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Brazilian arrival

04 April 2014

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IN A number of ways, we have never had it so good as far as drinking wine is concerned. In the UK, the range of wines available is phenomenal. I was at a tasting recently where hundreds of different wines from more than 20 countries could be tasted. Of course, the scene was dominated by suppliers such as France, Spain, and Italy, but there were newcomers such as Turkey, Slovenia, Serbia, and Brazil.

The appearance of this last is not surprising, as the country's image around the world will be raised by the Football World Cup this summer, and then the Olympic Games in two years' time. Brazil does have an important area under vines, but two factors restrict the production of quality wine.

First, domestic demand, until recently, has been almost nil - those who can afford to drink wine have preferred to drink imported wine. Second, although Brazil is one of the largest countries in the world, no part of it has either a Mediterranean climate, or a dry climate with water-availability. Excess humidity is a regular problem, and the vines that succeed in such conditions produce unappealing wines.

Despite these problems, over the past decade the quality of Brazilian wine has improved immeasurably, and the producers' efforts seem largely concentrated on the production of sparkling wines. (When I was last there, I was told that the Serra Gaúcha region, in the south of Brazil, is the third best region in the world for sparkling wines.) Now, as much as 38 per cent of the quality wine produced in the country is fizz.

These sparkling wines come in two distinct styles, which were known locally, until recently, as Champanha and Asti. There are some interesting dry wines, bottle-fermented and made for the Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grapes, just as in Champagne, and lower-strength (7.5%) Muscat-based sweet sparklers, similar to Asti Spumante.

I have the feeling that it will be wines of this latter type which we shall see on this market, as they should be more price-competitive in their field. It appears that Tesco and M&S will soon be featuring Brazilian wines on their shelves.

As I have said, there were a number of lesser-known wine-producing countries at this tasting. I was most impressed with the red wines from the Stobi Winery in Macedonia: both their Petit Verdot Barrique 2011 and Syrah Barrique 2011 are packed with rich, full fruit and soft tannins, and should retail for about £12.99 (www.stobi.co.uk).

At a more approachable price, and available from several good wine-merchants is an old acquaintance of mine from Mexico, L. A. Cetto Petite Syrah 2010, at less than £10.

Such tastings show how broad the range of wines is for those who are prepared to seek them out. Even in countries such as Spain, France, and Italy, there are regions whose wines we have never known which are now becoming available.

Good news from another direction is that sales of Fairtrade wines were up by 15 per cent last year. The Co-op and M&S were leaders in this field.

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