An old wine barrel outside a winery in Vale dos Vinhedos, Rio Grande do Sul
I love wine. I was brought up on the stuff from an early age (a glass or diluted red wine at mealtimes was common in many Italian households). My maternal grandfather was Venetian hence my wine preference is that of Italy, though I do like Chilean, French and Portuguese wines.
Sunlight through the winter red leaves of a grapevine
Brazil is a wine-growing country. Its immigrant populations arriving from Italy and Germany brought with them skills in viticulture and the initial vine stock from their original homelands, so when I first came to Brazil a little over 20 years ago I decided to try the local wines. Not a pleasant experience! The issue was that I could rarely get past the bouquet which I found to be very strong and heavy. The grapes that grew in the garden of the rented house where I lived had the same taste – a leathery skin and thick pulp that I didn’t enjoy. When I eventually summoned up the courage to taste a wine I found it unpleasant for similar reasons. I stuck to imported wine for a few years before taking a journey to the wine valleys of Rio Grande do Sul.
Wine is so important to Bento Goncalves that even the main church takes the form of a wine barrel
Bento Goncalves is the heart of wine production in the south of Brazil. In the centre of town, there is a fountain across the road from the Mayoral building that squirts out red water in homage to the town’s principal product. Many of the wineries have been awarded prizes in internationally acclaimed wine contests. Those wines tend to be quite good but I find them to be expensive. For the same price in the shops, I can get better quality imported wines.
Wine fountain in the centre of Bento Goncalves
My first visit to Bento Goncalves was in 2005 though in September ie at the end of the austral winter. Wineries were still working though not all open to visitors. I had made arrangements to visit the Miolo winery, one of the more famous brands, to take have a conducted tour of the complex, to take photographs, and to sample the wine.
Staff at the Miolo winery putting the tops on the bottles ready for sale
I visited the Miolo winery again last year but the place was crowded with busloads of tourists so didn’t do the tour. The wine shop (and indeed the whole complex) had undergone something of a transformation – expanded, freshly decorated all round, and more of a tourist destination that a winery, though wine production seems to have expanded too.
Miolo is not the only big winery in Rio Grande do Sul, there are several including Chandon which produces sparkling white and rose wines (champagne style). Some of these wines are certainly world class, while some are at the opposite end of the spectrum. I have not yet established which wines I would buy on a regular basis – I am not keen of white wines generally, but I shall experiment.
Wine barrels and bottles in the heart of the Miolo winery
As a footnote, I recently discovered that the neighbouring state of Santa Catarina, also in the south of Brazil, produces wines. The small town of Urussanga held a wine festival that I decided to visit. I was able to sample just one of the red wines, which was enough (!) but the one Catarinense wine that I found in a supermarket (at about £5 a bottle) proved good enough for me to buy on a regular basis. More on the wines of Santa Catarina at a later date.
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NB: While Alan Skyrme has a number of diplomas in Nutrition it is strongly recommended that the latest available analyses of the nutritional contents and benefits are obtained from appropriate sources. Those provided here are indicative only and may be incomplete.