Friday, 2 July 2010

World Cup Wines. Précis: The wines of Brazil vs Holland

Unbeknownst to many, Brazil is a major wine producer. Given its 322 years as a colony of Portugal you would expect the country's winemaking industry to revolve around Portuguese grapes and wine styles. 

Or if not, then to at least reflect the winemaking traditions of Portugal ahead of all other countries. But it doesn't quite work like that because although in 1551 the Portuguese may have been the first to introduce vines for the production of wine, the grapes were planted in regions climatically unsuitable to viniculture. Rather, a whole host of Europeans from across the continent have contributed to Brazil's winemaking. 

Jesuit missionary Roque Gonzales, brought winemaking equipment and vines from Spain to try to establish Brazilian wineries. 

There was also an Englishman, Thomas Messiter, who introduced the vitis labrusca vines in 1814. Over the next 100 years the Portuguese themselves, the French, the Germans and the Italians too all brought their experience and skills to bear on the fledgling industry. But seemingly not the Dutch.

Today the diverse historical development of viticulture is reflected in the varietal red wines now on offer from Brazil, including Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Pinot Noir and Syrah from France; Italian Barbera and Nebbiolo, plus Uruguayan speciality Tannat. Whites are just as diverse and include Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio, Riesling and Sauvignon Blanc. Some 78,000 hectares of land are now under vine in the states of Rio Grande do Sul, Minas Gerais, Parana, Pernambuco, Santa Catarina and Sao Paulo.

Of the 16,000 producers, look for namess like Salton, who make well-regarded Chardonnay; Merlot from Valduga; Don Laurindo and Boscato both appear to focus on aged Reservas, and Lidio Carraro offers single varietals Merlot, Nebbiolo and Tannat.

Miolo is a reliable big name producer through brands such as Miolo, Fortaleza do Seival, RAR, Brazilwood and Los Nevados, which offer styles to suit all tastes including a sparkler.

Miolo Alisios do Seival Tempranillo/Touriga Campanha is a good introduction; lots of red berry aromas, easy on the palate with bags of fruit and soft tannins. 

Fortaleza do Seival Pinot Noir offers raspberry and strawberry fruit with spices and chocolate. They also do a Pinot Grigio packed with tropical fruit.

But what of Holland?

A lot of Dutch wine is what I would call campsite wine. It's wine, variable in quality but some of a high standard,  that is produced by hobbyists who also make their livings from leisure parks, campsites and Bed & Breakfasts. These are effectively tourist businesses that have grown from hobbies to such an extent that there are now some 160 professional grape growers.

Maybe you didn't even know the Dutch make wine? 

They do, but in some ways it's a real problem for them. Being so northerly the nations' winemakers have little choice but to add sugar to their wine. The grapes simply don't produce enough themselves to create the level of alcohol required. And the reason that's a problem is the European Union doesn't like it and has previously proposed to ban the addition of sugar.

That said, some 60 winemakers currently choose from some 80 differing grape varieties and deliver about a million bottles from a couple of hundred vineyards. These Dutch wineries, probably as you'd expect, make mostly light wines. The Dutch market itself is very big on rosé too.

Wijndomein de Vier Ambachten offers five reds, four whites, a rosé, and two dessert wines all on sale at the winery.

One winery, Domain van Stokkom, got its leading wine onto the KLM (Dutch airline) business class wine list. Before it was taken over by Air France. Look out for its De Linie range.

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