Luiz Argenta – A Must Visit Winery for Design, Architecture and Wine Cuisine in Brazil

Have you ever seen a wine bottle that takes your breath away? That is what happened to me when I was visiting a wine shop in Bento Gonçalves, Brazil and saw two wine bottles snuggled together with curving necks in an elegant embrace.

“Which winery produces these wines?” I asked.

“You will visit there at the end of the week,” responded our host, Diego. “The name of the winery is Luiz Argenta, and they are known for their artistic wine bottles and unique architecture.”

Diego was correct, because when we finally arrived at the entrance to Luiz Argenta Winery seven days later at 10am, I caught my breath in delight at the lovely sloping roof of the winery that clearly emulated the rolling vineyards that surrounded it. A long driveway snaked its way through verdant green lawns with tall trees in the distance. It was an incredibly stunning approach to a winery, and reminded me of how I felt when I first saw their embracing wine bottles – entranced!

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Winding Driveway to Luiz Argenta Winery in Brazil

We were greeted by Daiane Argenta, Marketing Director and daughter of the owner. “Welcome to Luiz Argenta Winery,” she said with a smile. “Please let me show you the view of the vineyards.”

We followed her up a curving set of stairs to a balcony the looked out over the vineyards. I caught my breath because it seemed like a sea of vines was laid out before more, winding their way up and down the rolling hills as far as the eye could see. For a wine lover like me, it was a mesmerizing view, and I couldn’t wait to taste the wines produced by these undulating vines.

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The Rolling Vineyards of Luiz Argenta Winery in Brazil

Vineyards and Wines of Luiz Argenta Winery

Daiane explained that the winery is located outside the town of Flores da Cunha, and boasts 55 hectares of vineyards that are part of the first large planting of vitis vinifera vines in Southern Brazil in 1929. There are 17 different grape varietals planted in the vineyard, and all wine is 100% estate produced. The property sits at 800 meters high (2400 feet), and has 27 different soil types. Each vineyard plot is named after a famous Brazilian musician.

Today Luiz Argenta Winery produces around 180,000 bottles per year, employs 31 people, and sell 25% direct to consumers who visit the winery. They can do this easily because of their well-known Clô Restaurante with stunning views across the vineyards. They also have a wine bar, offer tours and tastings, and even have a children’s play area. The tasteful wine shop offers not only wine for purchase, but local honey, jam, and juices also (see photos of restaurant and wine shop below).

They offer three-tiers of wines: 1) Joven – at an entry-level price point; 2) Classico – for the mid-tier; and 3) Cave – for their high-end wines. Wine styles range from sparkling to still wines, such as merlot, cabernet franc, chardonnay, gewürztraminer, sauvignon blanc, shiraz, and red blends. Sadly none of these wines are yet exported to the US market.

Architectural Design of Luiz Argenta Winery

Probably the most unique aspect of the property is the stunning architecture. Daiane explained that her family purchased the property in 2000, and decided to hire famous female architect, Vanja Hertcert, to design the state of the art winery and restaurant.

Vanja wanted to create a winery that would “match the rolling hills,” so she designed the spectacular curving roof, as well as curving staircases, domed wine caves with music, and conical fermentation tanks. The beautiful wine bottles with their embracing curves were created in Italy, and are so unique that each label must be hand applied. But the workers don’t mind, because soothing Brazilian Bossa Nova music winds its way around the cellar.

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Daiane Argenta Next to Conical Fermentation Tanks

A Lazy Three-Hour Wine Lunch at Luiz Argenta Restaurante Clô

After our tour of the cellars, Daiane led us upstairs to the restaurant on the third level of the winery. Our party of six was seated at a large table overlooking the vineyards. During the amazing three-hour lunch that followed, we were treated to eight different wines – several with unique bottle designs.

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Our Lunch Party at Clo Restaurant at Luiz Argenta Winery

The food was expertly prepared. We started with a fresh green salad, and then I had Ahi Tuna with black rice. Dessert was a delicious Brazilian flan.

Wine Tasting Highlights at Luiz Argenta Winery

Though all of the wines were expertly crafted by their Italian trained winemaker, my favorites were:

  • Luiz Argenta Cave Sparkling Rose Nature 2013 – 100% pinot noir, with 36 months on lees in bottle. Notes of strawberry, lemon and brioche with a creamy palate and refreshingly dry finish. Very elegant. 92 points
  • Luiz Argenta Cave Brut 2012 – 100% chardonnay, crisp yellow apple with contrasting minerality of wet stone and toast; Creamy lemon brulee notes with refreshing high acid finish. 48 months on lees in bottle. 93 points
  • Luiz Argenta Joven Gewürztraminer 2017 – classic floral notes with honeysuckle and jasmine. Dried apricot on palate with citrus. Refreshing bone dry finish, light and easy drinking. Comes in one of the beautiful curving paired bottles. 90 points
  • Luiz Argenta Classico Cabernet Franc 2014 – cassis, clove, and cinnamon with earthy notes; good concentration and complexity. 9 months aging in French oak. A top seller for the winery. 92 points
  • Luiz Argenta Cuvee Ripasso 2009 – a fascinating blend of merlot, cabernet franc and petite verdot made in the ripasso style. Inspired by his time in Veneto, the Luis Agento winemaker also makes an amarone style wine, and adds some of the left over pomace to this blend. Nearly black in color with a garnet edge, this wine delivers black plum, blackberry, earth and stewed fruit compote. With is massive tannins and long concentrated finish, it is truly magnificent. 95 points
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A Parting Photo with Daiane at Luiz Argenta Winery

Aurora Winery – A Disneyland of Sparkling Wine in Southern Brazil

(June 2018) It was raining lightly when we arrived at Aurora Winery in the town of Bento Gonçalves in southern Brazil. However, this did not matter because as soon as we entered the wide double doors we were transported into one of the top wine tourism experiences of the country. Beautiful women dressed in long red gowns from the glory days of 1800’s Brazil welcomed us with gentle smiles and gestured for us to enter the massive wine cellars.

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Golden Bacchus Statue at Aurora Winery in Brazil

About Aurora Vinicola – Largest Winery Cooperative in Brazil

Established in 1931, Aurora Vinicola (winery) is not only the largest winery in Brazil, producing more than 24 million bottles of wine per year, but is also the largest winery cooperative with 1100 families farming grapes for the venture. The winery pays the farmers 50% more than market price for their grapes at around 50 cents per kilo.  All grapes are hand-harvested from 2900 family vineyards, and the winery operations are certified ISO 9001, 14001, and 22000.

Today the winery employs 457 people, and holds 33% of wine market share in Brazil. In addition they export to 20 countries. Their specialty, like the majority of the wineries in Brazil, is producing sparkling wine, but they also produce some nice still wines as well. Because of their strong reputation, they attract more than 150,000 visitors each year to the winery, and amazingly do not charge a tasting fee. Visitors go on a guided tour with one of the beautiful women in the long red traditional gowns, and then are allowed to taste several wines along the way – ending in the very large wine shop so they can purchase something to take home.

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Tour Guide at Aurora Winery in Traditional Red Gown

A Winery Tour with Head Winemaker, Flavio Zilio

We were honored to have head winemaker, Flavio Zilio, export manager, Rosana Pasini, and enologist, Vitor Mizevski, escort us on a private tour through the massive cellars. The tanks were so tall in some rooms, that it seemed as if we were walking through a forest of giant trees. They had also maintained a museum of their original wooden tanks made from brazilwood, though they no longer use them to age wine.

                                                            Flavio and Rosana at Aurora Winery

Flavio allowed us to taste some of the base chardonnay wine from tanks, and explained that they produce all types of sparkling wines – ranging from traditional method with secondary fermentation in bottle, to charmant, and the Asti method. I was impressed to learn that they actually make sparkling Asti muscat wines all year long. Flavio said that fermentation lasts anywhere from 7 to 20 days, and they use nitrogen and CO2 to minimize oxygen impact.

As we explored the massive cellars, I was pleased to see many tour groups, as well as magnificent golden statues of Bacchus and grape chandeliers.

Tasting of the Wines of Aurora

We had a wonderful tasting of 13 different wines, along with an informative presentation. Everything was very professional, and I ended up identifying several wines that I thought were exceptional:

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Professional Wine Tasting at Aurora Winery in Brazil

  • Aurora 2018 Reserve Rosé   – made with merlot and tannat, it was very crisp and fresh with notes of cranberry and lemon. A very sophisticated rosé, it reminded me a bit of a dry cosmopolitan.  90 points
  • Aurora Prosecco NV – made in the charmant method, this was a classic sparkler with floral nose, white nectarine, and made from the prosecco grape grown in Brazil. Fresh and satisfying. 89 points.
  • Aurora 2017 Chardonnay Procedencias – complex toasty nose with lemon brule on a creamy palate. Aged 6 months in French oak, it was very enjoyable. Procendencias means “origins.” 91 points
  • Aurora Pinto Banderia Extra Brut NV – made in the traditional method, aged 24 months on the lees, this complex sparkling wine was filled with green apple, yeast, and a very high acid. Extremely refreshing, lemon-lime on palate with a very long finish. 60% chardonnay, 30% pinot noir, and 10% Italian Riesling. 92 points
  • Aurora Sparkling Moscatel – simple and very pleasing with floral, apricot, spice, and honey. Crowd pleaser – perfect for Sunday brunch. 90 points
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Our Group at Aurora Winery in Brazil

Casa Perini – Like Finding a Perfect Italian Wine Region in Brazil with 50 Shades of Muscato

(June 2018) Nestled deep in the rolling hills of Southern Brazil is a sleepy little valley filled with vineyards, Araucarias pine trees, wildflowers, and an old Italian styled winery called Casa Perini. Not only does the landscape look like Italy, but the home-made food spread out on the lunch table speaks loudly of the Italian heritage of father and son team, Benildo and Pablo Perini.

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Entrance to Casa Perini Winery

“My great great grandparents arrived here from northern Italy in 1876,” explains Pablo. “At first they planted a small vineyard and produced wine at a local coop, but in 1970 we started our own family winery.”

As Pablo and export manager, Barbara Ruppel, toured us around the property, we were impressed to see how large the winery had become. Today they produce 12 million liters of wine per year from 80 hectares of vineyards, as well as purchased grapes. They employ over 100 people, and specialize in sparkling muscato.

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Modern Production Facility of Casa Perini with 100 Employees

Fifty Different Shades of Muscato

“Casa Perini is located in the special appellation of Farroupilha GI. In this region, we produce 50% of all the moscato in Brazil,” stated Pablo, “and have more than 50 different clones of moscato in our vineyards. Indeed, we have been told that we have the largest diversity of moscato in the world, including some that was lost in Italy and now only survives here.”

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Some of the Sparkling Wines of Casa Perini

Tasting the Wines of Casa Perini

During my three hours at Casa Perini, I was able to taste 10 different wines, including a variety of sparkling moscatos, ranging from bone dry to very sweet. In addition, there were some lovely reds, including a Barbera, Marselan, Pinot Noir and a red blend. Probably most unusual was a 2007 sparkling rose, which was an orange color and tasted like “Tokay with bubbles.” Fascinating – who would think to age sparkling muscat!

Some of the highlights of the tasting for me were:

  • Casa Perini Nature – made in the traditional method with 56 months on the lees, this was a classic sparkler made with 60% chardonnay and 40% pinot noir. It had lovely notes of lemon meringue and cream brule with a very long luscious finish. 92 points
  • Casa Perini Ice – all the rage in France right now, this specially designed bubbly was made to add ice and enjoy as a cocktail. We tried it first without ice and it tasted intense and bitter, but with the ice it was softly sweet, fruity, and absolutely delightful. 89 points
  • Casa Perini Sparkling Moscatel – seducing the nose with notes of peach and soft berry, this semi-sweet moscato is a crowd pleaser with honey and nectarine on the palate followed by a crisp refreshing finish. 80 grams per liter sugar. 93 points
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Papa Perini with Son Pablo Onzi Perini

An Old Style Italian Lunch with Papa Perini in Brazil

“We need to hurry,” said Barbara, looking at her watch. “Papa Perini always likes to eat lunch right at twelve. We are a few minutes late.”

Sure enough, as soon as we rushed into a low stucco room filled with scents of tomato sauce, garlic, and basil, we saw Papa Perini already seated at the table with a large glass of Casa Perini Brazilian Barbera and a fresh green salad. “It’s time to eat,” he announced, beckoning to us.

As soon as we were seated, large platters of pasta, chicken cooked in herbs, fresh breads, and vegetables were brought to the table. We helped ourselves, family style, to the food, and tasted through some more wines at lunch, including the Casa Perini red grape juice, which is a favorite in Brazil.

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Our Group Having Lunch at Casa Perini

During the meal, Papa Perini peppered me with questions, in Brazilian Portuguese, about Trump. It was an interesting exchange, as Pablo translated his questions into English for me, and I could sense the quick intelligence and humor behind some of his statements.

Ending with a Classic Brazilian Dessert

Dessert was the classic Brazilian bowl of vanilla ice cream with fresh berries on top, and served with a chilled glass of pink sparkling moscato. Yes – the Brazilians really know how to do dessert right!  I left Casa Perini with a warm feeling, not only due to all of the comfort food I ate during lunch, but the authentic hospitality and friendly environment I encountered while visiting the enchanting little valley owned by Casa Perini in the rolling hills of Serra Guacha, Brazil.

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Classic Brazilian Dessert of Ice Cream & Berries with Sparkling Pink Muscat

Salton Winery – Started by Seven Brothers in Brazil with a Link to Scotland

(June 2018) Salton Winery is considered to be the oldest wineries in Brazil, and is also one of the largest. Established by seven brothers in 1910 in the city of Bento Gonçalves, Salton specializes in Brazilian sparkling wine production, but also produces still wines as well as tea. After my visit here at the end of June, where I met with Gregorio Salton, a member of the 4th generation of the family, I left truly impressed with all of the investments they have made in quality control, including ISO9000 and 14000 certifications for the winery.

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Entrance to Salton Winery in Southern Brazil

About Salton Winery

As is the case with many Brazilian wineries, Salton was established by emigrants from Northern Italy who came to the Serra Gaucha wine region. In this case it was the year 1878, when Antonio Domenico Salton, came to Brazil to seek his fortune. Like many emigrants, he planted grapes and made home wine, but established Salton Winery much earlier than others – in 1910, with the support of his seven sons.

Today Salton produces 25 million liters of wine and makes 60 to 70 different labels. They purchase 70% of their grapes from local grape growers, but also own 50 hectares of their own vines in Serra Gaucha and another 115 hectares further south in the Campanha region. They employ 500 workers and export their wine to 24 different countries.

The winery headquarters is just outside of town, and is a very large impressive white stucco building with mosaics inside and out. In the front is a small demonstration vineyard.  The winery offers daily tours and tastings for visitors.

Linkage to Scotland

When I asked Gregorio the origin of the name, Salton, he replied that it was a small town in the middle of Scotland. Definitely not an Italian name, he thought that perhaps his ancestors from Italy had married into a family from Salton.  Regardless the name Salton is great name for a winery, being that it is easy to spell, pronounce and remember. An intriguing question is – how many people in Scotland are buying Salton wine from Brazil?

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Salton Winery Visitor’s Center and Wine Shop

How to Make Sparkling Charmant in Brazil

Gregorio and Cesar, International Relations Manager (see photo below), took us on a tour of the very large and impressive cellars. We traversed a catwalk winding through a forest of massive stainless steel tanks where the majority of the sparkling wine is produced.  Gregorio explained how they produce their sparkling charmant, which is a different method from secondary fermentation in bottle (Method Champenoise), because the second fermentation takes place in a large tank.  This is a faster process, and the way that much Prosecco is produced (though some high-end Prosecco uses second fermentation in bottle).  In fact, Salton does produce a “Prosecco” made with the Glera grape, just as is still done in northern Italy. This is the process they use:

  1. Harvest the grapes early at lower brix so they are fresh.
  2. Destem and then press as whole cluster
  3. Transfer 60% of the pressed juice to stainless steel tank for a 1-2day cold stabilization.
  4. Transfer to new stainless steel tank, add selected yeast with a neutral character and ferment at 16 degrees Celsius for 7 to 10 days. No malolactic fermentation.
  5. Clarify the still wine with filters and centrifuge.
  6. Create blend – may use still wine from an older vintage (making NV) or can also produce vintage charmant.
  7. Transfer to new stainless steel tank; add yeast, sugar and nutrients for secondary fermentation in tank to create bubbles. Leave space at top of tank, and keep temperature at 10 – 12 C.
  8. Continued secondary fermentation for 1, 3, 6, or 12 months, depending on style and price point of the charmant being produced.
  9. Add dosage to tank and stir before bottling.
  10. Lower temperature to zero degrees for bottling.

Wine Tasting at Salton Winery

After the tour, we were escorted to a private tasting room where we tasted nine different Salton wines, beginning with three charmants and then six still wines.  Following are the highlights from the tasting:

  • Salton Natural Brut Sparkling Rose NV – Fresh and fruity with strawberry, watermelon and crisp lime notes (charmant method). 88 points
  • Salton Sparkling Reserva Ouro NV – A complex cuvee with creamy mouthfeel and citrus and nutty notes. Made from chardonnay, pinot noir and Riesling. Aged 12 month sur lie with battonage, but still made in charmant method. Quite impressive. 90 points.
  • Salton Marselan Intenso 2016 – oozing with blueberry and mocha; rich and satisfying – amazingly no oak! Delicious.  91 points

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Charcuterie & Charmant in a Magical Cave before Departure

At the end of the tasting, Cesar surprised us, by leading us down a staircase to a dark cellar with many tunnels leading in different directions. We wound through the tunnels, which were filled with Gregorian music of chanting monks and beautiful angel statues in different corners. It was quite enchanting, and Cesar said that tourists loved it.  So did I!

Eventually the tunnel opened into a stone room with a fireplace, and a large round table with an inlaid geometric design. It reminded me of the round table of the Knights of King Arthur and Queen Guinevere. Sitting on the table was a large platter of charcuterie, which we were invited to enjoy along with another glass of delicious sparkling Salton charmant.  As we raised our glasses in a toast, I thought it was a great way to conclude our magnificent tour of Salton Winery.

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Lidio Carraro Winery – Boutique Producer of Pure Natural Wines from Brazil

(June 2018) If you enjoy visiting small boutique wineries where you are invited to taste wine in the family home, then Lidio Carraro Winery in the Serra Gaucha wine region of Brazil is for you. Even better is the fact that Lidio Carraro is the Brazilian leader in producing natural wines, based on their purist philosophy of winemaking with no additives, no filtration and not even any wood on red wines! The result is fresh and delicious wines with distinctive personality.

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A Visit to Lidio Carraro WInery in Southern Brazil

Background of Lidio Carraro

The Carraro family emigrated from the Veneto region of Italy in 1875 to Bento Gonçalves, in the heart of Brazilian wine country. For many years the family grew and sold grapes, but in the 1990’s, Mr. Lidio Carraro decided to focus on cool climate Merlot with a vision to produce very high quality low-interventionist wine. Soon the whole family was involved, with sons Juliano and Giovanni involved in winemaking and daughter Patricia and Mama Carraro devoted to marketing and hospitality. With this dynamic family team, Lidio Carraro Winery launched in 2001, inviting customers to visit them in their small charming home to taste wines.

Today Lidio Carraro produces around 400,000 bottles per year, and exports wine to 28 countries. They sustainably farm 8 hectares of vineyards in Serra Gaucha and another 50 hectares of vineyards further south in the Serra do Sudeste wine region. They have six tiers of wine, beginning with the entry level Faces brand, to the mid-priced Agnus, Dadivas and Elos labels, and culminating with the luxury tier of Singular and Great Harvest – only produced in the best years. Styles and varietals ranges from sparkling, cool-climate merlot, chardonnay, pinot noir, tempranillo, malbec, teroldego, nebbiolo, and tannat.

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Wine Tasting at Lidio Carrano Winery

“I Don’t Want to Make Coca-Cola Wine”

So how did Lidio Carraro become the leader in Purist Natural Wine in Brazil? According to daughter, Patricia Carraro, who welcomed us to their small charming home to taste wine, “In the 1990’s my father, Lidio, became upset with the types of wines that were being made globally.  He called them Coca-Cola wines and said he didn’t want to produce wines that all tasted the same.” Therefore, the family decided to adopt a very purist philosophy, similar to what was being made in northern Italy in the 1800’s.

Today this purist philosophy fits perfectly into the “natural wine movement,” because Lidio Carraro produces their wines in a very natural fashion.  The vines are farmed organically with all work done by hand. Grapes are picked by parcel and fermented with natural yeast. There is no fining, filtering, or additions, and all wines are aged without oak. This results in wines with very pure fruit and earthy notes, and sometimes with the slightly cloudy texture that is desirable in natural wines. Each vintage is unique, and so the wines exhibit the influence of each year’s distinctive climate.

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The Carrano Family in their Vineyard. Photo Credit: LC Website

A Team of Powerful Wine Women

Though I have visited wineries all over the world, and have received extremely friendly welcomes, I must admit that Lidio Carraro was one of the friendliest wineries I’ve ever encountered. As I walked up the short flight of stairs to the old family home and into the living room, which was set up as an informal tasting salon, I was literally welcomed with open arms by four women. These included Mama Carraro, daughter Patricia, Export Manager, Monica, and Hospitality Manager, Leticia. They proceeded to entertain us with stories of the winery, their travels, and a fabulous line-up of wines to taste.

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A Warm Welcome from the Lidio Carrano Team

I was extremely impressed with the overflowing passion and enthusiasm of Patricia Carraro, as she described the deep symbolism that was expressed in the logo of the winery and the individual names of the wines:

“Our logo is a bunch of grapes in the shape of Brazil,” she explained tracing her fingers over the delicate Lidio Carrano logo, “and the red color is to express the life blood of wine and the beat of passion in our hearts.”

“The name of each wine is also very relevant,” she continued. “For example, our Dadivas line, comes from the Latin ‘Da Divas ‘and means “a gift from heaven’ and ‘to celebrate life.’”

Highlights from the Tasting

We tasted through a delicious selection of very unique wines. Following are some of my favorites:

  • Dadivas Espumante Brut Lidio Carraro NV – a 100% chardonnay with tart apple, lemon and yeasty notes. The official sparkling wine of the World Cup in Brazil.  Refreshing. 90 points
  • Faces Rose of Pinot Noir Lidio Carrano 2016 – a beautiful pale pink rose with soft strawberry, zippy citrus and a slight yeasty note. Lovely. 89 points
  • Lidio Carrano Merlot 2011 Grand Harvest – a superpower of a merlot with dark plum, chocolate, herbs, and structured tannins. Very complex and long. 94 points
  • Lidio Carrano Quorum 2008 Grand Harvest – masterfully crafted red blend of merlot and cabernet sauvignon, with complex black cassis, anise, forest floor and fine-grained tannins. It is pretty difficult to believe that there is absolutely no oak in this wine! 93 points

Miolo Winery – One of the Most Beautiful Wineries in Brazil

(June 2018) The first view of Miolo Winery almost takes your breath away. It seems like a fairytale winery with its impressive gates and tall tower, all nestled amongst flowing vineyards and sleeping mountains filled with fog. I took this photo of Miolo Winery from my hotel room on the first morning of my visit to Brazilian wine country. Since I arrived late at night, I had no idea what I would see when I opened the curtains in the morning, but this was the view. At the time, I didn’t know it was Miolo Winery, but was very pleased to learn I would visit it the following day.

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Miolo Winery in Southern Brazil, Serra Gaucha Wine Region

Miolo does not disappoint, because it is a very professional winery, ranked as one of the largest in Brazil. Due to its size, Miolo produces a wide variety of wine, ranging from high-end luxury brands, to mid-priced premium, and entry-level wines. They make a wine for every pocket book. Indeed their tasting room is packed with visitors everyday, who arrive on buses to enjoy winery tours and tastings, thus allowing Miolo to achieve over 300,000 wine tourists per year.

The View from the Top of Miolo Tower

We were welcomed to Miolo by Anderson Tirloni, Export Manager, who provided a tour of the facilities beginning with an elevator ride to the top of the tower. The view of the vast property with picnic ground and lake was very impressive. So were the demonstration vineyards, which included a wide variety of different grape varietals for visitors to examine.

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View of Miolo Grounds from Top of Tower

Impressive Winemaking Facilities

Due to its large size, the winemaking facilities at Miolo are quite expansive. We donned protective clothing, including head covers and smocks for the tour, but I don’t think we would have won any fashion competitions (see photo). I was especially impressed with the size of the laboratory, where we met one of the enologists.

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Dressed to Tour Miolo Winemaking Facility

Altogether Miolo farms over 1200 hectares of vineyards and produces around 15 million liters of wine per year. They have four different winemaking facilities, and multiple winemakers. Michel Rolland has been a consulting winemaker in the past. Miolo also owns the old Almaden winery that was established in Brazil in the 1970’s. They continue to produce some of the original brands from that facility.

Expansive Tasting of Miolo Wines

Anderson had organized a large tasting of Miolo wines, which allowed us to understand the wide range of their wine brands and styles. Some of my favorites included:

  • Miolo Milliseme Brut 2008 – a beautifully crafted sparkling wine with ripe apple, toast, creamy persistent mousse, crisp acidity, and a touch of minerality. Chardonnay and pinot noir made in the traditional method – 90 points
  • Miolo Quinta do Seival Portuguese Blend 2015 – a blend of Tinta Roriz and Touriga Nacional. Black in color with mixed dark berries, spice, tobacco, cedar, and violets. Concentrated and complex – 91 points
  • Miolo Cuvee Giuspepe Red Blend 2015 – A blend of cabernet sauvignon and merlot aged in 100% new French oak. Richly textured with ripe cassis, red plum, and tobacco – 92 points

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Casa Valduga – Brazilian Wine So Rare Thieves Steal It

(June 2018) It was a bright sunny morning when I visited Casa Valduga in the Serra Gaucha wine region of Southern Brazil. Elisa Walker, Export Coordinator, met us at the front door with a large smile, gesturing for us to enter the spacious tasting room and retail shop.  Immediately I was reminded of Robert Mondavi Winery in Napa Valley, not only for the large size of place with countless different types of wines for sale, along with grape-based cosmetics, glasses, and souvenirs, but because the winery was the first in the region to focus on tourism – just like Robert Mondavi’s vision to welcome tourists to Napa Valley. Today Casa Valduga remains one of the most popular wine tourist destinations in Brazil, with more than 150,000 visitors each year.

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Sparkling Wine Cellar at Casa Valduga

About Casa Valduga – Transitioning Thru the Generations

In 1875 the Valduga family emigrated from northern Italy to southern Brazil, but it wasn’t until 1973 that Luis Valduga had a dream to start a winery. At that time he primarily planted vitis lambrusca grapes, such as concord, that grew well in the cool climate. But as his sons grew older, they had a desire to make fine wine from classic vitis vinifera grapes. So they encouraged Luis to go on a long vacation, and while he was gone, they tore out most of the old vineyards and replanted with classic grapes of chardonnay, pinot noir, merlot and other varieties that were beginning to perform well in the region. When Luis returned from vacation, he was surprised about the changes, but agreed to help his sons transition the business by also investing in new technology and equipment for the winery. However, Luis continued to make concord wines for his own enjoyment.

Today Casa Valduga is still family operated with 240 hectares of vineyards, producing over 2 million liters of wine each year with 120 employees. They focus on producing sparkling wines made in the method Champenoise, and have the largest sparkling wine cellar in Brazil, with more than 6 million bottles – all hand-riddled! In addition, they also make still wines, with an emphasis on cool-climate Merlot and Chardonnay.  Casa Valduga practices sustainable winegrowing, and their wines have won numerous awards at competitions around the world. Currently they export about 8% of their wine, sell 10% direct to consumer (including via a wine club), and the remainder through distribution.

A Wine So Rare That Thieves Crave It

After describing the history of the estate, Elisa took us on a tour of the riddling cellar. It was massive, and very impressive. Probably most impressive was a single large magnum of red wine, called Luis Valduga, which was deep in the cellar and spotlighted on its own special pedestal.

“This is a very special bottle of wine that we only produce in certain exceptional vintages,” Elisa explained.  “It is very limited production and not for sale. Sadly, this year I took one bottle to ProWein to share on the last day of the event, but it was stolen and not recovered.  People were very disappointed that they could not taste it.”

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Wine Stolen by Thieves in Germany

This rare Luis Valduga wine has a partner wine called Maria Valduga, name for Luis’s wife. While Luis is a complex red blend, Maria is a sparkling wine that is aged for 48 months on the lees made from a blend of chardonnay and pinot noir from a special section in the vineyard.  Maria Valduga is for sale in limited quantities, and is considered to be the top cuvee of the estate, priced around $55 in Brazil, but much more on the export market (see bottle below as first in sparkling wine line-up).

Eight Categories of Casa Valduga Sparkling Wine

Casa Valduga produces a broad range of sparkling wines designed to match all consumer needs, ranging from sweet to semi-sweet and kosher wines, to sur lie and natural wines. There is something for everyone to enjoy.

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Line-up of Casa Valduga Sparkling Wines

Tourists Assist in Developing Innovative Sur Lie Sparkling Wine

As we wandered through the massive sparkling wine cellars of Casa Valduga we came across a very unique bottling line (see below). It was a woman who was dipping bottles of sparkling wine with a crown cap into hot black wax. When I asked what the woman was doing, Elisa responded:

“That is our new Sur Lie sparkling wine that is made in a very natural fashion where we do not disgorge and add dosage like regular method Champenoise sparkling wine. Since it doesn’t receive a cork and cage, we dip it in black wax to make the final package look attractive.”

I watched in fascination, and then asked how they had decided to make this special type of sparkling wine.

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Dipping Special Sur Lie Sparkling Wine in Wax

“It actually came about by accident,” explained Elisa. “During the visits of tourists in our sparkling wine cellar, we provided a different tasting experience by opening a bottle of sparkling wine still in process of remuage. We noticed that they greatly appreciated the product which motivated us to launch this sparkling wine.” Thus Casa Valduga Sur Lie wine was born.

“It’s such a fun wine to drink,” stated Elisa, “because the more you drink from the bottle, the cloudier the wine gets. Customers really love this aspect.”

Make Your Own Sparkling Wine

Casa Valduga also offers a unique “Blend Your Own Sparkling Wine Workshop.” Tourists who sign up for the workshop taste different cuts of the base wine as well as dosage levels from dry to semi-sweet to sweet. Then they get to learn how sparkling wine is disgorged, and are allowed to taste the wine without any dosage. Later the dosage they selected is added, the bottles are corked with wire cage, a personalized label is applied, and each couple is shipped 30 bottles of the wine they made.

Casa Valduga Restaurant, Weddings, and Beautiful Vineyards

As we came to the end of the sparkling wine cellar, Elisa asked if we wanted to see the vineyards. I nodded with enthusiasm and we exited the cellar through a beautiful wrought-iron gate with views of the vineyard and roses beyond. Chardonnay and pinot noir vines wove their way up the hillsides as far as the eye could see. It was a truly mesmerizing view.

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Chardonnay Vineyard at Casa Valduga, Brazil

As we continued through the expensive grounds of the winery, Elisa pointed out locations where they held weddings and other events for visitors, as well as small houses and apartments that could be booked to stay overnight. Eventually we ended at a charming restaurant with flowered tablecloths and rose bouquets.  A range of wines and crystal wine glasses were set-up on a table for our private tasting.

“We opened the restaurant a number of years ago,” said Elisa, “because we had many tourists who came from far away.  After wine tasting they were often hungry, and then some wanted to stay overnight. In the beginning Maria Valduga would invite them home to eat her Italian-Brazilian meals, but now we serve them at the restaurant, and people can stay overnight in our guesthouses.”

A Tasting of Casa Valduga Wines

When we sat down to taste some of the wines of Casa Valduga, we were joined by two winemakers (they have six in total), who were able to explain viticulture and enology practices. We tasted ten wines, and some of my favorites were:

  • Casa Valduga Sur Lies 2015 – ripe yellow apple nose, bright citrus, full bodied with persistent bubbles. Fun and approachable bubbly. Aged three years on lees. 89 points.
  • Casa Valduga Blush RSV 2015 – complex earth and dried cherry notes with touch of minerality and clean fresh finish. Beautiful rose pink color with creamy mouthfeel. “Like yogurt for breakfast,” was a quote from Elisa. 50% pinot noir and 50% chardonnay. Aged 25 months on lees.  91 points.
  • Casa Valduga Viognier 2018 – extremely aromatic with honey, peach and apricot blossom, yet bone dry with very high acidity on palate. My favorite type of viognier – extremely sensual and pleasing, but with the surprising shock of a dry finish. 92 points
  • Casa Valduga Chardonnay Leopolinda 2017 – pale golden color with nose of chalk and lemon, hint of oatmeal on the creamy palate. Extremely long, complex and elegant.  Seemed very much like a high-quality Meursault from Burgundy. 94 points
  • Casa Valduga Storia Merlot 2012 – opaque red/black color with blue plum and cassis, spice notes of anise and cola. Very concentrated with well integrated French oak, fine-grained tannins and crisp acidity on the very long finish.  Only made in top vintages.  Truly exceptional. 95 points
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Some of the Still Wines from Casa Valduga

Pizzato Winery – Waterfalls and Cool Climate Merlot in Southern Brazil

(June 2018) Pizzato Winery is halfway up a very windy road in the Serra Gaucha wine region of Southern Brazil. I had to hold onto the side of the car as we twisted and turned around mountain bends, with long drops into a tree filled canyon below. Finally we arrived at a small tasting room perched on the side of a hill, with a large deck overlooking a magnificent range of mountains with a long white waterfall in the distance. To the left were rows of vineyards stretching out across the hillside and fading into the distance. What a beautiful and magical view!

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View of Vineyards and Waterfall at Pizzato Winery

A Tasting of Twenty Pizzato Wines

A few minutes later, Flavio Pizzato, Chief Winemaker and Manager, arrived to greet us. After spending a few more minute gazing at the view and taking photos, we were invited inside the tasting room to take a seat at a high table filled with over 20 bottles of wine.

“They told me that I should limit the tasting to six wines,” said Flavio with a grin, “but I make so many wines I thought I would show you some of them, and let you decide.  They are all my children.”

Well, how could I respond to that? It was impossible to deny one child over another, so seeing that a spittoon was sitting on the table, I agreed to taste them all. Flavio smiled broadly and launched into an animated tale about the history of the winery.

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Flavio Pizzato (right) with his Father

About Pizzato Winery

Like many of the wineries in Southern Brazil, Pizzato was established by Northern Italian immigrants who came to Brazil in the 1880’s. In the beginning they grew grapes on high pergolas trellises, just like in Italy, and they mainly made wine for their own consumption.  It wasn’t until the 1940’s that they became serious grape growers, planting vitis vinifera vines and selling the grapes to other wineries. However in 1998 Flavio and his brothers and sisters decided to establish a professional winery and today they farm 45 hectares of grapes and produce around 280,000 bottles of wine per year. They make 25 different wines, and impressively sell 15% through their cellar door direct to consumers visiting the region.

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Flavio Telling the Story of His Wines

But Your Sign Says “Pizza Too”

“I like the name of your winery, “I told Flavio. “It is easy for consumers to pronounce and remember.”

“Well, it is the family name,” replied Flavio, “but I found it can be a bit challenging when I’m doing professional tastings at trade shows.  Several times I’ve had people approach me and ask where the pizza is. One time when I explained that I didn’t have any pizza, the person responded, “but your sign says ‘pizza too!’”

A Focus on Cool Climate Merlot

Though the Serra Gaucha region of Brazil is primarily noted for its excellent sparkling wine production, its second most famous wine is cool climate Merlot.  I have to admit that this came as a bit of a shock for me, because traditionally most people don’t plant Merlot in the same place they plant chardonnay and pinot noir grapes to make sparkling wine.

However Merlot from this region tastes nothing like any other Merlot I’ve tasted.  It doesn’t have the ripe plush tannins of California or the concentration of the Right Bank, but instead is bursting with black cherry, anise, earth, crisp acidity, and has a more elegant streamlined mouthfeel with medium body.  In a blind tasting, I would be hard-pressed to guess it was Merlot because it is so different.  However, it is delicious and very food friendly. Perhaps it is a cousin to some of the few Italian merlots I’ve experienced, though these are difficult to find outside of Italy.

Pizzato Winery is famous for their merlot, and I was able to taste several of them that were excellent. The majority had very light oak, but the more expensive ones were aged in 100% French oak.

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Some of Pizzato’s Award Winning Wines

Highlights from the Tasting

The tasting was a lot of fun, because Flavio kept up a non-stop conversation as he enthused over all of his children. In addition to the Pizzato brand, he also produces an entry level wine called Fausto that is more fruit forward, lighter bodied and less expensive. We tasted everything from chardonnay and semillon to tannat and sparkling wines. Following are some of my favorites:

  • Pizatto Semillon 2018 – very fresh with grapefruit, minerality, and a textured medium body. 91 points.
  • Pizzato Merlot 2014 – Black cherry, black plum spice, textured tannins, medium-bodied, with a crisp acid finish and a hint of black licorice. 91 points
  • Pizzato Concentus Gran Reserva 2014 – a complex blend of merlot, tannat, and cabernet sauvignon aged 11 months in American and French Oak.  It reminded me of a tannic red Rioja, and was quite enjoyable. The Latin term Concentus means concert or harmony. 93 points
  • Pizzato Merlot Single Vineyard DNA99 2012 – very luxurious wine with rich allspice nose of toasty oak, black plum, and ripe berry in a very concentrated body with fine-grained tannins, crisp acidity and a very long finish. The wine is perfectly balanced, and is only made in years where this special merlot vineyard achieves a similar ripeness to the vintage of 1999  – thus the name DNA99.  94 points
  • Pizzato Brut Rose Vintage 2016 – yeasty nose with dried cherry, lemon, and complex minerality. 87% pinot noir and 13% chardonnay. Made in the traditional method with 17 months on lees.  90 points
  • Pizzato Nature Vintage 2014 – a sparkling wine with a surprisingly fruity nose of white peach and citrus. Very refreshing with high acid and long finish.  Aged 40 months on lees. 91 points.
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Pizzato Sparkling Wine Line-Up

Last Night in Rio de Janeiro with Pizzato Chardonnay and Lobster

Whenever I travel I always try to drink the local wine. So on my last day in Brazil, I took a 2 hour airplane flight from Porte Alegre (the closest airport to the Serra Gaucha wine region in Southern Brazil) and flew north to much warmer Rio de Janeiro, where I had dinner at Sa Restaurant just across the street from Copacabana Beach. Since it was winter time in Brazil (June), I left the cool mid 50 – 60 F weather of Serra Gaucha to arrive in balmy Rio where the temperature hovered in the mid 80’s F. After a long walk on the beach, a nap, and a shower, I decided to eat at Sa, because it was located in my hotel (Miramar by Windsor) and had good reviews.

After looking at the dinner menu, I decided to order a local specialty called Brazilian Slipper Lobster, of which I had never heard.  It turned out to be absolutely delicious and similar to langostino, and was served with a side of truffle risotto. Given my entre, I searched the wine list for a Brazilian white wine, and found a predominance of wines from Chile. However, since I was in Brazil, I needed to drink Brazilian wine. Eventually I found a half bottle of Pizzato Chardonnay 2017, which was fresh and crisp with bright notes of lemon and green apple, crafted in the style of Chablis. It was a perfect pairing, and a great last dinner in Brazil. I enjoyed the wine and food while gazing out the window at children playing along the sidewalk and the waves gently embracing the sands of Copacabana Beach.

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Pizzato Chardonnay with Brazilian Slipper Lobster and Truffle Risotto

Cave Geisse – Home of Highly Ageable Sparkling Wine and Burrowing Owls in Brazil

(June 2018) We arrived at Cave Geisse in the late morning, when the fog was just beginning to lift from the long green rows of chardonnay and pinot noir vines. Nestled in the Serra Gaucha wine region of southern Brazil, Cave Geisse is one of the oldest and most prestigious sparkling wine producers, with a cellar full of vintage sparkling wines made in the Champenoise method. The winery and it surrounding vineyards are ideally located in the Pinto Banderia GI, which is a cool climate area dedicated to sparkling wine production. It is also an area rich in bird life, as I was soon to discover.

We were met by winemaker, Carlos Abarzua and his son Felipe, Export Manager. Originally from Chile, Carlos relocated to Brazilian wine country in the 1970’s, along with winery partner, Mario Geisse. They established Cave Geisse in 1976, after working several years for Domaine Chandon producing sparkling charmant in Brazil.

A Tour of the Vineyard with Burrowing Owls

Since the vineyard is the source of all high-quality wine, Carlos invited us to jump into his four-wheel drive SUV and we set off driving along a bumpy dirt road into the vineyards. Because June is winter time in Brazil, the vines were bare of leaves and stretched out in long perfect rows, attached to a VSP trellis system with verdant green grass growing beneath. As he drove, Carlos explained that the estate was 70 hectares, with 25 hectares of vineyards, situated at 800 meters above sea level (2400 feet).  They produce around 300,000 bottles per year, with 50% as vintage wine. The soil is primarily loam on top with basalt bedrock.

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Chardonnay Vineyards at Cave Geisse, Brazil

Carlos parking the SUV on top of a hill, and invited us to climb the stairs of a wooden platform with a great view of the vineyards. As we approached, I was delighted to see a tiny round burrowing owl sitting on the ground next to his hole. He must have been accustomed to visitors because he continued to stare up at us with round yellow eyes, even after we had climbed to the top of the platform (see photo above). Like many vineyards around the world, wildlife was abundant, and we also saw many pairs of what the Brazilians referred to as “caro-caro,” birds.

Felipe described how they have reduced chemicals in the vineyard by 70%, but explained that it is very difficult to be 100% organic due to the cool wet climate with mildew issues. Therefore they are practicing sustainability, but not seeking certification at this time. Vines are trained at 1 meter x 2 meters, with around 4500 per hectare in density. The oldest vines are 15 years old, and they generally pruned in September (early Spring in Brazil).

Winemaking at Cave Geisse – 100% Hand-Riddling

Back at the winery, we went on a brief tour beginning with the grape sorting area. Carlos explained that they pick the grapes in January at around 19 brix to insure high natural acid for method Champenoise production. The chardonnay grapes go to a vacuum press, whereas the pinot noir grapes are pressed in a basket press. Sixty percent of the juice is transferred to stainless steel tanks for primary fermentation using selected yeast. Next the wine is transferred to bottle for second fermentation, with sugar and yeast added for autolysis. Carlos said they age anywhere from three to fourteen years. “We have studied the wines,” he said, “and we see the best evolution after 14 years in the bottle.”

During the tour we passed by a large hall of bottles in riddling racks, and I was very impressed to learn that every bottle is hand-riddled. This prompted me to ask about human resource policies, and Felipe proudly explained that their workers are all on a monthly salary (around $800 US), with houses provided in the vineyard. Health care is funded by the government, and there is a program in place that encourages workers to return to the land, rather than live in cities. “We have strong unions in Brazil,” Felipe explained, “so we focus on treating our employees very well.”

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Riddling Racks at Cave Geisse

Tasting the Sparkling Wines of Cave Geisse

The tasting at Cave Geisse was very elegant, with seven bottles of sparkling wine. I was impressed with the high acid, elegance, and hint of minerality in all of the wines. We mainly tasted vintage bubbles, but I also requested to taste their 2nd label, Cave Amadea, which is non-vintage and a little fruit-forward. My favorites of the tasting were:

  • Cave Geisse Blanc de Blanc 2015 – a bigger bodied wine with toasty bread notes, green apple, and crisp acidity. 100% chardonnay, 8.5 gpl dosage, aged 3 years on the lees.
  • Cave Geisse Terre Natural 2014 –   a zero dosage wine with brioche, lemon, and a very creamy palate with long finish. Crafted from their oldest vineyard – 15 years of age. 60% pinot noir and 40% chardonnay. Aged 4 years in bottle. Just released.
  • Cave Geisse Terre Rose Brut 2014 – toasty cherry notes with a hint of bitter cherry on finish. Complex with high acid – delicious. 100% pinot noir with some skin contact to achieve color (not added later).
  • Cave Amadea Brut Rose NV – a cheerful sparkler with notes of strawberry and citrus. Light, refreshing, and delicious. A perfect beach bubbly for Brazil.

Do Cave Geisse Wines Age? The Answer is Yes

Later in the week, Diego Bertolini, with Wines of Brazil, shared a magnificent magnum of the 2002 vintage of Case Geisse Brut as part of a dinner celebration at Valle Rustico Restaurant. We all enjoyed the complex nutty notes, as well as honey, pear, citrus and minerality that shimmered in the wine. The mousse was very silky on the palate, with thousands of tiny bubbles, and the wine had a long elegant finish. It also paired well with the cuisine of Brazil – in this case a dish made from a special local vegetable that reminded me of zucchini. All in all, it answered the question of “can Brazilian sparkling wines age?” The answer in the case of Cave Geisse Brut 2002 was a definite “yes.”

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Magnum of Case Geisse Brut 2002

Fun Facts about Brazilian Wine

If your only reason to go to Brazil is to play on white sandy beaches and drink caipirinhas, think again. Instead consider heading further south to the Brazilian wine region of Serra Gaucha, about 375 miles north of the Uruguay border in a cool hilly region that looks like Northern Italy. Indeed this region was settled by immigrants from the Veneto and Trentadoc regions of Northern Italy in the 1880’s, and, of course, they planted grapes and made wine. This region of Brazil also has many excellent Italian restaurants, as well as Brazilian steakhouses to celebrate the fact that this is indeed gaucho, or Brazilian cowboy country.

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Brazilian Vineyard with Winter Vines and Waterfall in Background

Recently I was invited to visit the Serra Gaucha region for a week by Wines of Brazil, where I toured a variety of wineries and tasted over 140 wines. While there I learned some fun, and rather amazing, facts about Brazilian Wine:

  • 1500’s – Portuguese: Wine grapes were first brought to Brazil by the Portuguese in the 1500’s, but didn’t thrive very well because of the humid climate of Rio de Janeiro. Therefore, they later imported Vitis Labrusca grapes from the Azores, which were resistant to fungus, and used these to make table wine.
  • 50% Grape Juice: Because of the large number of labrusca vineyards, 50% of the harvest in Brazil is used for grape juice production, which is made in a very natural fashion with no sugar added.
  • 1880’s – Italians: It wasn’t until the 1880’s that northern Italian immigrants settled in the cool southern part of Brazil in the Serra Gaucha region that vitis vinifera grapes were planted again to make quality wine.
  • Sparkling Wine is King: Due to the cool climate, chardonnay and pinot noir grapes thrive, and they produce some delicious sparkling wines using the Méthode Champenoise as well as the charmant method. Sparkling wine comprises 80% of the Brazilian wine market.
  • Moscato: Brazilians also enjoy sweet wine, so they make semi-sweet and sweet sparkling Moscato, as well as still and dessert wines with this fragrant grape.
  • Experimenting with Red Grapes: Now other regions of Brazil are beginning to make wine and experiment with red grapes. Highlights include Merlot, Marselan, and Cabernet Franc in the south, and Syrah and Grenache in the warmer north. There are also many types of Italian red grapes used to produce Brazilian wine, such as Teroldego and Ancellotta.
  • Six Major Wine Regions: Today there are five new wine regions in addition to Serra Gaucha. They are Campanha and Serra Do Sudeste further south, and Planalto Catarinese and Campos de Cima de Serra a little further north. Vale do Sao Francisco is in the far north near the equator, where they actually have two harvests per year because it is so warm.
  • One DO and Four GI’s: Brazil is adopting the European quality system of appellations, and has recognized one DO (Domination of Origin) region called Vale dos Vinhedos. This is where the many of the original Italian immigrants settled, near the town of Bento Goncalves. There are four GI’s (Geographical Indicator) surrounding the DO: Pinto Bandeira, Monte Belo, Farroupilha and Altos Montes.
  • 1100 Wineries and 79,000 Hectares: Today Brazil has over 1100 wineries, many of which are small family domains. Total vineyard acreage is around 195,000 or 79,000 hectares of grapes.
  • Fresh, Fruity and Fun: Brazilian wines are produced with a focus on showcasing the fruit and not using too much oak. The wines are also very fresh with higher acidity and lower alcohol – more similar to Northern Italian styles. Due to the sparkling wine emphasis, Brazilian wines are used to celebrate and have fun in life – -just like the Brazilian culture.
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Map of Brazilian Wine Regions. Photo Credit: Wines of Brazil

Getting to Brazilian Wine Country in Serra Gaucha

The major airport in the Serra Gaucha wine region is Porte Alegre (POA). There are several connecting flights each day from the large international airports of Rio de Janeiro or San Paulo. I arrived into Rio on Delta Airlines, and then took their partner airline, GOL, to Porte Alegre – an easy two hour flight. Once in Porte Alegre it is necessary to rent a car or book a driver to take you to Bento Gonçalves, the main city in the Serra Gaucha wine region.  It actually has a welcome wine barrel arch, and has several tasting rooms in the downtown area, including Aurora Winery, which is the largest in Brazil. Bento Gonçalves is a small city of around 100,000 people with good restaurants, friendly people, and wineries and vineyards all around it. The town was named after a Brazilian military leader who was much loved in the south of Brazil.

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Hotel & Spa do Vinho in Brazilian Wine Country

Hotels and Restaurants in Bento Goncalves

A quick check on TripAdvisor will show you a list of over 30 hotels, B&B and specialty lodging in the area. I stayed about 15 minutes outside the town in the very fancy yet affordable, Hotel & Spa do Vinho (see photo above). It has excellent service, is incredibly beautiful, and has a good restaurant and spa. It is also situated in the middle of the vineyards and is across the street from two famous wineries – Miolo and Lidio Carraro. This is a prime location to visit wineries, because the hotel is situated in the Vale dos Vinhedos, which means Valley of Vineyards. It is the first and only DO appellation in Brazil, and is surrounded by some of the oldest and most prestigious wineries.

In terms of restaurants, I was able to enjoy four local restaurants, and they were all excellent:

Ipiranga Steakhouse – classic Brazilian steakhouse in casual setting with great wine displays on the walls.  Open kitchen allowing you to see the meat on the grill – fascinating. The meal begins with fresh green salad (I loved the salads in Brazil) and the “can’t stop eating” cheese bread balls, which are a local specialty.  Then non-stop skewers of meat are presented at the table by professional servers, with beef, chicken, pork, lamb, and even whole stakes of filet mignon (see photo below). We enjoyed the meal with a nice bottle of Casa Valduga Merlot, and dessert was a small glass of sweet sparkling muscato wine called Cave Amadeu from Family Geisse Winery.

Mamma Gemma Restaurant – a very elegant Italian restaurant with white tablecloths and a beautiful view of a lake outside the large picture windows.  Excellent Italian dishes arrive non-stop at the table until you cannot move.  We had the complete menu which includes a fresh green salad (see photo below) several different pasta dishes, along with chicken, beef, fish, Brazilian cheese bread, and grape ice cream dessert with a small cup of chocolate fudge called Brigadeiro (see photo below).

Casa Di Paolo Restaurant – a casual local chain restaurant with simple décor and friendly service. It focuses on Brazilian-Italian fare with non-stop pasta and meat plates arriving at the table, along with fresh salad and breads. They also serve the delicious pasta soup, which is a specialty of the region (see photo below). We enjoyed lunch with wines from Goes Winery.

Valle Rustico Restaurant – this restaurant is a gourmand’s dream with artistically arranged small plates of very fresh, local, organic ingredients. The staff provides an explanation of each plate when they bring it to your table, and describe the many unique vegetables and spices that are used in the dishes. Several include heirloom foods, such as an ancient corn, that they are trying to preserve. The décor is actually rather casual, set in an old farmhouse with wooden beams, antiques, and pottery plates, but the service and food is of Michelin star quality. Truly a unique restaurant, focusing on local Brazilian cuisine – not to be missed. We enjoyed the meal with wines from Don Guerino Winery.

Local Wineries to Visit

During the 5 days I stayed in Bento Goncalves, I visited 9 wineries, listed below. Each of these visits will be described in separate posts on this blog. Driving distance from my hotel ranged from 2 minutes to 45 minutes to arrive at the winery tasting rooms.  All of my visits were organized as part of a business trip by Wines of Brazil. There are many other local wineries near-by with friendly signs stating they are open for tourists to drop in and taste delicious Brazilian wines.

  • Cave Geisse Winery
  • Pizzato Winery
  • Casa Valduga Winery
  • Miolo Winery
  • Lidio Carraro Winery
  • Salton Winery
  • Casa Perini Winery
  • Aurora Winery
  • Luiz Argenta Winery (with great restaurant!)

I have to admit that one of the best parts of visiting Brazilian wine country was getting a chance to taste some many delicious sparkling wines – their icon wine product. I lost count of the number of times each day that we toasted to one another with a glass of Brazilian bubbles! Brazil truly is the land of fun and celebration – and their sparkling wine is a great testament to this.

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One of Many Toasts with Brazilian Bubbles