By Rose Murray Brown MW Published in The Scotsman 5 July 2014
All eyes will be on Brazil this week as the World Cup draws to its finale. So what will you be celebrating with – a sparkling Brazilian Moscato or Serra Gaucha Pinot Noir perhaps?
When it comes to drinks, Brazil is better known for its coffee and distilled sugar-cane spirit cachaca, but it is actually the fifth largest wine producer in the southern hemisphere and South America’s third largest after Chile and Argentina. Despite a long viticultural history since 1532, it has lagged well behind its neighbours (even Uruguay) in terms of wine quality – and, to be honest, it still does.
One of the main reasons is that less than 10% of Brazil’s 68,000 hectares of vineyards have classic ‘vinifera’ grapes, the remainder is made up of American and hybrid vines used for table grapes, such as Isabella. Most of the quality vinifera grapes are in Serra Gaucha in Rio Grande do Sul in southern Brazil, where 85% of wines are produced, but this area has a tricky climate: twice as wet as Bordeaux. This is where Brazil’s small budding modern wine industry was first created by Italian immigrants in 1875, now known as ‘little Italy’.
Nowadays, it is not just about Serra Gaucha. Brazil has six different regions with very diverse climates. In the far north-east is arid Sao Francisco, where irrigation is essential and vines produce two harvests per year in Bahia and Pernambuco states: M&S’s Coconova fizz hails from here. In contrast, in the Brazilian ‘highlands’ in Planalto Catarinense, Brazil’s highest and coldest region, they pick frozen grapes to make icewine.
The best new area in terms of potential seems to be Campanha, on the Uruguay border. Heat and humidity is a problem in many areas of Brazil, but this is where more and more producers are now heading. Campanha has a wider temperature range from 12 to 24 degrees, with cooler nights to retain essential acidity in the grapes, fundamental when growing grapes for quality still wines and sparkling wine.
And the Brazilians do love their fizz. 38% of their wines are sparkling. With the Italian connection, many are sweet Moscato styles similar to Asti Spumante or Moscato d’Asti, but the quality of their dry fizz made in the same way as Champagne, is very slowly improving: Casa Valduga is your best bet here although it would struggle in comparison to fizz from other countries.
Of Brazil’s 1,162 wineries producing 40 million litres of wine annually, just 16 of these producers sell to the UK. Several are available at the only Brazilian specialist importer www.gobrazilwines.com run by the enthusiastic Nicholas Corfe. Not surprisingly, with the World Cup and Olympics in mind the Brazilians have notched up 200% increase in export sales to the UK in 6 months of this year compared to the same period in 2013 – and the UK is their number one export market.
I tasted 20 Brazilian wines currently available in the UK, including the official FIFA wines made by Lidio Carraro exclusively available, rather oddly, in Harvey Nichols stores (perhaps this is where rich footballers’ wives shop).
What I liked about most of the Brazilians I tasted was their moderate alcohol levels at 12% – 12.5%, but I felt that many wines lacked essential acidity, depth of fruit and balance. Prices are not that cheap and currently mainly sell on novelty value – but they do show quality potential – so watch this space.
Overall, it was a very mixed team effort. Some, like the FIFA reds, could have done with a substitution early in the game to be honest. Two major supermarkets, Waitrose and Marks & Spencer, who have launched big ranges to coincide with World Cup fever came out with very different results in the league table. Of these two, M&S scored well, but Waitrose got the ‘red’ card.
Dry Sparkling Wine
COCONOVA SPARKLING BRUT NV Miolo (£8.99 Marks & Spencer)
Starts well with a good sprint, moderately crisp and dry, but lacks refinement. A youthful player from the newly developed Sao Francisco area, it needs more experience in the game. 12%
CASA VALDUGA ARTE TRADITIONELLE BRUT 2012 (£14.99 Aitken Wines, Dundee; Provenance Wines, Edinburgh; Selfridges, London)
A safe team player with 60% Chardonnay & 40% Pinot Noir in the blend, made in the same way as Champagne: acceptably crisp dry and refreshing; one of Brazil’s better efforts used to toast Prince Harry and the Olympic committee in Brazil. 11.5% BEST BUY
Sweet Sparkling Wine
CARNIVAL SPARKLING MOSCATO NV (£8.99 Marks & Spencer)
My preferred pick of those on sweeter side of the pitch, if you have to have one. More balanced, drier finish, slightly less sickly sweet. 7.5%
I HEART BRASIL SPARKLING MOSCATO NV (£9.99 Tesco; Rhythm & Booze; Londis; Budgens)
It might bring sunshine, a splash of colour – and dives in with passionfruit flavours, but this cutely named wine ends up too sweet on the finish. 8%
LIDIO CARRARO FIFA FACES 2012 (£16 Harvey Nichols, Edinburgh)
The best of the three official FIFA wines: this Chardonnay, Moscato & Riesling Italico blend is acceptable for quaffing, but at its high price it really lacks refinement. 12%
WAITROSE BRAZILIAN CHARDONNAY 2013 (£8.99 Waitrose)
Not sure why Waitrose picked this player as it is very poor: worst player on the pitch. Unbalanced, lacks acidity and flabby. 13%
CASA VALDUGA LEOPOLDINA CHARDONNAY 2012 (£13.49 Waitrose)
Much better effort from Serra Gaucha area with better integration, depth in the field and higher scorer in Waitrose’s team. 12%
PIZZATO FAUSTO UNOAKED CHARDONNAY 2012 (£12-£13 www.gobrazilwines.com)
Tropical fruit notes, juicy fruity, a lean athletic type from Serra Gaucha’s coolish climate and clay soils; with a good sprint to the finish. A high flyer, now served in British Airways business class. 12.5% BEST BUY
ARACAURIA RIESLING/PINOT GRIGIO 2013 Miolo (£8.49 Marks & Spencer)
Plenty of drive, refreshingly crisp, pear & greengage flavours and still going well at the finish. Highest scorer amongst the whites. 12.5%
AURORA PINOT NOIR 2012 (£9.95 Vinos, Edinburgh)
A good all-round performance from such a tricky grape; soft well-toned fruits on the palate; this player shows potential. 12.5% BEST BUY
INTENSO TEROLDEGO 2013 Salton (£9.99 Marks & Spencer)
A surprise from the Italian side: indigenous Italian grape Teroldego with its dark cherry pomegranate and herby notes showing some promise, but lacks stamina to get to the finish. 13%
WAITROSE BRAZILIAN MERLOT 2013 (£8.99 Waitrose)
A bit flabby, lacks vibrancy and tires early – but it did show off a slightly better performance than Waitrose’s very poor Riqueza Pinot Noir. 12%
Join Rose’s Beginners wine tasting classes in Edinburgh at 28 Queen Street from £36 www.rosemurraybrown.com