Spicy hot days and cool evenings can produce some fantastic wine. With vineyards planted as far back as 1524, Baja, and in particular, the Guadalupe Valley in Mexico has been producing some wonderful vintages.To celebrate Cinco de Mayo, I could’ve chosen a traditional shot of Tequila, blended a Margarita or at least poured an icy Corona. But I remembered a bottle of wine that we bought on our last trip to Cancun. And I was instantly transported back to savoring a glass as we enjoyed a shimmery golden sunset. Pop goes the cork.
A Little History Lesson
In the earliest days of the Spanish settlers in Mexico, they brought with them grapevines since they believed, as many of us still do today, that wine was nutritional, healthy and quite fun to drink. There was little need to convince the Mexican people of this; the Aztecs had been already cultivating the wild Cimarron grape from which juice was extracted, mixed with fruits and slightly fermented to create a beverage known as acachuk. As decreed by Hernan Cortes in 1524, settlers were ordered to plant a thousand grapevines for every one hundred natives in their service.
The expansion of viticulture in the Baja region occurred largely because of the Jesuit priest Fray Eusebio Khun who in1683, founded several missions which began cultivating indigenous grapes and making wine for religious ceremony held at each of the missions. In 1697, Father Juan de Ugarte became the “founding father of Baja’s viticulture.” On one of his trips to Guaymas, he brought back some ‘vitis vinifera’ vine cuttings to be cultivated, since the endemic grape varietals didn’t meet the Spanish criterion for wine grapes. Over the years, ministry and laypersons worked together to increase the volume of wine production as well as the expansion of vine growing regions to where they launched new outreach missions. The divine was happening to the vine. And yes, that was a really bad pun, and so you must drink some good wine to cleanse your brain.
The Baja wine region includes:
- Santo Tomas Valley ~ founded in 1791 and located 18kilometers from the Pacific Ocean maturity temps of the grapes vary between 14 – 36 degrees celsius
- Guadalupe Valley ~ founded in 1834 it is by far the largest area of wine development. Located 30 kilometers north of Ensenada, is 320 meters above sea level and is the most topographically diverse ranging from granite to red clay. Low temps at night and high daytime temps make for an area that has the most favorable environment for maximum grape development.
- Ojos Negro Valley ~ It was so named due to the two oval swamps that looked like black eyes. These marsh areas have all but disappeared due to underground depletion but what remains is a diverse vegetative environment with highly cultivated irrigation systems to accommodate for the higher levels of rainfall.
- San Vicente Valley ~ Located 90 km south of Ensenada with an altitude of 110 meters above sea level, San Vicente has unique vineyards where the grape maturity temps from a minimum of 10 degrees celsius.
Much of Mexico can be too hot to produce very flavorful wines; the heat has a tendency to push the grapes into ripeness before full flavor can be developed. The Guadalupe Valley has a unique microclimate of mineral-rich soil and sea breezes that gently cool the heat; bringing the grapes into a robust maturity. Our wine for tonight is Pitxos a combination of an 07 Grenache, 05 Syrah and an 06 Merlot from Bodegas de Santo Tomas in Ensenada. And while I wouldn’t normally pair a blend like this with chicken, the heat from the spices I’ll use might just be a good juxtaposition. Since I had to do a product shot, I did have a sample. On its own, it’s very rich with black cherry overtones, mild to moderate spice, a definite alcohol vibe (probably from the hot climate), and zippy currant on the finish. And I can say that it travelled quite well (we bought it in ’11); withstanding a plane ride home and undisturbed cellaring since then.
Wines from Mexico are available in the US from Wines from Baja.com.
Whatever your choice of drink to celebrate the day, I wish you a happy and safe Cinco de Mayo.
Que tengas uns noche buenisima!