There are more than 130 wineries in the Valle de Guadalupe (I touched on the basics of the history of Mexican wine in my last post). During two weeks in Ensenada plus a 3 day weekend in the Valle I visited 15 of them. Before my trip I asked EVERYBODY for advice - muchisimas gracias to my somm friends of Washington and California, wine shop friends of LA, viticultural friends of Australia, Mexico, wherever Bisso considers home plus the invaluable tips from my new amigo Patrick from Beso Imports. It can be rough getting advice from everybody y su madre but I felt like there were some consistently highly recommended wineries when I venn diagrammed everybody’s suggestions. I feel like I got to see a real mix - Viñedos chiquitos nearly singlehandedly run to fancy high-tech operations with Michel Rolland consulting.
I was pleasantly surprised and in some cases thoroughly charmed by the Mexican wines I tasted. The terrain is a super beautiful valley with giant granite boulders and rocky outcroppings. It’s marine influenced and can be quite windy and foggy but it’s also superdry so there are not many trees outside of the old riverbed running down the center of the valley. The modern wine industry is relatively new and at least the folks I had the pleasure to meet were super friendly and generous, not at all snobby.
I didn’t taste a lot of white wines or roses that were particularly “my style” - the best rose I had was the 2018 Sangiovese rose from Paolo Paoloni at Villa Montefiori. He said this is not exported - he sells it to the best restaurants of Mexico City and the resorts of Tulum and Cabo.
The other white wines I really liked came from Lechuza. They bottle two chardonnays - one in stainless called “Acero”, one in 30% new oak barrels called “Roble”. Nice acidity and freshness, both were clean and well made.
I found the red wines more interesting across the board and the Rhône varietals were some of my favorites probably because I associate a rusticity with those grapes wherever they are grown (which probably says more about the pricepoint of wines I drink than anything). The Syrah from Finca la Carrodilla and the old vine Grenache from Lomita called “Pagano” are delicious, both made by Mexican-American winemaker Gustavo Gonzales who used to work for Mondavi and Ornellaia. This guy knows what he is doing. Finca la Carrodilla is organic and seems to be very committed to sustainability and environmental responsibility, our tasting with Alejandra was interesting, cool AND the wines are delicious. Katelyn and I had a really fun tasting there.
Paolo’s “Brunello” labeled “Sangiovese Grosso” in the U.S. was one of the best red wines I tasted - we tried his 2014 and 2015, both alone and with food. Paolo Paoloni went to wine school in Italy and came to Mexico to work for a winery and fruit juice company, he left that job and bought his estate in Valle 20+ years ago. He grows mainly Italian varietals (Sangio, Nebbiolo, Aglianico, plus some Merlot and Cab, Syrah) on a beautiful property set against the mountains. We went on a fun hike with him to the top of one of these hills and looked down from a granite outcropping onto his vineyards below.
A lot of the Bordeaux varietals I tasted from the Valle were blended into wacky blends which isn’t a bad thing it just meant I didn’t have a frame of reference for evaluating the wine beyond whether or not it is delicious. I liked the single varietal Merlot called Via Lactea from Cava Maciel and two Cabernet Grenache blends from Sol y barro and 3Mujeres called “La Mescla del Rancho”. Finca de Carrodilla makes a very drinkable, fruity red blend of Cabernet, Tempranillo and Syrah called “Canto de Luna”. Katelyn’s got this by the glass at Purple Cafe, Woodinville this summer.
If you go
We flew into San Diego, took uber to the border at San Ysidro and walked across. I took a bus from Tijuana to my school in downtown Ensenada, Katelyn rented a car in Tijuana (with Mexican insurance). The dirt roads in the Valle are no joke, sandy, rutted out and eroded with little arroyos. I bottom out on the Betz driveway so it’s a blessing that Katelyn was driving. We stayed in an airbnb in the Kastamay vineyards along the same dirt road as Magoni and Finca Altozano.
Everybody uses Whatsapp and most of our tasting visits were arranged that way or through Facebook Messenger. At the wineries, everybody speaks English but of course we tried to be polite and respectful and speak Spanish as much as we could. All the tasting rooms charge a fee for tasting, many have restaurants and food trucks as well.
Where to find the wines in the US
Patrick has a list of restaurants and wine shops that carry the wineries Beso is importing to Washington state.
Here’s a list of some of my favorite Mexican restaurants - tell me in the comments section below where you like to go, especially for mariscos!