Sitting at trestle tables lining a cavernous subterranean cellar, Mauricio and his great uncle Antonio are hosting a visiting group from the Czech Republic. As they tuck into their agnolotti and polenta washed down with liberal quantities of red, the Czechs are humming along to a bearded tenor belting out "Nessun Dorma" as if he were Pavarotti. This is Dirceu Pastore, one of the many growers who supplies Mauricio and Antonio's wine company, Salton, with cabernet sauvignon grapes for their delicious Talento red.
We're in Brazil, the Vale dos Vinhedos, in its southernmost province of Rio Grande do Sul. The Valley of the Vines is at the hub of a modern Brazilian wine industry that owes its existence to the influx of the Italians in 1875, when several boatloads of immigrants arrived to take up the Brazilian government's offer of land grants to escape the poverty of Trentino and Veneto. The best land had already been snapped up by Portuguese and Spanish settlers, so the Italians had to content themselves with the humid, hilly southern region of Serra Gaucha.
But after a century of hard work, it's all turned out rather well. From the luxurious vantage point of Villa Europa, the vinotherapy hotel and spa, you can see why the Italians found such an affinity with the valley. Like Tuscany with a sub-tropical edge to it, a ravishingly pretty landscape of rolling hills shrouded by a duvet of white cloud is dotted with tiny houses and gardens and a tapestry of vineyards.
One of the few companies to date to export to the UK, Miolo – based over the road from Villa Europa – only started their own quality wine programme in the late 1980s, taking on the super wine-consultant Michel Rolland and planting Portuguese grapes to make a succulent Quinta do Seival Castas Portuguesas. Miolo also make an excellent sparkling Miolo Millesime and, as it turns out, fizz is one of the region's main attractions.
The country towns of Garibaldi and Bento Gonçalves are centres of sparkling wine production. The former is home to the Garibaldi Co-operative, which makes 800,000 bottles a year. Bigger still is Aurora in Bento Gonçalves, whose tall buildings and church spires you can see silhouetted against the skyline from the Vale dos Vinhedos. At Casa Valduga's sparkling wine cellars, you might just get Juarez Valduga to demonstrate his skill at removing the cork of his espumante with a sabre. The straw hat perched permanently on his head is a reminder of the humiliation at being laughed at for his Italian immigrant clothes when seeking a bank loan 35 years ago.
From the revolving top of the Restaurante Mirante da Serra in Veranopolis, the sweeping hills in the middle distance are reminiscent of Montalcino in southern Tuscany. Above the Rio das Antas, the long river that loops through the countryside as it heads south, roadside cafés with market stalls perch above the river, tempting you in for an iced glass of sugar cane juice and coconut while you sit and admire the view, or peruse their shops for the produce of local Italian families.
Continuing along Brazil's southern wine route of Campanha, Flores da Cunha and Monte Belo do Sul, you'll be surprised not just at the number of wineries but the quality of the fine fizz, whites made mainly from chardonnay and medium-bodied, fruity reds based on merlot. It's encouraging to see these varied components of a modern wine industry carving a distinctive South American niche for Brazilian wines.
Visit spadovinho.com.br. For information on importing Brazilian wine, visit coevintners.com
* Take a tour of America's East Coast wineries. It's not quite Napa but New York's coastline has a burgeoning number of boutique wineries. The Greenporter (001 631 477 0066, thegreenporter.com), a snazzily converted motel on the wine trail, does food-and-wine pairing dinners. Doubles from £72
* A hands-on wine holiday: the smart Aquapura Hotel (aquapurahotels.com) in Portugal's Douro Valley invites guests to help harvest grapes and crush them the old-fashioned way. Book with Exsus Travel (020-7292 5050; exsus.com). Two nights from £845 pp all incl.
* It's a long way to go for a drink, but New Zealand's wineries offer one of the warmest welcomes on the oenophile's trai Wine specialist tour operator Arblaster & Clark (01730 263111; winetours.co.uk) offers various New Zealand wine holidays
* Journey to the heart of Rioja, with Campo Viejo tours. Learn more about the UK's default Spanish red, with tapas tours, wine tastings and a visit to the Juan Alcorta winery. Vintage Spain (vintagespain.com) offers four-day, tailor-made tours of the region from £700 pp
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