WINE & SPIRITS
A TASTE OF ITALY IN SOUTH AMERICA
In the Salton Winery's stone-arched cellar, I sat listening to an aspiring Pavarotti—and a grape-grower by day—belt out arias in a pitch-perfect tenor. During the concert I tackled an Italian feast featuring seven different pastas, all washed down by sensual red wines. Everything about the place evoked la dolce vita, Tuscan-style. Except I wasn't in Italy—I was in southern Brazil.
Rio Grande do Sol, Brazil's ascendant wine district near the border of Uruguay, feels like a colonial outpost of la bella Italia, which makes perfect sense given that most of its residents trace their lineage to the old country. Their ancestors came over in the late-19th century to work the land in the Vale dos Vinhedos (the Valley of Vineyards) planting vine cuttings they had brought with them from Italy. Today, descendants of the region's original wine families—the Pizzatos, Pannizons and Perinis—run most of the vineyards. Lately they've been angling for the one thing that's so far eluded them: recognition on the international stage.
Though the area remains solidly Italian—in spirit, food and wine—I did manage to find one Francophone spot, the first South American branch of the Bordeaux-based Caudalie Wine Spa. At the spa, which just happened to be in my hotel, the Villa Europa, I eased into Brazil with a Sauvignon slimming massage followed by a long grape-extract soak in a wine barrel tub. That evening I crossed the street to the Miolo winery, pet project of wine-consultant Michel Rolland (a Frenchman helping put the Brazilo-Italians on the global wine map).
Giuseppe Miolo founded the winery after immigrating to the region from the Veneto in 1897. In the last decade, his heirs have invested some $40 million into the company, helping it become one of Brazil's most important producers. After touring the barrel room, I tasted two of their fabulous signature red blends, the Cuvée Giuseppe and Lot 43. Their sparkling Miolo Millesime was my first exposure to the region's very fine bubbly.