When I received an invitation to taste the Wines of Brazil by the Brazilian Consulate in Atlanta, I was intrigued. Though I have traveled to Brazil three times, Brazilian wines have not really appeared in my radar as a food critic. Why was that? And what role does wine play in Brazilian cuisine? I wanted to find out.
Held at the famous Brazilian steakhouse chain, Fogo de Chao, the event was a gathering of many wine producers who had traveled from Brazil to talk about their products. There were half a dozen wine tasting stations, each represented by a producer pouring a few kinds of reds and whites.
Turns out that Brazil has a long history of producing wine, dating back to the middle of the 19th century. The real action started several decades later when Italian immigrants arrived and embarked on an ambitious plan. Their plan was ambitious out of necessity, since a wave of German immigration preceded the Italian immigration and the Germans predictably settled on the best available lands. In the southern state of Rio Grande do Sul, this ended up meaning those lands closer to the coast.
The Italians had to march inland over the gentle slopes of red soils that reach to the Atlantic Ocean, onto the high plateaus and through the hills to found towns with names like Garibaldi and Nova Bassano. They settled into valleys named after homes left behind, like the Vale Trentino.
Brazil’s biggest representatives in the international market are sparkling wines of high quality and exceptional acidity and freshness. Produced through the Traditional or Charmat methods, they both tend to use mainly Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.
A typical meal of the Serra Gaúcha region still begins with Agnolotti en Brodo and generally includes polenta and some sort of roasted chicken or pig dish. Older people continue to speak Italian in the region. This vestigial Italian continues to be widespread, particularly once you get out of the city and into the valleys that surround Bento Gonçalves, and it shapes the wines as much as it shapes the language.
So, what do Brazilian wines taste like? Most people would say they are young, easy drinking, table wines. Brazilian Muscats are most internationally recognizable. Light bodied and flavorful, these can be enjoyed outdoors while the men grill meat for hours and the rest of the families prepare plates of salads, fried yucca, rice and beans.
Among the red varieties, Merlot has been recognized by some experts as the one with the highest potential to represent Brazil in the international market.
The vineyard also talked about the emergence of wine tourism in Brazil. Many travelers head to neighboring Chile and Argentina for wine tasting tours and to stay at haciendas with local wineries. Brazil also offers beautiful landscapes, local cuisine and great tasting wines across the country. Here are some places to check out:
Vale dos Vinhedos
Named by the Wine Enthusiast magazine as one of the 10 best wine tourism destinations in the world, the Vale dos Vinhedos is filled with beautiful landscapes, great wine, plenty of great restaurants and places to simply relax. With around 200 thousand tourists each year, it has become a famous destination in Brazil.
A city that specializes in the production of sparkling wines and features a sparkling wine tour route. Around 90 thousand yearly visitors come and check the local attractions.
Besides the impressive landscapes, with native woods, waterfalls, and of course vineyards, the highlight of this Pinto Bandeira is their sparkling wines. Small and intimate, this is a region where the local wineries continue to offer charming gastronomic and lodging options.
Another young region where the landscape is dotted with cutting-edge wineries, celebrating modern architecture beautifully integrated with the vineyards. An advanced culinary school in the region has helped the cities of Flores da Cunha and Nova Pádua to become the twin gourmet centers of the state of Rio Grande do Sul.
Região das Hortênsias
Centered between the cities of Gramado and Canela, this is a region made famous by their well-preserved colonial architecture. While the region has preserved the look of the past, the local hotels and restaurants are very much up to date with a year-round promotional schedule that has been attracting tourist for years.