Monday, July 12, 2010

Guateque 2010: Year of Discovery

Every vintage of Mexican wine brings pleasant surprises as this wine growing region evolves into a global phenomena. The real news about Mexico is that the wine and culinary culture is advancing at a rapid pace, thus fueling our “silent revolution” in creating premium wine. However, we’ve been discovered by serious connoisseurs who are finally listening to what many of us local promoters, wine makers and vineyard managers have been saying for years: “Mexico has the potential to, and is making world-class wine.” In fact, this country has received over three hundred international awards for quality in global wine competitions held in the best wine regions of the world. Serious international wine and food lovers have awoken to the stark reality that Mexico is more than tacos, beer and tequila! 2010 is “the year of discovery” for the distinct wines being produced by talented winemakers in Baja California. The word is out, the secret has been revealed, prepare yourselves.

This year the popular Guateque artisan wine exposition was held at Bibayoff winery in Valle de Guadalupe. The “stars” were the handcrafted, artisan wines created by a diverse collection of passionate people who have recently embraced the art of making wine. Some of these “rising stars” are self-taught, many are graduates of our local wine school at La Escuelita, with a few certified by the new wine making program at UABC in Ensenada. Winemakers at all levels of accomplishment in Mexico are blessed with ripe fruit of superior quality, giving them an important element needed to create high quality wine. The task is to take this “treasured juice” and implement artisan techniques to make drinkable wine. Lately, it seems most folks are getting good with the art form of making good wine from great fruit.

Sometimes it’s hard to get serious and “go to work” at these events, especially after a plate of seafood paella and a few glasses of wine. Despite that, I didn’t come across any wine that wasn’t drinkable, in reality most were emerging in quality from better than average to very good. One outstanding wine comes from Encino or Jorge Cortés of Rancho Cortés. His 2009 Tempranillo is excellent with a nose of plums, black and red cherries flavors, soft and balanced, with hints of vanilla. A little time in the bottle will make this a superb example of what artisan winemakers in Mexico can achieve. Samples of his 2007 Tempranillo simply explains to your palate why Tempranillo is becoming a “star” varietal in Baja California. Jorge has stood out in past events for his high quality handcrafted wines, most likely he’ll go on to become another “star” among Mexico’s best winemakers. In addition, his family produces superior cheese and olive oil in Valle de Guadalupe. Another popular wine and beer maker is handcrafted by Almixia. His passion for producing a diversity of quality products is amazing. Almixia 2008 Grenache shows great promise, nose of sweet, lush cherry with black raspberry, followed by the same flavors ending with an elegant finish. 2009 Almixia in a remarkable blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot, Tempranillo and Zinfandel.

Several good wines were found in “bottled treasures of delight” from: a delicious 2007 Petite Sirah from Terra Nostra, a “sweet” Zinfandel from Temptation, a full-flavored 2009 Tempranillo from Aledu with smokey notes, and racy tannins, a nice 2009 Cabernet/Petite Sirah blend from Vino Sant Jordi, aka: Vinicola Parres. Winemaker Laura Chanes has another winner with her newest 2009 Algo Petite Sirah, spicy fruit flavors, black cherry with hints of caramel and vanilla, aged in toasted French oak barrels for eight months. Paulette 2009, a wonderful !00% Cabernet Sauvignon, fruit forward with hints of cocoa followed by soft tannins. I also enjoyed the wine from Plata .925, a blend of Zinfandel 33% and Tempranillo 67%. In addition, I was impressed with Tardio 2008 Merlot and wine from Vayu 69. Finally, on my way out the door, I tasted two delightful wines from Abel Bibayoff and an awesome Tempranillo from Eva Cotero Altamirano of Tres Mujeres winery. I do want to mention a newcomer to the Baja California wine scene, Madera 5. Their 2008 Tempranillo/Cabernet blend is a palate pleasing wine of good balance with lots of depth and character. The Tempranillo comes from old vines in Valle de San Vicente adding some structure and complex flavors. This blend was aged for ten months in new American and French oak barrels. Madera 5 is one of those wineries that you might want to follow as they continue to improve and evolve with each vintage.

Guateque 2010 presented a collection of handcrafted wines that further illustrates the vastly improving quality of wines coming from Baja California. Zinfandel,Tempranillo, Nebbiolo, Carignan and Petite Sirah appear to be gaining popularity with winemakers and growers as well. Furthermore, the quality of local Cabernet and Merlot continues to improve with intensive vineyard management, the use of new technology, and the creative skills of innovative winemakers.


Serious wine lovers from around the world are now discovering Mexico’s premium wines, so it might be time to fill your cellar with your favorite local wines while you can still find them. Hopefully, the rest of the world won’t discover that Ensenada has become the Wine and Food capital of Mexico. Due to the proximity of the wine country from Ensenada, our chefs have established personal relationships with winemakers and wineries, tasting the available wine inventory daily, while perfecting their skills at matching regional culinary delights with our best wines.

Now that our well-kept secrets are out, let’s hope that the US finishes their border wall, before we’re invaded with wine fanatics and food junkies craving our best wine and gourmet cuisine. Thankfully for us locals, foreigners are only allowed to take one liter of Mexican wine across the border into the US. Otherwise, we may have to call out the troops, check papers of suspected wine drinkers (possibly using profiling techniques) to stop the illegal smuggling of our best wines:)

Steve Dryden is a wine, food and travel writer living in Mexico’s wine country where he guides small group wine tours. He can be reached at: sbdryden@hotmail.com. To find detailed information about Baja wine and gourmet food, please visit: www.bajawineandcuisine.com