RIO DE JANEIRO, July 3 With the World Cup being staged in Brazil, the country's winemakers also think they have something to prove.
Brazil's national team has a record five world titles and is gunning for a sixth, but Brazilian wine gets little respect.
Former world champions Italy, Argentina, France and Spain are all wine giants. Among previous World Cup winners, only England is a wine minnow and Germany, despite mixed feelings among wine lovers, produces a lot and Germans proudly drink it.
Not so in Brazil. Unless it is a sparkling, Champagne-style brand, most local wine lovers would rather order a bottle from World Cup representatives Chile, the United States or Australia than something produced at home.
With a little help from FIFA, the Swiss-based soccer world governing body, one Brazilian winemaker, Lidio Carraro is trying to change that.
"With the focus of the world on Brazil, we thought this would be a great time to show people how Brazilian wine is improving," said Patricia Carraro, whose family owns the winery.
"Brazil still suffers from a legacy of low-quality wines but in the last 15 years we have built a new reality."
The boutique winery in Brazil's southernmost state of Rio Grande do Sul, a redoubt of 19th and early 20th century Italian and German immigration, has produced three wines under the "Faces" name for the World Cup: a white, a rose and a red.
FIFA has labeled them the official wines of the World Cup in Brazil.
Each blends 11 different Brazilian-grown grapes in honour of the 11 players on a soccer team. They retail for about 40 reais ($18.00) at local grocery stores and for 50 reais at the official FIFA store in Rio de Janeiro.
The use of a blend, instead of single, year-stamped varietals such as cabernet sauvignon or chardonnay, is common in Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil's top wine-producing state, said Monica Rossetti, the enologist who blended the wines.
It is also the norm with Brazil's award-winning sparkling wines.
Brazil's best grape-growing regions are largely mountainous, making it hard to produce grapes on a large scale, Rossetti said. At the same time, Brazilian taxes and other costs make it hard to compete with wines from Argentina or Chile even with a special tariff on wine imports, she added.
"Blending is common in European regions such as Bordeaux, but in Brazil many are wedded to varietals," Rossetti said. "But on price, as with many other Brazilian products, it's hard to compete, that's why we're a boutique."
To test Faces, Reuters held a tasting at Rio's Hotel Fasano on Ipanema beach, one of the country's most famous boutique hotels.
The three Faces wines were rated by Eduardo Luiz, the sommelier at Fasano and two Brazilian wine lovers, stage and TV actor, Ivan Mendes and Marcelle Herdy Francisco, a socialite and Internet entrepreneur.
The trio was surprised by the quality of the Faces white and rose, rating them an average 7 out of 10 while they rated the red at a middling 5.8.
"I'd like to share the white with sommelier friends in a blind taste test," said Luiz. "It's better than I expected with an attractive colour, a complex aroma and notes of Brazilian fruit. The others I don't like as much. The red is too complicated, too many aromas that don't mix right."
Mendes and Herdy Francisco said they would proudly serve the white to friends but felt that while the wine wasn't expensive, they could probably buy something as good or better for less.
"I mostly liked these wines and will look at Brazilian wines more now," Herdy Francisco said. "We aren't world champions yet, but we're getting much better."
($1 = 2.2234 Brazilian reais) (Additional reporting by Thales Carneiro; editing by Ken Ferris)