Not infrequently I hear complaints from visitors to the wine valley that Mexican wines are just too darned pricey. Not everyone can afford to drink $30 bottles of wine every day. For those of you who DO regularly purchase and enjoy Guadalupe Valley wines in the $20 – $50 + range, you may still find the purpose of this blog post edifying. I set out to discover, explore and report on the best value wines for $20 and under. For the purpose of this post I am not including the larger wineries who you will find represented at Sorianos, Calimax and Walmart. Rather I sought out the boutique and the artisanal; in short the small-production bodegas and backyard wine makers who proudly sell their wares.
WHITE IS WHITE
If you are a white wine lover, you are in luck. The valley produces a variety of lovely varietals including Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Chenin Blanc, Palomino, Viognier, Colombard and Moscatel and nearly every winery produces at least one affordable white. Following are my top picks:
JC Bravo’s Palomino is a fresh, uncomplicated dry white wine with terrific versatility. 200 pesos (around $16)
Emevé produces a very respectable Chardonnay. This wine passes through stainless steel for 18 months then 3 more in American oak barrels. Gold in color with a honeydew bouquet and a bite of mid-palate green apple. Just a hint of spicy oak. 160 pesos (around $13)
Las Nubes. “Kuiiy” (Kiliwa word for cloud). 50/50 Sauvignon Blanc/Chardonnay. Fragrant with melon, apricot and grapefruit. Refreshing and clean, a lovely accompaniment to seafood. 200 pesos (around $16)
Mogor Badan. Chasselas. Grassy, bright, refreshing, palate cleansing and I adore the label. 200 pesos
I have to be honest with you. Few white wines leave a lasting impression with me but Quinta Monasterio’s “Natal” knocked my socks off. An irresistibly fresh Chardonnay aged in 500 liter French oak barrels for 4 months. Loaded with orchard fruits, most notably peach, and with delectable hints of butterscotch. 200 pesos
My new favorite white, however is Andrés Blanco’s just-released “Ulloa Quinto Bueno,” a Sauvignon Blanc blended with a splash of Moscatel di Canneli. This is a maverick of a white and quite untraditional. Highly perfumed with delicate aromas of orange blossom and loaded with luscious tropical fruit like guanabana and without the edginess I often associate with a Sauv Blanc. This is an uexpectedly friendly, plush and well-structured white with a lingering finish. Cellar door price is a steal at 180 pesos (under $15!) Ask me about the meaning of “quinto bueno.”
PRETTY IN PINK
Rosés are undergoing a renaissance around the world and Guadalupe Valley is no exception. Long maligned due to over commercialization of insipid, sweet rosés lacking in character and complexity; European styled dry rosés are making a comeback. Terrific accompaniments to summer salads and spicy BBQ’s. Perfect sippers on their own. Here are a few I’ve found:
Vinícola Retorno offers “Piluchas,” a dry rosé of 50/50 Zinfandel/Grenache. Enologo Adrián García is a professor at UABC and has a charming little bodega in his backyard. This wine has lovely acidity, a dusting of mineral tannins and a hint of cocoa to round out the bright red fruit in this delightful, young and quite richly colored wine. Juicy and aromatic. 180 pesos (under $15)
Viñedos Pijoan has “Convertible Rosa” (Pink Cadillac). This wine is a departure from Pau’s cult wines named after his wife and daughters. His European style dry rosé of Zinfandel, Grenache and Colombard is fruity on the nose, crisp and sophisticated on the palate. Expect strawberry, raspberry and juicy hibiscus flowers with a touch of sour cherry. Fresh and vivid with a clear violet/pink color. 180 pesos (under $15)
Moebius “Antithesis” is a Mourvédre based dry rosé with Chenin Blanc and a splash of Syrah. An understated dry rosé demonstrating unripe strawberry on the palate with pronounced acidity and a hint of minerality and green herbs. I get a whiff of gamey truffles on the nose too. Wine maker Andrés Blanco suggests pairing this wine with raw seafood. 180 pesos (under $15)
“Ulloa Rosado,” a dry rosé of Tecate-grown Nebbiolo is a phenomenal, distinctive fruit-saturated wine with hints of clay pot and a most pleasing, fresh berry patch sweetness that is almost too delicious for words. I’ve never been so excited about a rosé. It’s a tour de force and if it was up to me everybody would be drinking this wine and the world would be a happier place. 180 pesos (under $15)
RED RED WINE
If you’re like me, red wine is your go-to beverage of choice. Now don’t get me wrong. I dig me some Chateau Lafite or Mouton any day of the week and I wouldn’t turn my nose up at a Barrachi Super Tuscan or a Napa Valley Sloan red … but that’s just not in my budget at the moment. Hence, I’ve adjusted my palate to less extravagant predilections and have been rewarded with the hearty, rustic, artisanal wines that speak honestly of the heart, heat, earth, sea breeze, sweat and passions formed in the crucible of our Guadalupe Valley. Hey, was I getting poetic just then?
Raul’s Cava. The only way to find Raul is for a mutual friend to take you there. He hangs no signs on the road or in front of his house yet any day of the week you can find locals stopping by Raul’s for a shared cup in his rustic underground wine cellar. His wines are handcrafted and uncomplicated and his dry Cabernet is only 70 pesos (that’s under 6 bucks, folks!) Raul’s wine is the true “underground” experience. Let me know if you want to go.
La Cava de los Reyes. The Reyes family has been making artisanal wine for over 50 years. Abel Reyes was born and raised in Valle de Guadalupe and ages his wines exclusively in glass carboys. He produces one sweet wine which I don’t care for but his dry Cabernet Sauvignon is quite respectable, and I rather enjoy his dry, fruit-forward Syrah. His vineyard is organically farmed and Abel only uses native yeasts. His wines are sulfited but unfiltered. Abel and his wine can be found only on Saturdays and Sundays at km 88 right across from the Villas del Valle turn-off on the Porvenir/Tigre road. For 100 pesos (around $8) it’s hard to beat.
La Casa Vieja, one of the best-loved spots for locals to wine and dine has a slew of friendly, easy-drinking young wines that are fun, refreshing and uncomplicated. Wine maker Tom Toscano utilizes organic methods in his vineyards, allows his wines to ferment naturally with native yeasts and does not sulfite. He barrels his wines primarily in neutral wood to preserve the expression of the fruit. Tom’s current favorite is his Grenache, a lovely bright ruby colored wine, aromatic, young, fruity and well-balanced. A bottle of Tom’s Grenache will set you back 160 pesos (around $13) I have to confess to you though that I’m currently fascinated with his Mission wine. This wine is made from some of the oldest vines in the valley. Mission grapes are not known to deliver robust or complex wines, nevertheless I think that Tom has worked with them enough to pull out their fullest expression. I think it’s a terrific table wine and for 80 pesos a bottle ($6.50), you can’t go wrong. Or pick up a jug for 200 pesos ($16)!
Vinos de J Martino offers three wines under her “Tango” label, all for only $20. If you like a fruit-forward, jammy California-styled Zinfandel, you’ll love her “Solo Tango” which is a consistent crowd pleaser and a highly popular beverage among local ex-pats. “Tango Pasión” is her Nebbiolo, a big, inky and tannic wine which improves with a hard decant and is a cellar-worthy wine with terrific aging potential. My favorite is her “Two to Tango,” a robust blend of the Zinfandel and Nebbiolo which displays ripe dark fruit, great body and a long finish. Keep an eye out for Jo Ann’s soon-to-be released Chardonnay! Contact Jo Ann Martino (aka: Joanna Jones) directly for sales: [email protected]gmail.com.
Besitos de Baja offers a luscious and elegant “Amistoso” made of Tempranillo, Syrah and Grenache. Look for black cherry, strawberry, violet, and tobacco on the nose and a complex palate of red and dark fruits, cinnamon, black pepper, and notes of wood and vanilla. Fragrant and delicious! $20. Besitos de Baja also offers an exquisite “Vin Apertif Rouge” a red dessert wine bursting with exotic flavors and a heady nose of orange, ripe plum and sweet vanilla. Full-blown on the palate, look for black cherry, bitter orange, cinnamon and dark chocolate. Enjoy this wine for special occasions or as a daily digestif. 375 ml for $20. Contact Ann and Dennis directly for sales: [email protected]
Barón Balché, the largest boutique winery I’m featuring in this post has “Mexcla de Tintos” (essentially their house selección de barricas), an unusual but harmonious blend of Malbec, Grenache, Cab Franc and Carignan. A young, medium bodied red with pronounced tannins, barrel notes and a pleasant smokiness. 190 pesos (around $15) at the cellar.
In my humble opinion, one of the best kept secrets in Guadalupe Valley is Swiss-born, retired chef Aime Despond’s winery Sol y Barro. Aime produces only one wine, Sol y Tierra, an elegant, beautifully crafted blend of Grenache and Cabernet Sauvignon. His wine is complex, sophisticated, and full-bodied with rich forest berry flavors and a luscious palate. A steal for $20/pop. Aime is perhaps even better known for his exquisite, hand-crafted winery which he lovingly and painstakingly built himself from the ground up, using traditional cob construction techniques.
Are you thirsty yet? There’s a tremendous variety here in the valley and it’s a thrill to continue my investigations. Lately I’ve had the pleasure to sample Paulo Paulini’s newly released Brunello and am smitten. I also had the delight of experiencing Andrés Blancos new wines and cannot stop talking about them. What talent and passion go into these elixirs! Stay tuned for more. Next on my agenda are wine makers Alvaro Patanek, Oscar Obregón and Ludwig Hussong. Can’t wait to share!
Salud, my friends. (ching ching)
P.S. My wines are getting mighty spicy in the barrel. What an experience to witness their evolution. It’s über–wonderful. Thanks for tuning in xo