Thursday, July 12, 2007

The evolution of Mexican wine—Wine tasting, hacienda style (1/4)


By David Ramirez, April 5, 2007

When man makes war, he attempts to assassinate the universe; when he makes wine, he steals a kiss from the Earth.
¿Que culpa tengo yo, que me gusta el vino? Is it my fault that I like wine?–from a Mexican song.
Eleven years ago, when I wrote the first guide to Mexican table wines, Mexican Vinos for Gringos, I could find only eight wineries in Baja on which to report. The current brochure on the subject lists 19, more than existed in the whole country at the time. Rather than drive our cars to the wine tasting at Hacienda Las Trancas, some 14kms on the other side of Dolores, we were encouraged to take the luxury buses from SMA, a wise suggestion in view of the profusion of wines that were to be offered to us. A restored antique car of about 1920 vintage greeted us as we stepped off the bus in front of the restored hacienda, a bit more mod in appearance than those we use on the house and garden tour. Our tickets were quickly checked, and we were ushered inside the large square interior plaza.

The presentations of the wineries were arrayed one after the other along the sides of the plaza, ready to dispense liquid poetry from the vine. I decided that my plan would be to try the whites first, then the reds, and go back to those I missed, as my capacity allowed. On this report I will group the wines of each winery together.

The first displayed was that of the largest Mexican winery, L.A. Cetto (LA being for Luis Alberto, the name of the principal owner), whose wines I know quite well. I started with the owner’s reserve, quite a well-balanced Chardonnay for about 250 pesos and much better than their popularly priced Chad at 75 pesos, hardly recognizable as such. Perhaps their best
reasonably priced wine is Fumé Blanc at 75 pesos. This name was invented by Robert Mondavi, of Napa Valley fame, to indicate a lightly oaked Sauvignon Blanc, although many wines currently labeled as Fumé Blanc have never seen the inside of an oak barrel.

Many wine buffs think that the best value in a Mexican red wine is Cetto’s Nebbiolo at 150 pesos. This is the grape from which Barolo and Barbaresco, the prestigious Italian wines, are made. Their Petite Sirah (73 pesos), which won an important international prize, is also notable.
I know Valmar’s wine maker, Fernando Martain, better than the others in Baja. Reluctantly I selected his Cabernet Sauvignon as the best red wine I tasted for the wine guide, now out of print. I say reluctantly because then it could not be bought outside of the Ensenada area. A couple of years ago at an Ensenada Wine Festival function, Valmar literally killed the fatted
calf…and BBQ’d it for their guests. In this ambiance, with the free-flowing Valmar wine, I was presented with a few bottles of Vicente Fox Vino Tinto, which the winery had been engaged to make for his inauguration.

It was a powerful red that improved greatly after I held it for a couple of years. For this wine tasting, Fernando brought only Cabernet Sauvignon and Tempranillo, which is becoming increasingly popular with Baja wine makers and which he thought was the better of the two.
They were both so good, I couldn’t decide.

Chateau Camou had the best white wine I tasted: their Special Reserve Chardonnay (275 pesos) that had just the right combination of oak and grape flavors. Their first Chard of a few years past was over-oaked and over-priced, and their hard-like Blanc de Blanc at less than half the price was better. Their 2001 Zinfandel is by far the best wine of this variety I have tasted in Mexico and could stand up to most of the California Zins.

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