Brazil’s landmass makes it the 5th largest country in the world. Since most of that land is outside the wine belt (31° to 38° Latitude South), you might not expect much in the way of wine production. But Brazil’s wines will surprise and delight you.
Like Chile, Brazil’s wine production dates back to the colonial period, with Brazil’s immigration coming in three waves.
The Portuguese arrived in the 1500s, with the first vines planted near São Paulo in 1532. The vines didn’t flourish due to a combination of climate and fungus. But then Vitis labrusca, a heavy-skinned “fox” grape, was imported.
Next, Spanish settlers arrived in the 1600s. They brought vines from the home country that including Corvina and Molinara, settling on the banks of the Rio Grande do Sul.
Lastly, Italians arrived in the 1880s. They brought their winemaking traditions to the Serra Gaucha region at the very southern edge of the country.
For a long time, Brazilian wine stayed small and local. It was Moët & Chandon and Bacardi that brought modern viticulture techniques and vines in the 1970s. Their influence changed Brazilian wine. The heavy-skinned fox grapes were more appropriate for juice and table wines. But these companies branched out to unique, fresh and fruity wine styles, both still and sparkling.
Of the six wine regions in Brazil, only the Vale do São Francisco is in the north. The remaining hover around 30° latitude south, near Brazil’s border with Uruguay.
The Vale do São Francisco wine region is one of those mysteries of topography and climate that just doesn’t make sense. It is only 9° south of the equator, well away from the 31°a 38° latitude south that is considered necessary for wine production. This makes it the grape-growing region closest to the equator.
The soil is a mix of granite, limestone, and clay, lacking in nutrients and high in acidity. The hilly, semi-arid valley boasts sun 300 out of 365 days and only 3-5 inches of rain a year.
These are not the trademarks of a significant agricultural region. Yet in 2015, the Vale do São Francisco region produced 95 percent of exported table grapes, 7 million liters of still wine, and another 2.8 million sparklings.
Thanks to the valley’s microclimate and water from the São Francisco River, the region produces two crops of grapes per year.
Due to the shallow soil and high humidity, reds here are lighter and less intense in character than their southern counterparts. They still grow a mix of Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Syrah, Malbec, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Sauvignon Blanc. The primary white grown in the region is Muscat.
Nicknamed “the highlands,” this young wine region is located in Santa Catarina on a plateau, 2,950 to 4,690 ft (900 - 1,400 m). The soil is volcanic basalt with high calcium, iron, and magnesium levels, which helps strengthen the vines against disease. This soil aids in the development of bold, complex reds.
Primary reds include Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, Merlot, and Pinot Noir. Whites grown in the region are Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc.
Campos de Cima de Serra is another new wine region with modest but unique offerings. The climate is subtropical highland grassland, with an elevation of 3,600 ft (1,100 m). It has a moderate climate with gently rolling hills. The soil is a mix of water-retaining granite and nutrient-rich clay soils, with a bit of sand, schist, and slate in the mix.
The region is known for creating exceptional blends. Unusual local grapes produce aromatic white wines, and elegant reds. Reds grown in the region include Alvarelhão, Amaral, Borraçal, Espadeiro, Padeiro, Pedral, Rabo de Anho, and Vinhão. Whites include Alvarinho, Arinto Avesso, Azal, Loureiro, and Trajadura.
Serra do Sudeste
Serra do Sudeste is the smallest of the wine regions and, to date, does not process its grapes on its own soil. Harvests are transferred to the Serra Gaúcha region. The soil is a mix of basalt, lime, and sand in a mountainous, subtropical landscape where fog and frost are common.
The typical grapes are Cabernet Franc, Merlot, along with the whites Sauvignon Blanc and Malvasia, a white used for sparkling wines, both dry and sweet.
Campanha sits on the southern edge of Brazil, where it borders Uruguay. The landscape is hilly, with a moderate temperate climate of long sunny days, minimal rain, and cool evenings. The soil is acidic, forcing the vines to fight for the nutrients they require. This makes for a more complex flavor profile.
Due to the latitude and climate, this region is known for producing deep, soft, fruity reds. Cabernet Sauvignon, Tempranillo, Touriga Nacional, and Tannat are the main reds grown in the region. Whites include Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, and Gewurztraminer.
Between Campanha and Serra do Sudeste lies the Serra Gaúcha wine region. It is a cool, hilly region. It must have looked a lot like home to the Northern Italians that immigrated to the area in the 1880s! The Italian touch influences everything from the architecture to the cuisine. It sits in the latitude sweet spot for wine production. The region is named for the gaucho--the South American pampas cowboy, a folk hero associated with the Rio Grande do Sul.
Winemaking in the region is a collaborative effort. Local producers pool their resources and create co-ops.
The soil varies from granite to clay and calcareous but is primarily volcanic basalt with lots of nutrients. The climate ranges from temperate to subtropical at an elevation of 2,500 ft (760 m).
In the 19th century, Barbera and Trebbiano vines dominated. But now they have taken a back seat to the 21st century standards of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Merlot, and Cabernet Sauvignon. Sparkling wines, in the style of the Italian Spumante, are a specialty.
To protect and promote the Serra Gaúcha, the region is now subdivided into one Denomination of Origin. This is an EU designation created to protect geographically specific food products that are dependent on particular environmental aspects. For instance, Scotch can only come from Scotland; its distinctive environmental constraint is the peat used to dry the barley.
In addition to the Denomination of Origin, there are also four Geographical Indicators within the Serra Gaúcha.
Geographical Indicators are another way of linking a product with its location. Rather than the link being a specific physical environment, Geographical Indicators are defined by the product's quality and reputation. Think Champagne from the Champagne region of France, and parmesan that really comes from the Reggiano region of Italy.
The Vale do Vinhedos is focused on blending historical practices with modern viticulture techniques. The Italian immigrants heavily influenced the vines and wines, and vineyards cluster around the city of Bento Goncalves. They pride themselves on their bottle-fermented dry sparkling wines. These are made with Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grapes and have a unique complexity to them.
Vale do Vinhedos Bento Goncalves
The soil is a mix of sand and volcanic basalt; the climate is a perfect mix of sun and rain.
The primary red varietals are Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and Tannat. Whites include Chardonnay, Riesling Italico, Muscat, Malvasia, and Prosecco.
Settled by Italian immigrants in 1875, winemaking was flourishing here by the 1920s. The region still is dominated by family-owned wineries.
The soil here is unique to the area. Cambisol is a well-drained and acidic soil from alluvial, colluvial, and aeolian deposits. In temperate climates, cambisols are some of the most productive soils in the world. The vineyards range from 1,800 ft (550 m) and up.
The main wine types from Altos Montes include reds, rosés, and whites. The sparkling wines Vinho espumante fino - branco ou rosado, and and Vinho Moscatel espumante branco ou rosado, are made from Moscatel and Chardonnay grapes. Other grape varieties grown in the region include Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Ancellotta, Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, Refosco, Marselan, Tannat, Riesling Itálico, Trebbiano, Sauvignon Blanc, and Gewurztraminer.
Wines made here, especially rosés, whites, and sparkling, are known for being fresh with a good balance of acidity and alcohol.
Considered to be the most beautiful of all Brazil’s wine regions, Farroupilha is the capital of Moscatel wine production. Like all of the areas within the Serra Gaúcha, it is heavily influenced by the influx of Italians during the 1800s.
The soil is a mix of clay and basalt. The area has a subtropical climate with hot, humid summers and winters ranging from cold to mild. Between 1,970 - 2,600 ft (600 - 800 m), the upper reaches of elevation keep the vineyards cooler.
Farroupilha is the largest producer of Muscat grapes in Central and Southern America. The region produces Muscat ranging from still, semi, and sparkling to liqueurs, mistral, and brandy. White wines predominate and include Moscato Branco (tradicional), Moscato Bianco, Malvasia de Cândia, Moscato Giallo, Moscatel de Alexandria, and Moscato de Hamburgo. Reds that are propagated are Tannat, Carmenérem, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Merlot.
The rolling hills of the Monte Belo region extend to the horizon, broken only by the Rio das Antas River and its tributaries. The region is known for its Espumantes - a sparkling wine similar to Asti Spumante – showing, once again, the influence of the Italian settlers.
Vineyards in Monte Belo Do Sul Brazil
The soil in Monte Belo is low in organic matter, a mix of clay and volcanic soil. This forces the vines to work hard, creating more complex flavors. The elevation is just over 2,000 ft (695 m).
Reds of the region include Pinot Noir, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Tannat, and Egiodola ou Alicante Bouschet. Monte Belo grows four different Moscatos: Moscato Branco, Moscato Giallo, Moscato de Alexandria, Moscato de Hamburgo. Other popular whites are Riesling Itálico, Prosecco (Glera), and Chardonnay.
The Espumantes produced here have aromas of tropical fruit, with excellent body and a high level of “crunchiness” from the vibrant acidity.
The last of our regions is the Pinto Bandeira. It’s a stunning area of lush forests and waterfalls, named for the city it surrounds. The soil is acidic, gray Argisolo Bruno. Combined with its mild climate and consistent rainfall, it makes this a phenomenal area for fine sparkling wines.
Pinto Bandeira also produces sparkling muscatel, dry reds, and fine pink and white still wines, along with its trademark sparkling wines.
The sparkling wines are made using the traditional method, with final fermentation taking place in the bottle. The most popular grapes for this process are Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Riesling, and Viognier varietals.
Fun fact: Wines from this region are colorful. The sparkling muscat wines have a greenish color with notes of peaches, honey, citrus fruit, pineapple, and herbs. The whites tend to have a straw color with an excellent acid-to-alcohol balance. The reds, thanks to the acidity of the soil, are ruby-colored and filled with the aromas of dark red fruits.
Winemaking in Brazil got off to a rocky start. But the growth in the industry in the last few decades makes it a region to watch. Especially keep an eye out for its traditionally-made sparkling wines and Moscato at your local wine shop as summer approaches.
If you find one you like, drop us a line and tell us what you think. Happy hunting!