It seems like Brazil has turned into one of the fashionable places to travel; the South American country is on more than a few lists of the best travel destinations for 2014. And with the FIFA World Cup kicking off in June — and the 2016 Summer Olympics not too long after that — more people than ever are heading to cities all over Brazil.
One of the destinations that will be frequented is the southern city of Porto Alegre, which means “happy port.” While many people are just learning about Porto Alegre because of the soccer action slated to happen there in a few months, for those in Brazil, it’s known as the gateway to Italian-influenced culinary and vino culture.
Most people think of Brazil as the land of cachaça and caipirinhas, but venture just 90 minutes from Porto Alegre and you’ll find yourself in the verdant Vale dos Vinhedos (“Valley of the Wineries”). Rather than evoking typical Brazilian images of beaches and jungles, this area is filled with lush forests and mountains reminiscent of California’s Mendocino County. The fine Brazilian wines from the area reflect a cool climate. The best overall category is sparkling wines, which range from méthode champenoise brut to moscato. “For sparkling wine, we have singular conditions for high acidity and good body,” says Luciano Vian, winemaker at Don Giovanni, one of the Valley’s most respected brands. “The other product is moscato. The flavor is very intense and people around the world like it.”
In the Serra Gaúcha, a larger region that includes Vale dos Vinhedos and is known as Brazil’s first DOC (an area with specific winemaking regulations), the most widely grown varietals include cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc, merlot and tannat. Unlike the fruit-forward wines from some other South American countries such as Chile or Argentina, Brazil boasts restrained, earthy and spicy red wines. “We are not connected with the New World style,” says Patricia Carraro, an architect who now helps run Lidio Carraro, her family winery that pioneered many modern winemaking techniques in the country. “We are an assemblage of old and new.” And speaking of new, the label recently launched Faces, a trio of World Cup wines (white, red and rosé) with holographic labels designed to show the nation’s viticultural diversity.
Now, if you’re heading to Brazil for the World Cup or whatever other reason, we suggest you take a detour to discover the secret wine country. Here are some suggestions on making the most of your vino-filled vacation.
Where to Stay: The best accommodations in wine country are found at Hotel & Spa do Vinho, which is now part of Marriott’s Autograph Collection of independent boutique properties. Upon entry to the Vale dos Vinhedos property, you’ll be greeted with a glass of local sparkling wine in the ornate, Tuscan-inspired lobby; rooms are more sedate and outfitted with all the amenities you’d want. The best units overlook rolling green hills and vineyards. Be sure to save a day for the onsite Caudalie Vinothérapie Spa; you’ll enjoy relaxing by the modern pool, unwinding in the bain barrique (barrel bath) and luxuriating in the grape-based facial treatments and massages. If you want a real adventure, head about 30 minutes into the mountain to Pinto Bandeira and you’ll find the picturesque Don Giovanni Pousada, which offers 11 rooms. If you can imagine waking up and looking out onto sheep grazing near a pond surrounded by green meadows and vineyards, you’ll have an idea of the rustic-chic adventure to be had.
What to Drink: If you’re staying at Hotel & Spa do Vinho, you’re perfectly situated to visit Lidio Carraro for a taste of their blends such as Quorum or Elos. You can also head up the road to Miolo, a large winery that makes everything from beautiful Cuvée Tradition brut rosé to delicious, old vine red blends called Sete Marias or Lote 43. On the other side of the valley, the modern Pizzato winery is a great place to try all sorts of obscure blends (Egiodola crosses the red varietals Fer Servadou and Abouriu) and take Instagram-worthy snaps.
Where to Eat: Canta Maria, which sits about 15 minutes from Hotel & Spa do Vinho, is the best of the restaurants that serve a multicourse, northern Italian style meal with wines to match. Start with a bowl of tortellini in broth and a glass of Cave Geisse brut. Then, watch as servers bring a parade of fresh salads with radicchio followed by pastas such as tortellini in mushroom cream sauce. Next come the meat courses: local, grass-fed beef, salmon or grilled lamb. But the classic dish is galeto al primo canto (tender, young roasted chicken). If you’re in the area longer than one night, hire a car and head to the Valle Rústico, a hip restaurant where young chef Rodrigo Bellora offers a modern take on Brazilian-Italian cuisine. Start your dinner with a caipirinha made locally with bergamot lemon and some of the best cachaça you’ll ever taste. Then, move on to courses with mushroom risotto and vegetables from the restaurant garden, and a glass of the chef’s own wine.
Photos Courtesy of Maria Hunt