While I was on vacation over the holidays'which I combined with doing some culinary and oenological research'I came across a very interesting wine bar in the most unexpected of places: Cabo San Lucas in Baja California, Mexico.
I’ve written here and there about Mexican wines in the past, but frankly, there wasn’t much to write about. However, in recent years the wines of Mexico'especially those produced in and around northern Baja California’s Guadalupe Valley'get more and more interesting. Some can now go toe to toe with wines from Australia, Argentina, Chile, New Zealand, Europe and North America; increasingly, they win awards at wine competitions and garner acclaim from wine experts.
Personally, I wish more Mexican wines were available in this country, since the best ones often represent very high quality with a very low price tag. However, as I discovered down in Cabo, don’t assume that just because the wine was made in Mexico that it’ll be cheap.
In Cabo San Lucas, Ron and Janett Kleist (she’s from Mexico; he, from California) own and operate a wonderful wine “bistro” called Sancho Panza. Always one to sniff out the vino, I stumbled upon a wine tasting of blended Mexican red wines at Sancho Panza during my Mexico vacation. It was an eye-opener, the reason being that while I’ve sung the praises of certain white wines from Mexico for some time, I haven’t been too enthralled with the reds. Well, these Mexican reds ranged from very good to exquisite.
As mentioned, much of the best wine coming out of Mexico is produced in the region of northern Baja California, where six valleys surround the city of Ensenada, the most important being the Guadalupe Valley. It’s fast becoming Mexico’s Napa Valley. The climate and soil in this part of northern Baja is quite similar to Napa and Sonoma in California, and to the Rhone Valley in France. Sandy soil and a Mediterranean type of climate with hot summers softened by cool sea breezes and frequent fog make the region optimal for growing wine grapes. Each of the valleys near Ensenada has a slightly different microclimate, and the grape varietals that fare best are Sauvignon Blanc, Chenin Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc. But increasingly grape growers in the region are branching out into Tempranillo, Grenache, Chardonnay, Zinfandel and other more difficult varietals.
Anyway, at the Kleist’s Boutique Mexican Red Meritage wine tasting, I was struck dumb by the depth, complexity and boldness of some of the wines. Among my favorite discoveries at Sancho Panza was a blend of Grenache, Tempranillo and MisiÃ³n grapes from the small, family-owned Vinisterra Winery called ViÃ±a Domino Tinto (red) 2003. The grapes come from vineyards in the Guadalupe and San Vicente Valleys and combine to produce a lovely, soft, cocoa-infused wine that was sensational with the Mediterranean-style tapas served at Sancho Panza.
Stepping up a notch in density and tannins was another interesting discovery: a Cabernet/Grenache blend from Vitivinicola Tres Valles called Jala Tinto 2002. As Ron Kleist told me, the story of how he wound up owning a wine bar in Cabo San Lucas'an adventure that initially involved a stint selling American wines in Mexico'it occurred to me that he ought to be exporting good Mexican wines to the United States, where knowledge and appreciation of them is still thin.
If you can get your mitts on a bottle of Yumano Tinto Rustico 2003, by all means ,do so. It’s a luscious Italian-style blend of Nebbiolo and Barbera grapes and among the best Mexican wines I’ve ever tasted. That might not seem like much of an honor, but keep your eye on these Mexican wines'they’re coming on strong.