Baja Wines

Many visitors to Mexico, and Baja in particular, come from California and have a fairly sophisticated palate when it comes to wine, especially considering all the famous wine regions of both northern and southern California. 

However, they may not even be aware that Mexico’s wine capital is just an hour south of Tijuana in the valleys around Ensenada, and that it produces almost 90 percent of the country’s wine. Visitors are probably also not aware that several California winemakers have ventured south to work at some of the wineries in Baja.

The region has changed significantly in the past 10 years, and innovators have been producing wine far better than the mass-produced product for which the area was once known.

Charlie and I have traveled through the Valley de Guadalupe on several occasions and have observed the lush beauty of the valley. The main road is a paved two-lane highway that curves inland from Ensenada, or you can also access the valley if coming from California by crossing the border at Tecate and traveling towards Ensenada. 

As you traverse the valley, it’s obvious how lush and rich the soil is, as there is a great deal of agriculture in addition to the grapes growing along the road and hillsides. There are many dirt roads that branch off the main road anchored by grapevines on all sides, and most of them lead you to the winery, many of which have tasting rooms for the public.

Wine grapes were first planted here in the 18th century by Jesuit priests.  In 1987, Monte Xanic, the first of the Valle de Guadalupe boutique wineries, began sprouting up. Today, there are more than 100 wineries of varying sizes, some of which offer boarding and/or restaurants.

The dry terrain is well suited to varieties from regions like southern France and southern Italy, Greece, Spain and Portugal — with Sangiovese, Nebbiolo, Zinfandel, Vermentino and Viognier (among others) as standouts.

This week I would like to introduce you to a luscious red wine from Montefiori Vineyards. The 2016 Shiraz Cabernet from the Valley de Guadalupe is 70 percent Shiraz and 30 percent Cabernet. It’s a very elegant wine with a lovely balance between the fruit and the tannins, as well as a fine integration from the oak. The deep purple color has excellent density and presents aromas of ripe plums, chocolate and earth.  The wine has been aged in French oak barrels, has great structure and is an ideal accompaniment to red meats, duck, suckling pig, wild boar and aged cheeses. At 14 percent alcohol, the wine is still very soft on the palate. The grapes are grown in the valley and watered with the freshwater that drains from the mountains. You can find this wine at the Selecto, Chedraui, and Europea at prices ranging from $400 - $485 pesos per bottle. The wine could easily compete with a Napa blend which could cost triple the price.

Helga lives with her husband Charlie in San Jose del Cabo and is a former restaurateur and wine buyer from the San Francisco Bay Area of California.