south of the border

Monday, November 16, 2009

It’s a curious and troubling fact that most of us (myself included) know more about the wines of Europe, South America and Australia than we do about the wines of our closest neighbors – Canada and Mexico.

I’ve blogged recently about wines from the Canadian Okanagan:

Over the weekend, I had the opportunity to taste through some wines from Mexico’s Guadalupe Valley. Jeff Miller, the engaging and knowledgeable western sales manager for Southern Wine Group, brought a sampler of these wines over to taste. Southern is offering several of them for sale as an online exclusive, and a number of the wines we tasted were really impressive.

Miller tells me that there are roughly 50 wineries in this inland valley, which is located about 100 miles southeast of San Diego, 10 miles north of Ensenada, and 13 miles inland from the Pacific ocean. It’s about two thirds the size of Napa, with just under 5000 acres in vines.

Mexico’s wine industry is reputedly the oldest in the Americas, dating back to the time of Cortez, who was instructed to bring 1000 vines for every 100 natives in the New World. The first American-made wine intended for commercial sale was offered in 1593 by Francisco de Urdinola, which immediately led to a clamp-down by Philip II, who decreed that all American wine production should be terminated (in order to sell the imported Spanish wines). Plus ça change, etc....

Unless you visit the region, you will not encounter many Mexican wines, as the high end bottles (and they ain’t cheap!) are bought up by upper class Mexicans, and the cheap stuff is not always well made. Additionally, Miller tells me, there is some sort of stupid restriction on bringing wines back across the border. Tourists are allowed just a single liter of wine, regardless of how much duty you are willing to pay. Any surplus will be seized at the border. This certainly puts a damper on sales to tourists, and makes no sense, as wines may be brought in from Canada (or anywhere else for that matter) as long as duty is paid.

Miller poured two red wines from Baron Balché that will sell for about $85 online. A grenache and a zinfandel are offered, both reportedly popular with Mexico’s President, but not especially comforting to my palate. However, the Baron Balché 2007 Rincõ del Barõn Double Blanc (a mysterious name, given that there are three white grapes in the blend) was a delight. Estate grown and bottled, this blend of sauvignon blanc, chenin blanc and viognier was a deep yellow in color – not oxidized, just deep yellow – and offered an unusual combination of grassy fruit and toasty oak. Fresh and dense, it is far superior to any comparably-price ($15) California chardonnay on the market.

Another high-end bottle, the Quinta Monasterio 2006 Cabernet-Merlot was an eye-opener. At $39 it’s not a budget bottle, but perhaps a better representation of high end Mexican reds. The winemaker, Reynaldo Rodriguez, is a Baja native who trained in Rioja. The Cab-Merlot brought complex flavors of tart berries and spicy plum, dusted with cocoa, and hinting at fresh herb. A 91 pointer were I to review it. An old vine zin (not tasted) is also in production, which will be offered under Southern’s proprietary Jubileo label.

The only wine we tasted that has national distribution is a Villa Montefiori 2007 Cabernet-Sangiovese. The Italian owner is Paolo Paolini, who farms 42 acres of vines at his Baja estate. This lovely bottle ($16 retail) offers a heady aromatic mix of berries, tobacco, anise and soft leather. It tastes truly Italian; juicy, sappy, tart and spicy.

Anyone with details on the legal barriers to bringing these wines back across the border, please chime in. I may do a drive down to the Guadalupe Valley this winter, and I’d like to be prepared.


bajabound said...

Truly one of the most beautiful wine regions I have visited. In January eft the coast with 75 degree days and within one hour it was snowing at the northern end of the Guadalupe Valley. Truly an exciting area, with tons of potential. Plus as a bonus, the tortas there are the best I've ever had.

Gewurz said...

You should try the Monte Xanic wines from down there. It used to be imported by Chalone, and was easy to find. Big reds and nice Sauvignon Blanc. The winemaker was Swiss trained, and worked many other areas.

It was supposed to be a beautiful winery...

Jeff V. said...


I've visited the Guadalupe Valley twice in the last 4 years. Truly, a "going back in time" type of wine adventure. The wineries sited above; do not waste your time, they are the equivalent of Precept and Ch. St. Michelle brands. If you really want to get a taste of Mexico's finest wines, visit the following:

Mogor Badan:
San Antonio de la Minas - Valle de Guadalupe
(646) 177-1484

*you might see a bottle of 2002 K's "The Beautiful" in his cellar.

Adobe Guadelupe
Winery and Lodging and great food

*Stayed here once, amazing. These are some of the best red blends in all of Mexico. They even make their own Mezcal and Olive Oil here. Owners participated in a Rhone Rangers event a few years back in So Cal. The Kerubiel was a personal favorite.

Casa de Piedra

*Some of the best white blends in all of Mexico. Must call ahead, they are prickly about walk in's. Same winemaker as Adobe Guadalupe (Hugo D'Acosta)

Bodegas de Santo Tomas

*They had a Barbera (yes, really) that I was pleasantly surprised with. One of the oldest Mexican wineries.

Really there are only two choices, I have stayed at both. Excellent food, comfortable, safe, relaxing, and more importantly, they are located in the heart of wine country.

Adobe Guadalupe
La Villa del Valle

The "French Laundry" of Mexico is located in wine country (of course) I've had amazing meals here:

Laja Restaurant
La Cabana de las Lomas

Enjoy this trip.
If you need anymore advice, just contact me.

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