The beer, wine, and spirits life in Baja California doesn’t solely revolve around tequila, margaritas, and beer with a hint of lime. Believe it or not – and judging by some of the sales data, many people still don’t – the west coast Mexican state produces a lot of wine and has a growing industry that merits some research and sampling.
People really don’t think about Mexico when they want a glass of wine,...even when they are in Mexico. Hell, even native Mexicans don’t generally think about Mexico when they want a glass of wine.
With larger and more well positioned wineries and distribution operations in Argentina and Chili nearby, not to mention California right to the north and New Zealand not too far away, the relatively small Mexican wine industry has had a hard time establishing itself in the hearts and minds of locals and visiting wine lovers.
But that doesn’t mean you can’t find good wine. The Guadalupe Valley, about 100 miles down the west coast from the U.S – Mexico border, just northeast of Ensenada, and sitting 1000 feet above sea level, is the country’s largest wine region and features wine estates that actually date back to the late 1800’s and before.
Producing over 90% of Mexico’s wine, the Guadalupe Valley is home to over 50 wineries now, a combination of old family estates, larger established operations, and some wineries owned by Mexican and American entrepreneurs looking to leverage what they’ve learned over the years in other countries.
The development, appearance, and style of the area really takes you back to Napa Valley from the 60’s and 70’s. Sitting at roughly the same latitude as southern Sicily, the main grapes in production here are pretty much what you’d expect; Cabernet, Zinfandel, Tempranillo, Carignan, Merlot, and Chardonnay, but they are also producing some Sauvignon Blanc, Nebbiolo, Pinot Noir and others at varying levels of success and quality.
Success here is still hard to find, with high temperatures and mineral laden – almost salty – soils and water tables, and comparisons to other regions aren’t always kind, but there are still some finds at incredible prices.
One of the best wineries in Baja is Monte Xanic, owned by a group of Mexican families and winemakers, including some that have history with some Central Coast California wineries.
They offer one of the relatively few public tasting rooms and make a couple wines that can stack up to most any around the world; a great and well regarded left-bank Bordeaux blend, Gran Ricardo ($50), and inexpensive Chenin Colombard ($12) that is a perfect fit for Baja fish tacos.
Another one to visit on our winter escape is L.A. Cetto Winery. Founded by an Italian back in 1926, L.A. Cetto is the largest and most respected winery in Baja California and offers some interesting wines as well as tours, a tasting room, and beautiful picnic areas for escaping the sun with a bottle. Their Zinfandel ($9), Private Reserve Chardonnay ($12), and surprisingly, Nebbiolo Reserva Privada ($20) are all worth studying.
The Mexican wine industry still has some work to do before it can be called “the next – insert great wine region here,” but it’s shortsighted to think you can’t find a good wine. As with any growing region, there are good finds and not-so-good finds. Give it a try. It’s winter and cold outside up north.
Take a trip to where it’s warm and inviting. Head to Baja in search of a good glass of wine or try most of them at the GastroVino Wine and Food Festival, held in April in Todos Santos. Experience what Mexican wine country has to offer. Or, you can always head down to San Jose, La Paz, or Cabo San Lucas to sit by the pool by day and visit one of the growing number of great wine bars by night.