cakes, prose, woes -- the photos, food & thoughts of a french-speaking seattle-native in brazil

In the end, you're just happy you were there—with your eyes open—and lived to see it. -AB
In the end, you're just happy you were there—with your eyes open—and lived to see it.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Grape Juice and Wine

what and where to buy in Brazil

Brazil is not generally considered a country with a deep viticulture, at least not with all the sexy caipirinhas and golden sweet-water beers the land is so famous for. At least famous within the country for. But as for the continent, the wines of Argentina, Chile and even Uruguay have grown over the years in popularity among the world wine conoseurs, finding their place among those from France, Italy ann Nappa Valley. Living in South America, i have a much greater access to the wines of South America as 1) i am not distracted by the local Washington, Californian, Australian and French wines that were actually affordable to me while in the States and in France and 2) there is a much greater variety of them here to choose from. We are neighbors after all, and the import duty on South American wine appears to be lower than those from Europe and North America. So after eight months of having only (like it's a bad thing) wines from Argentina, Chile, Uruguay and Brazil, i don't find myself missing French wine, Washington wine, or Australian wine at all, and i've managed a list of quite a few goodies, and baddies, for wine lovers on a middle class budget, because that's what we drink on. As for Brazil itself, drinking wine in Brazil takes skill, stealth, lots of plugged noses and a plea to Bachus for your sanity. There are two things to remember when ordering drinks in Brazil: never order a single glass of wine anywhere, and never order a latte with a flavoring. Just don't do it.

In Brazil, there is a small pea shoot of a selection that can be considered wine, the rest is suco de uva, or grape juice. In much of Brazil, wine means juice that gives you a buzz. You go to the store and you have three options: vinho seco, vinho meio-seco, or vinho sauve. Alright so you got that seco means dry and meio-seco demi-sec, but the literal Greek translation of suave is possum vomit. It's true. It's actully a bottle of Welche's mixed with a cup of sugar, a bit of acid and some type of rubbing alcohol. To top it off, it's kept in the fridge. I'm not exactly sure how it's made. The suave wine is so sickly sweet it has to have been fortified with sugar. Good heavens, you're asking yourself, when did she become such a snob?

The truth is, we're not snobs, we just like wine. The Editor makes reference often to the fact that until i showed up on the doorstep, he didn't give a care for wine. It's considered a pretentious, snobby upperclass beverage. Out of my league, he explained to me. Good thing i changed the errors of his ways. We usually spend between 10 and 15 reais per bottle of wine. Before he was born again, he too was victim to the sticky sweet grape juice that averages between 3 and 10 reais a bottle and is available at most bars, gas stations and grocery stores. Not that great of a difference in price. That is because the problem is not due to the price, the problem is in the taste. For some reason the majority of Brazilians appear to prefer sweet wine. Even the more expensive varieties of suave are displayed first among the wine setups at grocery stores, and when ordering the driest wine you have while grabbing the waiters shirt in an iron fist at a restaurant, suave is likely to be the only choice available. They actually like it. For a case study example, say i purchase a merlot from Argentina and give my mother in law a taste. To me, merlot is already one of the sweetest or rather fruity red wines in reasonble meaning of the word "sweet", yet when she tastes it her face scrunches up and she wants to add sugar. All of this goes to say that the real wine market, meaning wine for the sake of wine and not for a cool sweet grape cocktail, has a relatively small public in Brazil. However, as more and more Brazilian vineyards put out quality affordable wines, the more the Brazilian taste buds change (hopefully).

The majority of Brazilian vineyards are located in the south of the country in the state of Rio Grande do Sul. The Serra Gaucha, Campanha, Sao Joaquim, Serra do Sudeste and Vale do Rio do Peixe regions predomenantly grow Bordeaux varieties of grapes and produce a huge spectrum of wines both in quality and price. Ironically, the majority of the wine we buy casually due to both price and taste, come from northern Brazil in the wine region Vale do Sao Francisco. Controlled wine production is still young in Brazil compared to many of the big contenders in the wine industry who have been regulated for centuries, but like the rest of Brazil, it's getting there and at quite a remarkable speed. It may be difficult, and expensive, to find Brazilian wines outside of Brazil now, but in a few years take another look. Or, get a visa and buy a plane ticket.

While dining at a nice restaurant or at a steak house in Brazil, you can order good wines from Argentina and Chile by the bottle for extremely steep prices. Luckily, many quality grocery stores such as Pao de Acucar stock affordable wines, affordable meaning between ten and twenty five reais. If you find yourself lost in the wine aisle of a Brazilian supermarket, look for Argentina and Chile tags. Now, Salty Cod recommendations will not match those found at the fancy pants websites of true wine experts as there is no way i can afford to feed the habit in such a way. As such, our wine list is for the common man who doesn't mind completing a bottle in one night with a pizza and a movie. There are affordable good wines. When buying in Brazil, we recomend Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon from the labels Benjamin and Finca Flichman from Argentina, and Sunrise and Reservado from the Concha Y Toro valley in Chile. Brazilian labels worth looking into include Terranova and Adega do Vale from the northern Vale do Sao Fransisco wine region. If in the mood for celebrating and have a few extra bucks to throw in the bottle, look for Salton or Miolo.

So which vineyard did i go to for these shots? None. These vineyards are about fifteen minutes from my house. The Sao Paulo countryside is full of farms specializing in anything from sugar cane to potatoes to lettuce to mangoes, corn, and of course, grapes. Now to be honest, i would probably never buy a bottle of Indaiatuba wine, but i might buy a box of grape juice. It's amazing how less than two minutes outside of a small yet bustling city are sprawling rows of grapes. It's only the start of spring here so the grapes are only baby greens, but delicious looking none the less. Walking through the grape field reminded me of cutting grapes in the Loire Valley with that little terrier, those are the best kinds of deja vu.

Excuse our month long absense please, we're in the process of searching for a new direction here hopefully for the better. There's too much Brazil to report on to not.

a bientot


Corin said...

Wonderful! And true... bless those Brazilians and their grape juice!

Carina R.S. said...

Where are this beautiful places?

Mallory Elise said...

Thanks Corin :)

C.R. these vineyards are in Indaiatuba in the SP's a city near Campinas :)

Brynn said...

A "wine list for the common man who doesn't mind completing a bottle in one night with a pizza and a movie."

The perfect wine list for us! I will be taking that list with me to the wine shop down the street. We actually have a Merlot from Concha Y Toro on our counter right now.

As for the sugary drinks, I believe, at least in the case of Rio, it is to balance the pound of salt put into all main courses. One bite of my SIL's bacalhau sucks all liquid from your body.

Mallory Elise said...

Hehe. if not the bacalhau (salty cod!!!!!) then its the gallon of salt rubbed into the meat...i am a salt lover though, but no matter how salty, i refuse to drink the gas station wine juice out of politeness ever again! it's just too much torture! that's the problem, since everyone knows i drink wine and not beer, they always buy a bottle of "wine" JUST for me, gaaaaahhhhhh!

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Unknown said...

Beautiful shot Mallory... Wow I really love them.
I hear ya on the wine thing... My husband's parents absolutely drink wine and I feel like I'm being a snob when i want to drink wine! But it's not snobby, I just don't like that full feeling I get from beer. Wine has so much more goin' on!
Thank god my SIL just started working in a winery because now i have someone else to drink with while the rest of the fam drinks their beer.
Hey, nothing against beer but sometimes nothing beats a beautifully smooth red... Ever tried petit verdot? We drank it in Argentina but it's difficult to find here. Usually it's pretty pricey but you may be able to find it if you're in the mood for a giant splurge! R$50/bottle? Save it for a fancy occasion :)

Unknown said...

Sorry- my husband's parents absolutely DO NOT drink wine! In fact, when I offer them a taste (esp my FIL) I get a scrunched up face of hate and a "I've NEVER liked wine".

So that's that!

Joyti said...

What an informative article. I've been seeing a lot from South American wines, even here in California which has a large and growing wine industry...

Rogério Penna said...

well, you see... there is people who drink wine because its good. There is people who drink wine to get drunk.

thats the reason suave wine exists... specially those 5 liter wine bottles!

surely, when the Grêmio fans chant "vou me entorpecer bebendo vinho..." (I am going to get numb drinking wine) they do not mean expensive good quality wine haha.

i am sure you will find some good quality wine from Rio Grande do Sul. Some of them got international prizes and such.

Anonymous said...

I know that in my Argentina travel I tried the best grapes ever, and also the best wine I had in my life!