Though Brazil has a significant wine industry, there’s a good chance you won’t yet have come across a Brazilian wine. The world’s fifth-largest country, with a population of over 200 million, ensures most of the production is happily consumed by the domestic market. I’ve been lucky to taste and write about Brazil’s wines before, thanks mainly to enterprising importer and retailer, Go Brazil. Go Brazil is the ultimate specialiast wine merchant, bringing an ever-growing range of Brazilian wines to the UK. They recently sent me a selection of half a dozen new lines to try for myself.
Nicholas Corfe of Go Brazil pays regular visits to the country, and is excited about the speed and quality of the wine industry’s development. “Brazil’s commercial wine-making heritage can be traced back nearly 150 years,” he says, “to when the first of many Italian emigrants arrived in the south of the country, putting their wine-making skills to good use.”
Around 90% of Brazil’s vineyards are situated in the far south, which borders both Argentina and Uruguay. “Although technically sub-tropical, it is relatively cool compared with the rest of the country,” says Nicholas, “with fog, frosts and rain all commonplace. The conditions favour the production of sparkling wine – for which Brazil has a growing reputation – but grapes intended for the production of still wines also benefit from a long growing season and generally hot summers.”
There are around 150 substantial companies producing bottled wine in Brazil, and any notion that the country’s wine industry is not progressive is soon swept away on tasting: even in this small sample we have an extraordinary, undisgorged natural sparkling wine with zero dosage, and a serious, elegant Syrah built for substantial cellaring. There’s confidence and an awareness of world wine trends and the global marketplace here, and it’s an exciting and relatively undiscovered source for the wine lover.
N.B. Go Brazil will attend all of my Festivals of Wine in 2020, pouring a dozen different wines, so it’s a great chance to try them for yourself.
White and Sparkling Wines
(2020) You're going to either love or hate this sparkling natural wine - and I loved it. A traditional method blend of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir aged 24 months on the lees, it is 'sold as seen', having not been disgorged - so it is cloudy with the expired yeast cells - and having received no dosage - so it is bone dry. Foamy and full, the colour is a hazy, cloudy yellow, and there's a big waft of cracked wheat to begin. That toastiness continues, joined by crisp citrus, then on the palate so dry and refreshing, the zestiness allied to that wheaty, yeasty, slightly weissbier character is lovely, making this intriguing, gastronomic and, in the end, very satisfying.
(2020) From its traditional home in the northern Rhône Valley, Viognier often makes very full-blown, ripe and rich wines tipping 15% alcohol. But here's a very different take, with only 12.5% alcohol I presume it is picked quite early, though the jasmine and lightly tropical aromas are expressive and typical of the variety. In the mouth there's a peach and apricot fruit character, though zesty, quite pithy acidity soon sweeps that up into the finish.
(2020) Arguably my favourite wine of this selection, only 2,000 bottles were produced of this rare Brazilian Semillon, aged in barrels made with oak staves but acacia wood heads, which does seem to add a little extra fragrance to the wine. Toasty notes prevail, along with lemon meringue pie notes of citrus and pastry, and something cool and herby, reminiscent of camomile tea. With 12% alcohol it puts me in mind of a young Hunter Valley Semillon, the palate showing bags of juicy citrus fruit and acidity, but something sweeter and more peachy just touching the mid palate. Finishing with plenty of creamy, almondy weight, it is a delightful wine.
(2020) Assinatura is a blend of mainly Shiraz (80%), along with 10% Tempranillo and 10% Tannat, aged for 18 months in new French oak, and made only in exceptional years at this property - this is the first since 2014. Deeply coloured, it opens with plenty of Sandalwood spice and tobacco, a darkly-hued set of fruit aromas suggesting blackcurrant and plum, with a touch of smoky meatiness too. In the mouth the savoury black fruit dominates, still that distinctive spiciness, and yet more of the meaty, charcuterie quality. Firm acidity and tannins suggest this would benefit from decanting now, and should have decent cellaring potential too.
(2020) It's still relatively rare to see a varietal Alicante Bouschet, one of the tienturier varieties that has deep red flesh, making it a useful blending component to add colour to a wine, but in a few places including the Alentejo and here in Brazil, it is celebrated and making excellent wines. The colour is suitably saturated and dark, and the aromas are of spicy oak, plum and and grilled meat. There's a direct, smooth and mouth-filling rush of dark, earthy black fruit on the palate, with grippy but ripe tannins and a nice edge of bittersweet cocoa and plum skins to give bite. Despite a modest 13% alcohol it's a big, full-on style with plushness and oaky depths to spare.
(2020) Launching for the first time in the UK, and a young, multi award-winning winery, this is a seriously exciting find. It comes from the highlands of São Paulo state, just north of the Tropic of Capricorn, where it is too hot and wet to harvest in the usual month of March, so an extra pruning delays the onset of fruit so harvest takes place in August's cooler and drier conditions. All Syrah, aged nine months in French oak, the vineyards sit at 900-1200 metres altitude on granite soils. The colour is deep crimson, and the nose offers a creamy weight of black fruit, silky cocoa and a little touch of violet lift. In the mouth the supple, smooth creaminess of the fruit and tannins is beguiling, but this is medium-bodied and elegant rather than a blockbuster, a note of leaf tea and thyme adding to the sophistication into the long, lightly-spiced finish.