Mexico has the oldest wine industry in the New World, yet wine is generally a distant third behind tequila and beer when the country’s libations are considered. In fact, the most common response I received from people when I mentioned that I was in Mexico tasting Mexican wine was, “They make wine in Mexico?”
The Spanish introduced vines to Mexico in the 1500s, but due to its tropical climate, only a small percentage of the country’s vines are geographically suited to growing premium quality wine grapes. The predominant wine producing regions tend to be concentrated, unsurprisingly, close to the US border. The most prominent regions are the northern area of Baja California (specifically the Guadalupe Valley) with its proximity to California and Pacific influenced climate, and the northeastern desert-like region of Coahuila.
According to Wilfrido Lopez of Vinoteca, Mexico’s largest distributor of wine, the major issues confronting the country’s wine producers are domestically rooted. The government imposes very high taxes on domestic wines (as high as 40 per cent), thereby resulting in the price of Mexican wines being quite expensive relative to their quality (Lopez actually used the term “overpriced”). Also, the locals have not acquired a taste for table wine, so there is not a lot of support for domestic wine producers. As with most developing industries, the greatest support comes from tourists wanting to try local wines (they sell quite well in hotels, resorts, and restaurants frequented by tourists) and the affluent who see wine as a status symbol (often without regard to the quality).
There are a number of bottles being produced that clearly show promise and the potential of the Mexican wine industry. Cabernet is, of course, the varietal receiving the most attention, even though in many instances it is being grown in less than ideal conditions. In my opinion, the varietals showing the greatest promise were Spanish and southern French varietals such as Grenache, Mourvèdre, Cinsault, Tempranillo and Chenin Blanc. The range of quality is immense, but the potential is evident. However, unless the local tax structure is reformed, price will always be the most significant barrier to growth. The prices of the wines tasted below are local Mexican prices converted to Canadian dollars from pesos.
Casa Madero Chenin Blanc 2010, Coahuila ($12)
Dried mango and papaya fruit with hints of ginger, peach and floral notes. A little shy on concentration, but a nice mouthfeel and touch of minerality on the pleasant finish. A good value and a nice match with slightly spicy Mexican cuisine.
Casa Madero Casa Grande Gran Reserva Chardonnay 2010, Coahuila ($25)
Lots of creamy vanilla-scented oak with baked apple aromas, flavours of spicy apple, pear, and creamy buttery oak, medium body and quite round on the finish. A little heavy-handed on the oak, but decent construction and complexity. A nice match with rich chicken and pork dishes.
Montefiori Fusione Sangiovese Rosado 2010, Valle de Guadalupe ($11)
Zesty and fresh with a hint of sweetness, this easy quaffer is loaded with juicy raspberry and strawberry aromas and flavours with a touch of spice and zippy finish. Great for sipping by the pool in the hot summer sun.
Rivero González Scielo Vino Tinto 2008, Valle de Parras ($12)
Easy to like Cabernet/Shiraz/Merlot blend, with youthful fruity flavours of bright, juicy blackberry, black currant, plum and fresh herbs on the finish. Soft and easy. A good value.
Montefiori Fusione Cabernet/Merlot 2008, Valle de Guadalupe ($13)
A tad overdone with ripe, somewhat over-extracted blackberry and black cherry flavours, lots of chocolate and a little brown sugar on the palate, finishing with quite a bit of alcohol. Had the potential to be a good value, but a little heavy-handed.
Casa Madero 3V 2009, Valle de Parras ($19)
Liquorice, plum, and blackberry with lots of herbaceousness in this interesting blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Tempranillo. Lean-textured and finishes a bit short, with rustic tannins.
Viñedos Malagón Equua 2008, Valle de Guadalupe ($32)
Dark, rich and ripe, this is intense and full-bodied, delivering concentrated layers of ripe blackberry, wild berry and plum flavours with big tannins and a ripe, spicy finish. A blend of 70% Grenache and 30% Petite Sirah.
Tres BC Cabernet Sauvignon 2008, Valle de Guadalupe ($42)
Intense and concentrated, but lacking focus and the finesse with overripe currant, anise, cedar and earth flavours, heavy-handed on the oak and excessive alcohol. A little restraint would make this better.
Viñedos Malagón El Grenache 2006, Valle de Guadalupe ($44)
Deliciously complex, bold, rich, juicy and layered, with dark berry, plum, and spice, full-flavoured, elegant and mouth-coating, this is concentrated without being heavy and ends with a long, persistent finish. A well constructed and very versatile food wine.
Vinicola Adobe Guadalupe Kerubiel 2007, Valle de Guadalupe ($46)
Very nice and full of personality with good concentration, from the meaty notes to the black currant, black cherry and spicy plum; full-flavoured and fresh, with well-integrated tannins. Very Rhône-like, but a bit more extracted and with more alcohol, though still quite tasty. Traditional Rhône blend of Cinsault, Syrah, Mourvèdre, Grenache and a splash of Viognier.
Monte Xanic Gran Ricardo 2007, Valle de Guadalupe ($60)
Hot and over-extracted with lots of milk chocolate and coffee-flavoured toast, ultra-ripe black cherry and plum jam with nonexistent tannins. A little (actually a lot) overdone and hard to justify the price.
Santo Tomás Tardo 2005, Valle de Santo Tomás ($31/375 ml)
A late harvest Tempranillo that is dark, ripe, and hot, showing a little like cherry cough medicine. Could use a little more acidity to help balance the alcohol and sweetness. Intense at 18% plus (probably closer to 20% plus).