Brazil is the largest country in South America and the fifth-largest in the world. It has a sizable wine industry, but is probably best known in global markets for spirits, and in particular Cachaça.
With roughly 83,000 hectares (205,000 acres) of vineyard, it ranks just behind its near-neighbors Argentina and Chile in terms of acreage under vine. Only a small proportion (about 10 percent) of these acres are planted with Vitis vinifera vines, however this large acreage does not translate into large volumes of quality wine.
There are concerted efforts underway to improve this ratio. Although not yet recognized on an international scale, the quality of Brazilian wines is increasing year on year.
Brazil's best-known wines are arguably its sparkling whites. There are some Champagne method wines made from Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Many are made in a style similar to Italian spumante.
Despite spanning a full 39 degrees of latitude (5°N to 34°S), this vast nation lies largely outside the 'wine belt' (the band of latitudes in which effective viniculture is traditionally thought possible). The southern hemisphere wine belt encircles the globe between 30°S and 45°S, leaving very little room for Brazil to develop its vineyard area.
Thus the vast majority of Brazilian wine comes from Brazil's southernmost regions, Campanha and particularly Serra Gaucha. The latter is home to Brazil's sparkling wine capital, Bento Gonçalves.
Far to the north, the state of Bahia is home to the flat, arid Vale do São Francisco. This is a developing wine region just 1050km/650 miles south of the equator. It performs at a higher level than is suggested by its 9°S latitude.
Brazil's wine industry was relatively slow to develop, particularly when compared to that of Chile or Argentina. The country's vast size and hot, tropical climate made it difficult to establish a national wine industry of any scale or efficiency.
Without reliable trade routes it is prohibitively difficult to move grapes from vineyard to winery, and wine from winery to consumer. It was only when roads were carved through the plains and forests in the early 20th Century that Serra Gaucha and Campanha were connected with the rest of Brazil.
But the history of viticulture here, as in other South American countries, goes back many centuries. Grape vines first arrived in Brazil in the mid-16th Century, introduced by early Portuguese colonists. The warm, humid climate proved too much for these early vines, which suffered from numerous fungal diseases.
At that time vine husbandry was primitive, so disease resistant vine clones were not available. Neither were vineyard management techniques sufficiently advanced enough to combat the problem. Subsequent attempts were no more successful; it was not until the arrival of Isabella vines in the mid-19th Century that Brazilian viniculture began to make progress.
Isabella was followed by other American hybrid vines including Norton, Concord, Catawba and Clinton, and various varieties brought over by migrants from Italy – Barbera, Moscato and Trebbiano among them. Tannat was introduced from the Basque Country and is still grown today, although not with the success it enjoys in Brazil's smaller southern neighbor Uruguay.
In the 1970s and 1980s, Brazil began producing wines of true export quality. This progress was largely due to the arrival of several international wine companies, who contributed significantly to the country's wine-production infrastructure.
They brought with them new winemaking technologies and vineyard-management techniques, and the French grape varieties which at that time were rapidly gaining popularity all over the world: Chardonnay and Semillon for whites, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot for reds.
Cachaça and other spirits
The cane juice spirit Cachaça is – as shown on the Wine-Searcher database below – the keynote export beverage. Technically a rum, it is officially described as aguardente de cana, or cane brandy. It is the core component of a caipirinha cocktail. See our dedicated page for more information.
Rum, grape brandy and various liqueurs are also produced, as well as one or two gins and vodkas. However output does not compare in any way to that of Cachaça.
Beer is the most consumed alcoholic beverage in Brazil, and the country is the third largest beer producer in the world. 98 percent of output is devoted to light beers between 3-5 percent abv.
The most internationally recognized brand is Brahma, founded in 1888. It has a broad portfolio for the domestic market led by the Brahma Chopp pale lager (5 percent abv). The principal export product is simply labeled Brahma and is another pale lager, at 4.3 percent.
Skol also has a relatively high export profile, particular for its Skol Beats range of citrus flavored brewed beverages. The Skol brand originated in Scotland, but is licenced around the world. Here it is licenced by AB InBev, overall owners of the Brahma and Antarctica brands, who control a major portion of the Brazilian market. Heineken International is another big player here.
While multinationals dominate in terms of volume, craft brewing is developing. In 2002 there were under 50 craft brewers here; by 2018 the figure had passed 830.