Why is Brazilian wine so overlooked?

<span>There’s more to Brazil than carnival and football – it’s time to bang the drum for the country’s wine, too.</span><span>Photograph: JosuOzkaritz/Getty Images/iStockphoto</span>
There’s more to Brazil than carnival and football – it’s time to bang the drum for the country’s wine, too.Photograph: JosuOzkaritz/Getty Images/iStockphoto

Given the current interest in less familiar wine-producing regions, it’s surprising that virtually no one in the UK is stocking Brazilian wines. Well, it’s surprising to me, anyway. You might think – and quite rightly – that Brazil is more about coffee and cachaça; also, that vast swathes of the country are tropical or sub-tropical, which is not great for grape growing.

That said, Brazil is vast, and Rio Grande do Sul, an area to the south, is the centre of the country’s wine industry. Unfortunately, last month it was hit by devastating floods that have displaced more than 1.5m people, much of the state’s capital Porto Alegre has been under water for weeks, and at least 250 hectares of vineyards have been destroyed.

Winemakers are used to extreme weather events these days – unseasonably late frosts (Germany has been particularly badly affected this year), hail, heat, drought, forest fires (which often affect California, though Chile, too, suffered especially badly last year). Plus, it’s easy to forget that grapes are a harvest, like any other crop, so such climatic events can have a catastrophic effect on livelihoods.

I went to Brazil last year – with some scepticism, I must admit – and was amazed to discover that almost half the country’s wine production was sparkling (it has the first dedicated sparkling wine appellation in the new world, Altos de Pinto Bandeira). Brazil also produces similarly full-bodied reds to its neighbours over the border in Argentina and Uruguay, though admittedly less consistently and inexpensively.

That apart, there is also a fair bit of innovative winemaking going on in Brazil, including quite a few natural wines and so-called “winter wines” – that is, vines that are tricked into shedding their leaves and budding again in autumn, rather than spring, because the Brazilian winter is generally drier than its summer. It must therefore be frustrating for growers that most restaurants and supermarket shelves in Brazil are still stacked with bottles from Argentina and Chile.

Here in the UK, and despite the best efforts of Brazil’s main importer Go Brazil Wines & Spirits, you’re far more likely to find a bottle of cachaça, due to the popularity of the country’s signature cocktail, the caipirinha, than one of its wines. As with tequila and mezcal, which I wrote about a few weeks ago, I prefer the silver style, which is more expressive of the base ingredient, in this case sugar cane (cachaça is basically rum). And, as with mezcal, there are interesting artisanal versions such as the Yaguara in today’s pick.

While I hope you might be inclined to give Brazil’s winemakers a helping hand, I’m conscious that its wines don’t come cheap, so I’m also going to mention a Chilean option this week: it’s a new addition to the Co-op’s Irresistible range, a generous, gutsy (14%) carignan from Maule, one of the best wine regions for that grape, which, at £8, is a steal.

A taste of Brazil

Don Guerino ‘Cemento’ Red Blend 2022 £15.99 Go Brazil, 14%. Cemento may not be the most engaging name for a wine, but this is a gorgeous, juicy blend of cabernet franc, malbec and tannat. Great barbecue drinking.

Garibaldi Astral £22.99 Go Brazil, 11%. A totally distinctive sparkling wine, and not just because it comes from Brazil. Richly flavoured, dry with a faint hint of tangerine, and biodynamic. Drink with Brazil’s addictive cheese bread, pão de queijo.

Abelha Silver Organic Cachaça £22.99 Amazon, £29.99 Master of Malt, 39%. Good first-timer’s cachaça, and perfect for caipirinhas.

Cachaça Yaguara Still Strength £31.75 The Whisky Exchange, £32.59 Master of Malt, 48%. Strong, sweet, spicy, slightly herbal – a real artisanal spirit. Cool label, too.