Seeing Brazil from behind a wine glass
I've just returned from a recent business trip to Brazil. I was there for the FISL conference and Sun Tech Days. For more information on my trip from a technical perspective, check out my highlights blog. There will also a podcast on the trip. Watch the community site for that.
This blog entry is about drinking wine, specifically drinking wine in Brazil.
My first experience drinking wine in Brazil was on the first night of my visit. We were in Porto Alegre, at a Churrascaria. This was the first of six visits in total to Churrascarias. Needless to say, I'll be eating vegetarian for the next few months to make up for this overdose of red meat.
Someone in our group decided to order wine and I agreed to have a glass. I took one slip and was blown away. It was really, really good. My first thought was maybe it was a Chilean wine. One of my favorite wines is by Concha Y Toro, a winery in Chile. So, I asked to see the bottle. It was in fact, a Brazilian wine from a local winery in Rio Grande Do Sul, the exact state where we were located. It was the Boscato Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon, 2002.
The next day I asked around a bit and found out that Rio Grande Do Sul has a number of wineries and good growing conditions for wine. I'd love to go on a winery tour in a future visit to Brazil.
The next few nights I was unable to convince others to share wine with me at dinner â€“ so I settled for drinking Caipirinhas. Not a bad compromise at all. I did however look at wine lists. I noticed a pattern that held true for all the restaurants I visited in Brazil. They would have expansive wine lists, highlighting wines from around the world. Then, somewhere usually near the back they would list a very small number of Brazilian wines â€“ mostly localized to their area.
As I was leaving Porto Alegre, I decided to buy a bottle of the Boscato Reserva. The lady at the wine shop asked me if I was sure I didn't want a wine from Chile or Argentina instead. I assured her I wanted the Boscato wine. She then tried to sell me on the Boscato Gran Reserva. It was twice the price (still reasonable at just under $50 for the bottle), but I decided to stick with the wine I had tasted and really liked.
My first night in San Paulo I was again at a Churrascaria, this time the famous Fogo De Chao , so I decided to try the Boscato Gran Reserva there. This was only after much heavy debate with the wine steward. First, he told me the best wines in Brazil were from the Sao Francisco Valley, not Rio Grande Do Sul. Then, he assured me that wines from Chile and Argentina were significantly better. They were of course close to three times the cost. Finally, I told him I really wanted to drink local wine and was interested in trying the Boscato Gran Reserva. I have to say, it was very good â€“ but I could not taste a difference between the Gran Reserva and the Reserva. I was glad I'd purchased the Reserva to take home. I must say a quick word about the wine list at Fogo De Chao. Saying its impressive doesn't do it justice. The steward gave us a tour of their wine cellar. Amazing!
Later that week, I visited a wine shop in Sao Paulo. I noticed they had a huge number of imported wines. I saw my favorite, Concha Y Toro Don Melchor Cabernet Sauvignon 2003. I couldn't believe it was more the twice the price I paid in the US when I bought it back in December. I guess being on the same continent doesn't really help here. The shop owner told me that Brazil has over a 50% tax on imported wines, between import and sales taxes. Still, he told me imported wines were significantly more popular in Brazil than local wines.
Next, I asked a few local colleagues for suggestions for wines from Brazil. I got some great suggestions. First, it was suggested I try the Salton Talento wine. This will apparently be the wine served to the pope in an upcoming visit to Brazil. I figured if its good enough for the pope, it should be good enough for me.
I tried this wine on one of my nights off from Churrascarias. I did like this wine, but it was not my favorite. Its a blend of Cabernet, Merlot and Tannat. I seem to prefer straight Cabernets.
The following day I took a flight to Belo Horizonte, just for a day. At lunch, we ate a great local restaurant. The first thing I noticed is they had a bottle of Concha Y Toro on every table. It was their recommended wine. Their wine list, true to form was full of imported wines. Their selections of wines from Brazil had exactly three choices.
My final visit to a Churrascaria in Brazil was in Sao Paulo. We went to a place right across the street from Fogo De Chao. This time, I knew I wanted to try either the Miolo Lot 43 or the Don Laurindo Gran Reserva Cabernet. I went through the usual argument with the wine steward before he finally agreed to serve me Brazilian wine. We had the Don Laurindo â€“ it was as I expected, outstanding.
My final day in Brazil, I went to a wine shop and decided to buy all the wines I had tasted. The only exception was the Boscoto Gran Reserva. I was unable to find any Boscoto wines in the shops I visited in Sao Paulo. I also bought a few bottles of Lot 43. I've since opened one bottle of Lot 43 at home and again really, really liked it. With the exception of a wine by the glass I had from a bar in Sao Paulo, I enjoyed all of the Brazilian wines I tasted on this trip.
I wanted to give a special thanks to Dimas, who helped me buy the wines and the suitcase and packaging I used to bring the wines home. Oh, and he proof-read my blog entry too. Also, thanks to Phil, who helped me translate numerous times when talking to people about wine, even though he's not much of a wine person himself.
Overall, I had an outstanding time in Brazil and the wine was truly a highlight. I can see Brazilians are proud of a number of things; their country, their Futebol team, their coffee and their beaches to name just a few. But, they do not seem to give their wine enough credit. Their wineries may not be as famous as some in Chile or Argentina, but from my experience the local wines are excellent. So, if you're from Brazil, support your local wineries, and if you're visiting, be sure to try a local wine, even if its against the recommendation of a local wine steward or shop owner. I know I was glad I did!