Friday, October 17, 2008

Terrific Mexican Wine........Who knew?

As a fairly recent transplant from north of the border, I was seriously concerned as to how to satisfy my wine habit here in my new home. After all, who’d ever heard of a “good Mexican wine”? An oxymoron, to be sure!

However, a chance meeting in the lovely courtyard of an old house-turned-restaurant soon proved those fears to be unfounded. Oh, don’t get me wrong….there is plenty of Mexican plonk out there. It’s just that there is also world-class (NOT a typo) vino being made here if you know where to look.

A little background is in order. Just about everyone knows how grape rootstock was brought to the Americas by the Spanish missionaries, planted here, and that’s pretty much how things got started. But did you know Mexico is actually the oldest (450 years) wine producing country in the Americas?

Legend has it that Hernan Cortez, and his men exhausted their wine supply when celebrating the conquest of the Aztecs in the 1500s, (all that conquesting makes for a heavy thirst!) so as first governor of these new lands, ordered the new colonists to plant 1000 grapevines for every 100 natives in their service. What a guy! That couldn’t have been a hard sell, because wine had been an indispensable part of the daily life of the colonists in Spain, and that wasn’t about to change when they arrived in “New Spain” (certainly understandable!).

The grapes did so well that in 1531, Charles I decreed that all ships sailing to New Spain carry grapevines and olive trees to be planted here. The wine produced from these vines eventually became too good for their own good, however. The quality improved so much that wine exports from Spain to their new colony dropped dramatically. So much so that, in 1595, Phillip II decreed that ALL wine production in New Spain be terminated. It seems that Spanish wine producers and distributors were being squeezed just a little too much! (Not the first time a government sticks its nose into the free market!). The Crown’s local representatives, the Viceroys, strove to implement the 1595 decree eliminating wine production, but sometimes you just can’t keep a good idea down! Despite howls of protest from Spanish wine interests, vine cultivation, while limited, was here to stay, thanks mainly to the missionaries who maintained wine was necessary to perform religious ceremonies. When there is a will there is a way!

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