World Cup 2012, Rio Olympics 2016, the 'B' in BRIC... these days, Brazil's riding high. Taste takes a look at the country's growing influence as a premier wine producer, and talks to a UK importer bringing Britain up-to-date with Brazilian wine.
Next time you reach for a budget bottle at your local off-license or supermarket, odds on it's a Chilean Merlot, Australian Shiraz or Kiwi Sauvignon Blanc. The rise and rise of New World wines has challenged the long dominance of Europe around the world - particularly in English speaking countries comforted by easy-to-read labelling and recognisable brands, and among consumers gravitating towards sharp pricing and punchy flavours at the high end of ABV
Brazilian wine from established vineyards has been around since the 1850s, about the same as New Zealand's oldest vines and likely a few centuries after Europeans attempted to create vineyards in the region. Unlike its South American neighbours, Brazil's wine hasn't become a supermarket staple in the UK, but local investment and international producers appearing on the scene in the 1970s has resulted in a steady increase in quality, variety and visibility, emphatically marking its emergence on the global scene in the past decade.
Another boost for Brazil's wine industry has come with changing tastes: the heavy, oaky, high octane wines that sometimes characterise New World offerings have given way to an appreciation of minerality, balance and lower alcohol, as well as wines better suited to pairing with food - all typical of Brazilian wine. A renewed focus on sparkling wines beyond the default of champagne has also attracted interest in Brazilian interpretations of proceccos and pinot noir/chardonnay blends.
90 per cent of the best Brazilian wine comes from the Serra Gaucha in Rio Grande do Sul, the country's most southerly state. Its relatively cool, damp, fertile landscape belies the stereotypical image of Brazil's tropical northeast. The region boasts a terroir of sandy and clay-rich soils between 400 and 700 metres above sea level.
Over the past five years, Brazilian wines have won steady applause in international competition, including 25 medals or commendations at the International Wine Challenge 2011, announced at the London International Wine Fair
in May. For the first time, Brazil won an IWC gold medal, for Gran Legado Brut Champenoise NV.
For a greater insight into the Brazilian wine industry, Taste spoke to Nicholas Corfe, commercial director of Go Brazil Wines & Spirits
, the UK's only importer specialising exclusively in the country's fine wines.
How do Brazil's wines differ from other producing countries in the region; are there unique characteristics that set Brazilian wine apart?
Nicholas Corfe The climate in the south of Brazil is relatively cool and damp - this is in contrast to wine growing areas in Chile and Argentina located at the same latitude, 29-30° south, which are usually warmer. In general, Brazilian wines tend to be highly aromatic, with good fruit character and matching acidity. This makes them an ideal accompaniment to food. Alcohol levels are not as high as might be expected, normally no higher than 13.5 per cent alcohol by volume, and oak is used only sparingly in Brazilian whites, if at all, and its use in red wines is usually modest.
What are Brazil's most important grape varieties?
Brazilian producers have traditionally taken their cue from the Old World, particularly France, so the 'noble' grape varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay are widely planted. However, there is an increased emphasis on experimentation, and varieties such as Nebbiolo, Teroldego, Touriga Nacional and Tannat are becoming more evident.
Brazil has an incredibly varied cuisine influenced by unique local ingredients and the country's diverse population. How is wine drunk in Brazil - do the local varieties suit some foods more than others? Are traditional European wine/food pairings the trend?
It is still the case that many Brazilians are not aware that their own country produces wine! Rather, beer and the national drink cachaça are the most commonly consumed alcoholic drinks. However, in São Paulo and the states to the south, wine is recognised and appreciated much more widely. This is due mainly to the strong European culture in the south, and also because the cooler climate lends itself to drinking wine. The Italian influence is particularly strong in Rio Grande do Sul, so local wine is routinely pared with Italian dishes.
British wine drinkers are both very open to new wine regions and varieties, and likely to associate Brazilian drinks with cachaça. How do you convince them that Brazilian wine is an alternative to better-known New World - as well as Old World - wines?
Combating the lack of awareness of Brazil as a wine producing nation is without doubt the key challenge that UK importers such as Go Brazil face. Fortunately, Brazil is a strong 'brand' in its own right. We believe it has a very positive image internationally - many people often feel that they have an affinity with the country, even if they haven't visited!
External factors, such as the World Cup and Olympic Games, will also undoubtedly help. This is a long-term awareness raising campaign; however we are encouraged by the fact that Argentine wine, for example, was almost unheard of in the UK ten years ago.
Go Brazil Wines & Spirits
will appear at Taste of London 2011. Five of the wines in Go Brazil's portfolio won IWC medals or commendations, and some of these will be available to sample and buy at Regent's Park.