Brazil happens in densely populated areas such as São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, and Brasilia.
Sixty percent of the 75 million liters of wine imported annually into Brazil come from Chile and Argentina. Most of the rest is from Italy, Portugal and France.
Early Portuguese colonizers (1532) brought European vines with them, as did the later arriving German and Italian immigrants.
They found most of Brazil too hot and humid for the European Vitis vinifera grapes, and today most of the country’s 1,100 or so vineyards (mostly small, averaging about 5 acres) are in the southern highlands in the state of Rio Grande do Sul near the Uruguay border.
Here, altitudes range from 1,500-2,300 feet above sea level.
This area includes the winemaking regions of Serra Gaúcha, Campanha, Serro do Sudestes and Campos da Serra and produces about 55 percent of Brazil’s wines. Wine production focuses on European-style red wines with Chardonnay and Malvasia leading the whites.
“A lot of investment is going into making quality red wines,” said Carlos Augusto Maricato Pinto da Costa of the Brazilian consulate in Hong Kong. “Brazilian wines are still in their infancy.”
The better wines mostly are reflective of the country’s climate, said Pinto da Costa.
“You will not find strong, big, muscular merlots coming from Brazil,” he said.
On a recent trip to Brazil I visited the Família Fardo Vinicola (Family Fardo Winery) near Quatro Barras, about 30 kilometers from Curitiba in southern Brazil.
The winery makes about 28,000 bottles per year, buying its grapes from growers in the south.
Several of the wines showed well, including a 2015 Malvasia, the 2011 Tannat, a red grape that’s become the national wine of nearby Uruguay, and a sparkling Moscatel Brut.
It’s estimated Brazilians annually consume around 30 million bottles of sparkling wines.
Unlike other regions that promote a national grape (Argentina has Malbec, Uruguay has Tannat, Chile has Carmenere), Brazil still is searching since most native grapes don’t make good wine.
Which means winemakers continue to makes wines in the fashion of France and Italy.
This isn’t bad, said author Oz Clarke, but it’s terribly confining when Brazil’s designated wine regions limit growers to the accepted European varieties.
“That’s fine (because) if your Merlot is very good, the world will find it,” he said. But limiting what can be grown is how Europe lost its market share to California, Australian and elsewhere.
“The thing about youth is you should be able to try out anything you want,” he said.