What You Need to Know About Brazilian Wine

Although Brazil has been producing wine for nearly 500 years, the country’s wine industry is still figuring out its modern identity by exploring different wine styles, grapes, and viticultural methods

Brazilian winemakers are figuring out their identity by exploring different wine styles, grapes, and viticultural methods. Photo courtesy of Wines of Brazil.

South America’s largest and most populated country, Brazil, is often overshadowed by Chile and Argentina on the international wine stage. But to ignore Brazil’s wine industry would be a mistake. As the country’s late-blooming wine scene seeks to define itself and the grapes, styles, and methods that work best in its sprawling wine regions, it’s clear that Brazilian wine is building an identity all its own—one that marks a pronounced departure from the signature styles found elsewhere in South America. Didú Russo, a Brazilian wine expert and author, says Brazil’s wines are, on average, “fruitier and fresher … due to the rainier climate and [the vineyards’] proximity to the Atlantic.”

Admittedly, though, it’s hard to fit Brazilian wine into any kind of box, stylistic or otherwise. Brazil isn’t home to any native grapes, which means its wine industry has been almost entirely shaped by waves of immigrants and influence from abroad. In addition to the American and hybrid grapes that make up the majority of Brazil’s wine production, you’ll find producers working with a wide variety of Vitis vinifera vines, from international varieties like Chardonnay, Merlot, and Cabernet Sauvignon, to Italian grapes like Teroldego and Barbera, to Portuguese varieties like Tinta Roriz and Touriga Nacional.

These grapes came to the country in waves with the immigrants who brought them, starting with the Portuguese, who first landed in Brazil in 1532. Explorer Martim Afonso de Sousa planted the first vines, but wine wasn’t produced until 1551. Successful viticulture wasn’t really realized until 1808, when the Portuguese royal family, who escaped French invasion by fleeing to Brazil, arrived in the country and set out to make wine. The eventual arrival of a wave of Italian immigrants starting in the 1870s resulted in an uptick of wine production.

The arrival of multinational wine companies like Moët & Chandon, among others, in the 1970s marked the beginning of the modernization of Brazil’s wine industry. “Chandon brought a lot of knowledge, qualified technicians, and equipment for large-scale production, especially sparkling wines,” says Rogerio Dardeau, a professor at the Brazilian Sommeliers’ Association Rio de Janeiro and the author of Gente, Lugares e Vinhos do Brasil (People, Places and Wines of Brazil). “I do believe that Chandon made contributions to the viticulture carried out in southern Brazil. However, it was not a decisive contribution. Since the 1960s, we have had quality technical schools in viticulture and oenology.”

Today, Brazilian producers, which number around 1,100, are making more and more quality wines. “Twenty years ago, the wines were really rustic and perhaps you had some faults,” says Thiago Mendes, a Master of Wine student and the director of Eno Cultura, a wine school in São Paulo. “Nowadays, they have brilliant acidity, good underlying fruits, although some wines can be quite oaky. Other wines can be quite fruity but in a very savory and herbaceous way, which is quite European when compared to Argentine or Chilean wines.” 

And production is growing. Brazil produced 3.2 million hectoliters of wine in 2022, a nine percent jump from the previous year, according to the International Organisation of Vine and Wine. More than $2.3 million of that wine was exported to the United States.

Although Brazil has been producing wine for nearly 500 years, the country’s wine industry is still in the process of defining itself. Maybe that’s a good thing. A wine industry that is still taking shape has the ability to surprise, delight, and inspire. “Brazil is simply an amazing country,” says Alejandro Cardozo, the winemaker at EBV Urban Winery. “The wines of Brazil are so varied and diverse that today, there is no country in the world with so many options for wines, regions, and cultivars.”

Wine is produced throughout Brazil, but most is made in the cooler, drier southern regions. Photo courtesy of Wines of Brazil.

Key Wine Regions

Brazil’s winegrowing areas, which extend from approximately five degrees latitude in the north to 33 degrees latitude in the south (the latter of which is similar to Mendoza, Argentina), are officially divided into six regions, including São Francisco, Serra da Mantiqueira, Santa Catarina, Serra Gaúcha, Serra do Sudeste, and Campanha Gaúcha (which house smaller subregions), although much of the country’s wine production is happening outside of these formal bounds. The southernmost region of Brazil is responsible for the majority of wine produced (and includes most of the official regions) in the country, but in Brazil’s central and northern regions, where the weather is less conducive to traditional winegrowing, innovative, experimental viticultural techniques are being deployed.

Southern Brazil

The vast majority of wine production is clustered in the south of the country, thanks to the region’s cooler, drier climate. The state Rio Grande do Sul houses the best and most well-known vineyards in the country and is home to the celebrated wine region Serra Gaúcha, which boasts a hilly landscape that allows for good drainage of the 51.3 inches of rain the region sees annually. Nestled in Serra Gaúcha is Brazil’s first DO, Vale dos Vinhedos, along with sparkling wine DO Pinto Bandeira, “an appellation that has incredible terroir for sparkling wines at 700- to 900-meter altitudes,” says Mika Bulmash, the CEO and founder of Wine for the World. Serra Gaúcha is home to some of the country’s most well-known producers, like Salton, Estrelas do Brazil, and Don Giovanni.

Just north of Rio Grande do Sul is Santa Catarina, where a high plateau allows Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc to shine. “When you taste the wines from Santa Catarina … they’re more delicate,” says Mendes. “The fruit, it tastes like fruit from a cold climate. They’re really fresh, really high acidity, but the acidity is well-integrated.” Some producers are also growing Italian varieties like Sangiovese, Trebbiano, and Nebbiolo as well. “They’re romantic, they’re quite expressive,” adds Mendes.

Central Brazil

The majority of central Brazil, which encompasses states like Minas Gerais, Goiás, and by some counts, São Paulo, produces mostly grape juice and table wine made from non-vinifera varieties. In central Brazil, particularly in the region of Serra da Mantiqueira, growers use a method called winter viticulture, which allows them to reverse the vine’s production cycle and harvest during the winter, which tends to be drier and cooler than the summer months. “This locale showcases the excellence of Syrah and Sauvignon Blanc,” says Júlio César Kunz, a wine educator and the president of the Rio Grande do Sul section of the Brazilian Sommeliers Association. This method, however, is believed to shorten a vine’s lifespan. “The life of the vines will certainly be reduced by stress, but it is not yet known how much,” says Russo.

Northern Brazil

Most of the quality wine produced in northern Brazil is clustered in Vale do São Francisco, which tends to see less rainfall than southern Brazil. It is here that some vignerons employ tropical viticulture to grow vines that can contend with the region’s semi-arid tropical climate. “Vines yield twice annually per plant, enabling year-round daily harvests,” says Kunz. “Though there’s much to learn in this region, one can already savor potent Syrah and exquisite, fresh Chenin Blanc, among other varieties.”

Brazil is best known for its sparkling wine, but still wines made from hybrid and international varieties make up a significant share of the country’s wine production. Photo courtesy of Júlio César Kunz.

Key Grape Varieties and Styles

Sparkling Wine

Brazil is perhaps best known for its sparkling wine. “Brazil’s strength is in its sparkling wines,” says Bulmash. “Within South America, Brazil is understood to be the ‘it’ region for sparkling winemaking.” Pinto Bandeiro became the first DO exclusively for traditional-method sparkling wines outside of Europe in November 2022. The wines are generally made with a mix of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, the latter of which is the second-most planted vinifera variety in Brazil, although they can also be made with Welschriesling, here called Riesling Itálico. Mario Geisse, a Chilean winemaker who moved to Brazil to work for Moët & Chandon in 1976 and three years later started his own winery, Família Geisse, is considered a trailblazer of the region. “His consulting work has helped the industry improve their methods and standards of quality,” says Bulmash.

Outside the confines of the traditional-method DO, Brazilian winemakers are also producing tank-method wines. “The sparkling wines, especially tank-method, are quite fruit-driven, quite fresh, quite clean,” says Mendes. “[They are] really accessible. The prices are much lower than Prosecco and they have been made out of Glera, Pinot Noir, and Chardonnay. These, especially in Brazil, are extremely good value for money … The majority are quite [dry].” Long Charmat method wines, which see extended lees contact in the tank and longer secondary fermentations, are now bursting onto the scene as well.

Hybrid and American Varieties

Although sparkling wine may take center stage in Brazil, American and hybrid varieties make up the majority of the country’s wine production—and they’ve been there the longest, too. Just three varieties, Isabel (or Isabella), Niagara, and Bordô comprise a full three-quarters of Brazil’s vineyard area. Isabel, though, is the country’s most-planted variety. The majority of these grapes make juice or other grape-based products, but they also make the bulk of wine coming out of Brazil, most of which is table wine.

There are, however, some wineries, like Casa de Pizzo, located in Jundiaí, that are beginning to produce higher-quality wines from hybrid and American grapes. “There are some that are very well made, prioritizing quality over volume, and there are even biodynamic ones,” says Russo. “But the wine press generally ignores and considers [these to be] inferior wines, which is a mistake, in my opinion.”

International and Other Varieties

Cabernet Sauvignon is the most-planted vinifera variety in Brazil, followed closely by Chardonnay, which, in addition to its use in traditional-method sparkling wines, is sometimes used to make still wines. Merlot can be grown in Brazil’s wetter regions and is especially expressive in Vale dos Vinhedos. Like Chardonnay, Pinot Noir is mainly used to make sparkling wines but can be found as a still varietal wine, though the sensitive grape can be difficult to grow in Brazil’s generally hot, wet climate. Italian immigrants brought Trebbiano to Brazil, and Tannat, which is largely found in Serra do Sudeste and Campanha Gaúcha at the southern tip of the country’s winemaking regions, migrated from nearby Uruguay.


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Samantha is a writer and editor focusing on food, wine, and culture. Her work has been featured in VinePair, Food52, Thrillist, and more. Find her on Twitter and Instagram @samseating.

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