There are a lot of things to do in Bento Goncalves and its surrounding areas other than wine tourism, but Tom and I didn’t do many of them. When in Rome, you don’t go to Six Flags. Am I right?
Wine Tasting in Brazil
Over the course of our four days there, we were able to visit seven vinicolas, or wineries. Wine tasting is one of my favorite activities. Every winery and tasting experience is different, with new sights, stories and sips.
Cave de Pedra
We started out with great scenery, at Cave de Pedra, one of the many wineries on the Vale dos Vinhedos. I love a winery in a castle!
We walked in and were quickly greeted. We’d prepared a few things we would say upon entering a winery to try to get things started, but the accents in Rio Grande do Sol are so different from what we’re used to in São Paulo state that we had no idea what was being said to us, or how to respond (full disclosure: this is not an uncommon occurrence).
Eventually we understood that we were invited to take a tour of the castle, including a taste of the the wines for 15 reais per person (around $5 USD). The tour was in Portuguese, of course, but we were a small group of four people and since we know a thing or two about wine, we were able to follow along with what he was saying for the most part. It also didn’t hurt that the other couple touring with us spoke some English and were able to translate if we got particularly confused.
We toured the inside of the castle, discussing the process of making sparkling wine (I think) and then moved outside to the vines and, finally, up to the top of the castle.
Way more than a ten dollar view, am I right?
After getting our fill of the scenery, we moved back downstairs to sample the wines. To be honest, they weren’t our favorites, but the experience as a whole was very pleasant and it was a great way to kick off a long weekend of fun.
Lunch at Mamma Gema
Our next stop was for food, since we’d unwisely skipped breakfast and you shouldn’t wine on an empty stomach.
Tripadvisor and a few other blogs led us to the very popular Mamma Gema, an Italian restaurant that was quite close to the wineries we were planning to visit for the day. Mamma Gema offers a popular rodizio lunch, which is an endless array of salad, two meats (beef and chicken) and pasta dishes. We were starving after an hour wait for a table, but after the first round of dishes I looked at Tom and begged him to make it stop. So. Much. Food. But don’t worry, after you’ve had your fill there’s also dessert. And not just dessert, but the two best desserts we had during the entire trip – a tiny cup of the richest, creamiest chocolate mousse I’ve ever tasted and ice cream with a fresh berry sauce.
I wish I had some tips for you as to how to enjoy a rodizio lunch in Brazil and leave feeling like you’re not going to pop the buttons of your jeans or fall over in a food stupor, but I have no idea how that could be accomplished. Just um, don’t eat too much I guess. Do as I say, not as I do.
For our next stop, we went to a place known more for its wine than its scenery.
Angheben is a modest operation in the Vale dos Vinhedos, quite near to Mamma Gema, with some of the most delicious wines we tasted during our trip. We did a one-on-one tasting with a very friendly tasting associate, with whom we communicated slowly and surely in a mixture of our terrible Portuguese and his impressive English.
We had actually already sampled Angheben’s most popular wine, their Barbera, at dinner the night before and loved it, so we were excited to try the rest of what they had to offer. Not surprisingly, it was all great. We picked up a couple bottles to save for special occasions for the rest of our time here in Brazil.
The next day was our most productive, visiting the Caminhos de Pedra (more on that in another post) and three wineries. Our first winery stop of the day was Don Giovanni, way up at the top of a mountain in the Pinto Bandeira region.
The drive up was gorgeous (and terrifying if mountainous driving freaks you out, like it does me) and I loved the ivy-covered winery building. Check on the beautiful scenery, eh? We did a brief tour of the facility before getting down to the tasting business.
For this tasting, we communicated with the tasting associate mainly through Google translate, which worked quite well. The wines at Don Giovanni were excellent. We started with three espumantes, or sparkling wines and then sampled a Cabernet Franc and a brandy.
Brazil is well known for its sparkling wines, and every winery we went to offered them. I like bubbles well enough, but they’re never really my favorite. The Cabernet Franc, on the other hand, was right up my alley. I am a wuss, so the brandy was far too strong for me, but Tom said it was good.
Next up, after lunch, we headed back to the Vale dos Vinhedos to Vinhos Larentis where Tom captured some stunning shots of the vines in the back of their property.
Vinhos Larentis is a family-owned winery, and we received our tasting from one of the sons currently operated the property. The tasting room was bustling and we soon understood why. At Larentis, you can pick which wines you want to sample and in your own order. This is quite unusual, at least in my experience, and I enjoyed the freedom.
It also didn’t seem like there was a limit on what you could try. We sampled a wonderful Chardonnay and several reds, including some new to us grapes like Ancellotta and Teroldego (quite good). The standout, for us, was a surprisingly delicate and fruity Tannat.
Our last stop on Saturday was unplanned, but as we drove by Peculiare Vinicola we simply had to stop.
The combination of the quirky name and charming tasting room drew me in. It also didn’t hurt that there was a guy randomly playing an accordion he’d pulled out of the trunk of his car right as we’d pulled up, or that there was a beautiful dog lounging in the vineyard.
We popped our head in and were offered a quick tasting while the accordion player packed up, after his two minutes ditty, and left. Peculiare indeed. This was another very small operation, and also appeared to be family-owned although we could hardly communicate at all with our tasting associate (sub-par Portuguese does not improve when you add wine, unfortunately).
Dinner at Caldeira
The wines didn’t particularly stand out, but we were not charged for the tasting and had fun checking out the premises – a great way to end another packed day of wine tasting. Later that evening, we had a great meal at the Tripadvisor’s #1 rated Bento Goncalves restaurant, Caldeira.
This photo is so cheesy, but was taken by Caldeira’s owner, who incredibly helpful and hospitable to us during the meal.
We arrived at 8 p.m. to an empty restaurant, and were surprised to find that there were no available tables for the night. Apparently, if you’re in the know, you book a table for Caldeira at 9 p.m. on Saturday. Every seat in the house was taken!
Fortunately, Rafael worked with us and gave us a table until 9 p.m. We obviously needed bubbles to celebrate. I know I said they’re not my favorite, but sometimes a situation just warrants a sparkling rosé. Each dish at Caldeira serves two people (and then some), making it an affordable choice – especially if you can take the inevitable leftovers home with you.
The food was great, but I was more impressed by the service and atmosphere at Caldeira. I can definitely see why it gets such great reviews. After we finished eating, we moved to the bar to finish our wine and do some people watching. Rafael checked on us several times to make sure we were okay and even made us a complimentary caipirinha for evacuating our table on time. If I lived in Bento, I would be a regular at Caldeira for certain.
The next morning, we hit the road for our final day of wine tasting starting with one of the most well known Brazilian wineries – Vinicola Salton.
In general, we tend to avoid the bigger, more commercial places during our wine travel, favoring smaller, family-owned operations instead. Salton was an exception, as I’d heard wonderful things about their facility and their wines before we even booked this trip. The weather was rainy and gloomy, so it was fun to escape into the huge estate for an in-depth tour of Salton.
We started out in the processing facility, which was huge! Definitely the biggest I’ve ever seen inside a winery. We were in a group of around twenty persons, so we really couldn’t follow what the guide was saying they way we could in the smaller group at Cave de Pedra. But the sights more or less spoke for themselves.
I’m not positive, but I believe the antique cash register was there to indicate the age of the barrels next to it, currently housing aging wine.
The last stop on the tour was through a series of caves, which were lovely and also kind of creepy.
Before heading back to the tasting room, we caught a glimpse of the beautiful gardens on the front grounds of the property. I wished it hadn’t been raining so we could have enjoyed them more up close.
Finally, we tasted. An English-speaking associate took us to a separate area to pour our wines for us, which was great. The wines were all very good, featuring the two sparkling wines I liked best of all the ones we tried over the course of the trip. A tour and tasting at Salton costs $15 reais per person, but $10 reais of that goes toward your purchase in the wine shop should you choose to make one. We didn’t think we had enough room in our suitcases to buy any, so we opted out, but it’s definitely a nice incentive.
By this point, we were getting a bit weary. We didn’t really feel like lunch or another wine tasting, but the weather didn’t leave many other options. We drove around aimlessly for a bit and then followed signs for a place I’d forgotten I’d had on my list of places to visit – Casa Postal Vinicola and Bistro.
The rain was really coming down as we arrived, surprised to find we were the only people there. Turns out that Casa Postal is relatively new, so word hasn’t quite caught on yet about how great the place is. First, we sampled a few wines before going upstairs to a private lunch.
All by ourselves in a lovely stone building in the rain, this made for an unexpectedly romantic meal.
We each had our favorite glass of wine from our tasting to pair with our dinner. Okay, fine, you caught me – I guess I like sparkling wine more than I thought. Brazil made me a bubble believer. The food was incredible. I think it was my favorite meal of the trip.
Sometimes it’s the places you almost overlook that have the most to offer. After the meal, however, I was food and wined out. We probably had time to visit one more winery before closing time, but we just couldn’t do it.
Overall, wine tasting in Brazil was a wonderful experience from start to finish. I was most impressed by the beauty of the area and the vinícolas themselves, as well as the genuine kindness of all the people we met and tasted with during the trip. I hope Brazilian wine country continues to grow and have more visitors in the future. Those who overlook it as a wine destination are truly missing out!
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I can’t get over how beautiful that castle is! And all the food you’ve been eating sounds so amazing. Some day after the Wolfe child is birthed and grown we will all go somewhere foreign together and eat ALL THE FOOD.
These are absolutely stunning photos, and I definitely agree with you that the key with wine tasting is to go to the smaller, family-run operations versus the big name brands as the Customer Service is far more intimate and superior! As least, that was I certainly experienced in Napa Valley years ago.
Which was your overall favourite Brazilian wine would you say?
Brazil is known for its sparkling wine and they certainly do that well. They also offer a lot of Italian varietals that turn out pretty great, and Cabernet Franc. There were several tasty Chardonnays also 🙂