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

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