It’s common to see Cinco de Mayo (May 5) referred to as “Mexico’s Independence Day,” a celebration of the Mexican Revolution. That’s not quite accurate. It’s actually a remembrance of the Battle of Puebla in 1861; Mexican Independence Day is Sept. 16. There is, however, a revolution to celebrate on Cinco de Mayo: a revolution in Mexican wine.
Winemaking in Mexico dates back to the 1790s, when Hugo D’Acosta first planted grapevines in Baja California’s Guadalupe Valley, not far south of San Diego. In fact, Mexico is the oldest wine producing country in the Americas.
The best wine coming out of Mexico—and 90 percent of all of Mexico’s wine—is still produced in the wine growing region of northern Baja California, where six valleys surround the city of Ensenada, the most important being the Guadalupe Valley. It’s quickly becoming Mexico’s Napa Valley. The climate and soil in this part of Northern Baja is very similar to Napa and Sonoma in California and to the Rhone Valley in France. Sandy soil and a Mediterranean climate with hot summers but cool sea breezes and fog make the region optimal for growing wine grapes. Each of the valleys near Ensenada have slightly different microclimates, and the grape varieties that fare the best there are Sauvignon Blanc, Chenin Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc. But you’ll also find Tempranillo, Zinfandel, Chardonnay and more.
Mexican wines aren’t easy to find in this country, and I’m not aware of any that are readily available in Utah wine stores. In my opinion, that’s a shame and an oversight—especially since well-made Mexican wines are such a good value. Mexican wine tends to run from about $4 per bottle to $30 for really excellent wine, which makes them well worth seeking out.
One beautiful Mexican wine to watch for is Monte Xanic Viña Kristel. It’s a blend of 80 percent Sauvignon Blanc with 20 percent Semillon, aged in French Oak—a wine that pairs wonderfully with seafood tostadas or enchiladas. Oddly, a guy whose family emigrated to Mexico from Russia at the turn of the century owns the Xanic winery. A Russian making elegant wine in Northern Mexico? Go figure.
An exceptional red wine from Mexico is Valmar Cabernet Sauvignon. Its soft tannins partner perfectly with chile-dominated Mexican dishes. Too much tannin clashes with chile flavors, but the Valmar is spot on. Another premium red wine from Mexico is Chateau Camou El Gran Vino Tinto. This is a well-balanced blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc in the French Bordeaux style. And while most people tend to think of beer as the classic accompaniment for Mexican food, Chateau Camou El Gran Vino Tinto is outstanding with chicken in Oaxacan red mole.
The Chateau Camou winemaker Victor Torres is particularly proud of his white wine blend called Flor de Guadalupe. And he should be, given that this low-priced wine—about $6—beat out a number of prestigious California wines in a Napa wine competition.
Other top-notch Mexican wine producers include Rincón de Guadalupe, Casa de Piedra, Viñas Pijoan, Hacienda la Lomita, Viñas de Garza and Vinisterra. As I said, Mexican wines aren’t easy to find in this country. But if you should come across a cache, by all means do grab a few and take them out for a test drive. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised; I know your money manager will thank you. Mexico and Cinco de Mayo isn’t just about tequila, Corona and Margaritas anymore.