The state of Baja California has been a beacon for me for many years—it's considered a different place all together, separated from mainland Mexico by the Sea of Cortez and hundreds of years of divergent culinary tradition. Where you see moles and chile braises on the mainland, you see rosemary and winemakers on the peninsula.
The Baja peninsula is currently producing over 90% of the wines made in Mexico. And curiously enough, winemaking in the New World originated in Mexico—in Coahuila, at Casa Madero, in 1597. The region saw a renaissance both in quality and quantity in the 1980s, and has been garnering accolades ever sense.
On this trip, we visited Monte Xanic, Adobe Guadalupe, LA Cetto and Hugo d' Acosta's La Escuelita.
Jill Gubesch, our sommelier and resident champion of Baja wines, shares her thoughts on our trip and the wines we tasted.
Notes from the Wine Cellar
I was impressed by so many of the wines we sampled! Here are a few to get you started.
I've always been a longtime fan of Dr. Hugo D'Acosta's wines. He works with Casa de Piedra winery as well as several other labels in the Valle. I currently use the unoaked Chardonnay for our new Topolobampo tasting menu inspired by the Baja. I like to refer to this wine as the "Chablis of Mexico," as it shows the terroir of the valley so beautifully with its juicy citrus fruit and briny finish— the perfect accompaniment to fresh oysters or ceviche. You can find this wine on our new tasting menu paired with a light, fresh seafood trio of yellowtail, escabeche and scallop beef tendon cocktail. Each of the three parts on the plate show a different face of the wine.
Hugo also works with the Paralelo label. They do a super complex Sauvignon Blanc-Emblema which comes from three different vineyard passes during harvest. The early harvested grapes lend a wonderful acidity to the blend, the mid-harvest is responsible for the grassy, herbal aromatics and the later harvested grapes fill out the mid-palate adding a richness and complex texture to the wine.
They also bottle two red blends, Colina and Arenal. Both wines use similar grape varieties but differ according to vineyard location. The Arenal (translates to "sand") blend comes from vineyards situated on the valley floor, where the soil is predominantly sand. This creates a lighter bodied, fruitier style of wine. The Colina (translates to "clay") comes from the hillside vineyards where the soils contain more clay. The Colina shows more weight, structure and length on the palate with the fruit in the background. The combination of the two wines is a tremendous exercise in "terrior"—those special characteristics bestowed on a grape harvest by the geography, geology and climate of a specific location.
The Tres Valles wines, made by Joaquin Prieto, were also a stand out for me. He does three different red wines named in the native Kiliwa language:
KUWAL (means red) it is a blend of Tempranillo, Cabernet and Sangiovese. This wine shows the mouth watering quality of Sangiovese with the backbone of Tempranillo and Cabernet creating a super long, velvety finish.
MAAT (means terroir) it is a Grenache expressing beautiful floral notes and silky smooth texture. We're pairing this wine on the new Baja tasting menu in Topolobampo with the fish dish in a delicate squash blossom sauce.
KOJAA (means wine) it is a Petite Sirah showing plumy, spicy fruit with a note of black pepper on the finish.
To Taste Some of These Amazing Wines
Up until very recently, you couldn't buy any of the wines produced in the Valle de Guadalupe outside of Mexico. Enter the story of Marvin Nahmias and
. A Mexican by birth, Marvin and his business partner, Roberto, have started an e-commerce site that allows Americans to buy and ship over 100 different labels from all across Mexico.
Avid wine enthusiasts and passionate businessmen, Marvin and Roberto saw an untapped opportunity when they would visit the Valle and try to bring purchases back across the border. When they were refused by Customs, they asked where the wine could be purchased in the States—the response was nowhere. At the time, Botswana exported more wine to the US than Mexico, yet the winemaking tradition in Mexico dates back hundreds of years. The idea for WinesfromBaja.com was born.
Roberto and Marvin are currently residing in Napa, to more fully launch and market the website, but they've partnered with over 19 winemakers to distribute over 100 different labels—wines from Northern Baja, Coahuila, Queretaro and other wine producing regions in Mexico.
On the horizon for Roberto and Marvin is a more visible acknowledgement of the physical contribution made by Mexican hands to wine production, worldwide. Having travelled from Napa, California to the Finger Lakes in New York, and everywhere in between, they estimate probably 99% of the physical labor required to make wine is being done by Mexican laborers, with very little fanfare. The partners are working to establish a foundation to to support migrant workers and their families to be recognized at every level of the winemaking process—from planting grapes to managing tasting rooms.