By Ed Avis
When a good friend of Youssef Benjelloun’s returned from a trip to Mexico’s Baja Peninsula about two years ago and told him he had tried some fantastic wines, he laughed. Benjelloun, president of Volubilis Imports, Inc. in Los Angeles, a wine importer, had never heard much positive about Mexican wines.
“Wines from Mexico? They had never entered my mind,” Benjelloun says. “So the next weekend we drove down there and tried some -- and I liked them!”
Over the course of the next year Benjelloun tried nearly 500 wines. He eventually struck a deal with nine wineries to import a portfolio of 26 wines.
“We chose them based on taste, price, and how they pair with Mexican food,” he says.
Volubilis Imports’ business has been brisk, primarily with fine-dining Latin-cuisine restaurants and small chains. “More and more people are becoming aware of the wines from Mexico and are getting into the habit of asking for wines from there,” Benjelloun says. “And the wines are so good that whoever tries them orders more.”
Like the Mediterranean
About 80 percent of Mexico’s originates in the Baja area.
“The terroir of Baja California is very interesting,” says Thomas Egli, chief winemaker at VYVA, a coalition of Mexican wineries and wine-related businesses. “It offers a similar climate to the Mediterranean, with the four seasons and hot days. The most important: cool nights!”
Egli adds that a wide range of Spanish, French, German and Italian wine grapes grow well in the region, and that the lengthy growing season allows varieties with long vegetative cycles to reach optimum maturity.
The wines produced in the region are primarily blends, not varietals, Egli says. “And as there is no regulatory board, there are no limits on the creativity of the producers to create new blends,” he adds.
The success of Mexican wines in the Baja region is also due to the skills of the winemakers. For example, VYVA is a project of Hugo D’Acosta, a veteran winemaker who studied in France and Italy and has been instrumental in developing Mexico’s wine industry since 1988.
Another experienced winemaker in the region is Joaquin Prieto of Tres Valles Vitivinicola.
“Our philosophy is to work in the vineyards as best as possible, and to intervene as little as possible in the winemaking so that our wine is the most natural and so we can say it is made honestly from the vineyard to the glass,” Prieto says.
Coming to America
Benjelloun is not the only importer to have discovered Mexican wines – they are becoming more available to restaurants in nearly every U.S. state.
Says Egli: “Every Mexican restaurant that has Corona, Sol, Dos Equis or Negro Modelo on the menu should also have Mexican wine on the menu!”
This article is the second 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.