By Maya Dollarhide
Wine enthusiasts seeking the new “Napa” should head south of the border because while Mexico may be well known for its mezcal and tequila, it is gaining notoriety for its excellent wine.
Just off the Baja Coast, in the heart of Valle de Guadalupe (dubbed “new Napa” by some wine enthusiasts), Mexican winemakers are hard at work.
“The country is in a growth spurt right now. As the market develops and the distribution evolves, more wine becomes available with ease,” reports J.M Woody van Horn, in-house sommelier and general manager for Bracero Cocina de Raiz in San Diego, a restaurant roughly two hours from the Valle de Guadalupe.
At Bracero guests can select from over 75 wines from Mexico—vintages van Horn handpicks during visits to the wineries. A popular selection on the restaurant’s award-winning list is a tempranillo (with a vibrant cherry hue and hint of oak) from Vena Cava Winery that pairs well with fish and paella. van Horn also recommends pairing the restaurant’s Baja Hiramasa, a Baja farmed yellowtail dish, with its Monte Xanic sauvignon blanc.
“The crisp acid mirrors the lime in the aguachile (a spicy version of ceviche), which keeps the mouth watering for more,” he says. When it comes to reds, the region’s wines tend to be a blend. “Mexico does a lot of blending. Some are classic blends, such as the Kerubial by Adobe Guadalupe,” says van Horn. “It's their interpretation of a Rhone Blend. We call them ‘Baja blends.’”
Sommelier and wine director Jill Gubesch travels to Mexico to find great wines to add to her list at Chef Rick Bayless’ renowned Frontera Grill in Chicago. The restaurant typically offers over 20 choices at any given time.
“Overall, the wines from el Valle tend to be lighter-bodied, softer in tannin and more fruit-forward than their counterparts grown in other regions of the world,” she says.
One recommendation Gubesch offers is a blended red wine with pork tacos. “Ours (pork tacos) are marinated in an al pastor style with Guajillo chile and pineapple, so a good match for them would be a Mexican red blend like the La Escuaelita, Estacion Porvenir Tinto made up of Petite Sirah, Cabernet, Zinfandel and Barbera or the Adobe Guadalupe, Kerubiel a blend of syrah, cinsault, grenache and mourvèdre. All of these blends have a nice amount of fruit to match the pineapple in the marinade,” she says. If you like seafood, she suggests an unoaked Mexican chardonnay like Piedra del Sol. “This wine is really beautiful with oysters and it’s great by itself,” Gubesch says.
When pairing Mexican wines with food, it is important to take note of the spices in the dishes.
“We work with dried red chiles, which are in the fruit family. I’ve found over the years that different chiles have different fruit profiles,” Gubesch shares. “I pair the flavor profiles of the chiles with the flavor profiles of the wine.” She suggests to try zinfandel or zin blends when working with black mole and mole poblano “…because you need as much fruit in the wine as you have in sauce or it will make the wine taste sour.”
The growth of winemaking in Mexico will most certainly yield a positive outcome for wine lovers.
“We want to showcase the best Mexico has to offer,” Gubesch says. “I want people to come in and have that realization, ‘wow’ they are really producing some great wines there with a style all of their own.”
Maya Dollarhide is a regular contributor to el Restaurante.
This article is the third in a series on Mexican wines. It was brought to you by the Mexican Wine Coalition, www.mexicanwinecoalition.com, and Los Angeles International Wines, www.lainternationalwines.com, importer of Mexican wines from Bodegas de Santo Tomas, Barón Balché, and Viñedos Don Leo.