It was another divine couple of days in Baja last weekend.The food, the wine, the people, the scenery.It has now been about 8 years or so since I've been traveling regularly to Tijuana, Ensesenada, and the Valle de Guadalupe.Occasionally Rosarito, and two trips driving all the way to Loreto.Much has changed.
What is the Valle de Guadalupe and Mexican wine?This is the question that drives the restauranteurs, vintners,chilango wine enthusiasts, journalists,quesotraficos, tourists, and adventurers alike.In Polanco, it's about the boutique and cult Mexican wines.Do you have any Tres Mujeres?Casa de Piedra? For the American media it's Laja, Monte Xanic,Adobe Guadalupe, and Cetto.I mean, every article sends you to the same five places!
Currently, I count 34 wineries in the Valle de Guadalupe(Francisco Zarco,El Porvenir),San Antonio de Las Minas(sub apellation), Ensenada, Santo Tomas, and Ojos Negros.There are an equal number in development in the Valle according to my friend Steve Dryden(Baja Times wine writer/D.F. columnists), and there are people making table wines from their own backyards being sold in restaurants and shops.Yet, where does everyone go?Cetto, Domecq,Santo Tomas,Monte Xanic, Chateau Camou, or Adobe Guadalupe.Where do they eat?Laja.Where do they stay?Adobe Guadalupe or La Villa del Valle.The report, so-so wines, great meal at Laja, wine was expensive, brought my own, I can find better wines cheaper.....
There are good wines at these places, but not necessarily on the tastings.Cetto wines are usually the cheapest in a restaurant and a good value wine with dinner, but they do have better wines not on their tastings in a higher price range.Dona Lupe makes organic wines, but her real talent is in the amazing food products she makes not her wines, which are OK.The Camou tasting has a nice blanc de blancs and chardonnay, but the reds are their cheaper offerings, again their best wines aren't part of the tasting.The more expensive Camou and Xanic wines are not on the tastings and are more of a reflection of their potential.There are wineries just like this in California, and anywhere for that matter.
The next level of traveler makes it in to Muelle Tres and Manzanilla, where I believe the spirit of wine country in Mexico is well represented by Benito Molina.Local ingredients, Mexican ingredients, and select Baja wines.Most of what Benito has you won't find on your drive to Cetto or Adobe Guadalupe.Many are by appointment only, and some are illusive, like Hugo D'Acosta.Liceaga is easy to find and has tour groups coming through, even the obnoxious kind like were there on the Friday after Thanksgiving.The Liceaga tasting has a nice Merlot, chenin blanc, and the grappas are outstanding.
I went to see if one of my favorite wineries, Vinisterra, was open early Friday, after a couple of tacos de birria.Perfect Mexican breakfast to cushion the consumption of Baja wines.They were closed again, but after talking with a groudskeeper, a French women who had been talking on her cell phone said that she would give us a tour.Vinisterra just built a beautiful tasting room and production facility, I first went years ago when you went up to the house for a tasting.Agnes, a perky and apt wine enthusiast from Bordeaux led us through the Vinisterra wine making process, including a taste of wine from the maceration tanks, still very sweet and viscous.Agnes was a blast and made an amazing guide for a friend of the family that had just taken the tour with the owner earlier that hour! I hope Agnes stays on.But more importantly, this French wine drinker as she called herself, put my convictions into her European perspective.When I asked what she thought Mexican wine was, she named tempranillo,nebbiolo, and chenin blanc, among others.Agnes described the mineral and saline qualities of the soil, and how more professionalism has brought forth wine makers that can balance this challenge of terroir. Vinisterra has a fine tempranillo, nothing like a Spanish Rioja at all,different, Mexican.A Mexican wine, with mineralty, but balanced.Interesting, unexpected, and delicioso. Baja makes different wines, the best Mexican wines, but you have to drink the right ones to know them.Casa de Piedra, J.C. Bravo, Tres Valles, Vinas Piojan, Mogor Badan, the Cabernet at Valmar, Vinos Californios Roganto, that sauvignon blanc made by Hugo at Benito's restaurants.
Worried about spending too much? Well, when you consider the cost of eating at Manzanilla, Muelle Tres, and the phenomenal La Guerrerense, where you can have ceviches of fresh abulone, cod, pismo clam, huarache oysters, and that #&%#ing urchin for next to nothing, what's the problem?How about this, go to Bevmo, get your affordable wine and take it to the best Mexican seafood place in the US......forgot, we don't have places like Muelle Tres or La Guerrerense.OK, the Water Grill, for the same quality, $120 a head, $25 corkage, your stellar wine selection $18, a total of $163. At the stand $30 for the Baja wine, and $10-$15 for a seafood feast that will change your life.
The globalization of wine is a bore, this has always been the wisdom shared by my European friends who are used to their unique local food and drink being distinctive.While Napa makes world class wines, at times I'm perplexed by the lack of diversity.I guess Robert Parker has many wineries doing a bit of a dance.Of course, there are others ignoring RP and making different wines in every market.But, is this what you expect?The same paradigm applied to all experiences?If so, then I suggest getting off the tourist track and at least exploring the best of the Valle de Guadalupe, and no some of these things aren't on the map.That's part of the fun.
Finally, when I see Hugo D'Acosta sitting having lunch meetings at Manzanilla, restaurant owners taking classes at La Escuelita, chilangos in Polanco chasing down cult wines from Baja, and brand new cuisines evolving in front of my very eyes, I just have to ask.Do you think that these people in the Valle aren't possibly getting together and asking eachother questions like," I have a lot of spicy foods, what have you got for me Hugo?" "Wow, this Sonoran beef needs something different, what do you think Camilo?"Only the French and Italians are capable of such complicated thoughts?Baja Med cuisine(La Querencia and and Villa Saverios), Valle de Guadalupe cuisine(Laja), and exploding gastronomic movement from Tijuana to Ensenada are only possible because of the synergy between the food and wine that is happening right now.Laja is part of that, so are the Baja quails I had at a street cart near Francisco Zarco.Martin San Ramon, the brilliant chef from the Cordon Bleu who runs Rincon San Ramon moved back to Baja to be a part of this revolution.The food scene in northern Baja eclipses anything we have here in California wine country in quantity, diversity, and quality.
Baja wine and food is an essential part of Mexico.The wines are made for the chefs in cooperation with the winemakers, and if you're not partaking and exploring then you're missing the experience.For me, it's Manzanillo and Muelle Tres and Benito's select wines, it's Casa de Piedra and J.C. Bravo, roadside Baja quail with a glass of local wine from the abarrotes that sells ostrich, the real del castillo degustacion at Saverios with a nice chenin blanc, the farmer's market pizza maker at Rancho Badan,quesatacos at La Ermita, the sashimi de callos at La Querencia, the pizza with chorizo de abulon at Baja Med Pizza co., fish tacos at my favorite stand, La Guererrense, Ivette Vaillard's Mas Mezcla, and tacos de birria on a Sunday morning.
Just some of the magical and sensual delights of northern Baja and the Valle de Guadalupe.
A little bird for you!
Carreta las Gueritas, Francisco Zarco
cordorniz estilo Baja
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