The dirt roads will get ya. It had rained the week before and we could still see the deep gashes where the rivulets had cut into the ochre red soil. And there are pot holes, many of them with water from the two days of rain last week. Then the steep climbs that seldom show any on coming traffic. There ends any real criticisms I can direct at the Valle de Guadalupe. If you are here to comment on the traffic, then you got some material to work with. But, if you are here for the wine or the food, then this place is a hidden gem. Maybe not so hidden, because you see enough cars with the California plates that make you wonder if you are really south of that highly politicized and spinned-to-ad-nauseum border. Yes, we are in Mexico.
At the time of writing this, there are over a 100 wineries in Baja. Roughly, the bulk of the wineries are in the Valle de Guadalupe. There are some excellent hidden ones in Valle de Grulla, SantaTomas, San Vicente and Tecate. The ground water that supplies the vines in Guadalupe is salinic. Some see it as a flaw. Some see it as something adds to the character to the wine. It is subjective. Water is not a problem south of here. Grape quality is excellent and it is not unheard of wineries in the Valle using fruit from other parts to add to their harvest.
A few things about the Valle. Summers can be scorching enough to burn the tops of the canopy and fruit in Fall has been known to shrivel before harvest due to heat waves. The other problem is water. This part of Mexico as it is California is under a drought. Water is precious here and well water is used to supply drip irrigation to the vines. With ambitious projects in the works- hotels, resorts, more wineries, this resource is bound to be squeezed. Will be interesting to see how it evolves.
In no particular order, some wineries we visited and wines we tasted.
Corona del Valle. This place is not yet on the Ruta del Vino map. So, follow the directions off the Hwy 3 as you see them. Don’t mind if you get lost. From the front, it looks like very much a working winery. The tasting room is in the back and is essentially a bar next to an outdoor restaurant under green and yellow sails. On one side you see the rows of vineyards and on the other side is an olive orchard. Beyond that is what looks from here either a lime or lemon grove. I think it is a lime grove. Our host was Saul who was incredibly versed not just in the wines themselves but had a great working knowledge about viticulture, the varietals themselves as well as history of this place
Corona del Valle produces several wines including a Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Sauvignon Blanc, Tempranillo and a Chardonnay. Our favorite from here however was the 2014 Tempranillo-Nebbiolo. A quinitessential Valle wine with an early ripening grape with a late ripening variety. Very well structured and the perfume of the Nebbiolo carrying itself well.
Vena Cava is an interesting property with a restaurant (Corazon de la Tierra), a food truck (Troika) and a winery – Vena Cava. At first blush, a pile of overturned boats, this winery vigorously uses reclaimed material. Watering hoses weaved into a sun shade. Wood from boat cabins hammered into walls. The tasting room is unlike any I have seen. The roof is the inside of a large fishing boat and the ambience is intimate and inviting. The wines are all well made and they even play around with an orange wine made from Chardonnay. Standout was the Cabernet Franc Rosé and the Reserva which is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah.
F Rubio is rather tucked away and can be easily overlooked. It is another family owned winery. There is a nice little bistro that serves amazingly good empanadas. The wines here are also quite tasty across the board. The 2013 Montepulciano and the slightly higher priced 2013 Herencia (Cab Sauv/Merlot/Malbec) are the ones that leave a good impression.
Torres Allegre y Familia is an ambitious project in the Valley. Here the focus is on small batch premium wines. The mantra here is minimal intervention and the patriarch of the family, Victor Torres was the first enologist from the region with a PhD from Bordeaux. With careful attention in the vineyards and extensive use of new French oak (not always necessarily to my taste), this winery produces 12 bottlings. Leonardo was our gracious host and of the 8 bottles he opened, our favorite was easily the 2013 Llave Blanca (Chenin Blanc and Sauvignon Blanc), 2006 Cru Garage Tempranillo and the 2013 Cru Garage Tempranillo.
More wineries and wines to follow…
We could spend a whole year just talking about Spanish wines! There are so many diverse regions, several indigenous grapes, grapes that change their names depending on the region and not to mention varied styles of making wines. Today, I am keeping things simple and just talking about one area – Priorat.
Quality designations in Spain: Depending on quality assignments, wines are classified as
DOCa/DOQ (Denominación de Origen Calificada),
DO (Denominación de Origen)
Vino de la Tierra etc..
DOCa/DOQ is the highest level on the classification. Only 2 regions in Spain qualify for DOCa. One you all know very well. Rioja.
The other is Priorat.
Sometime in the 12th century, the monks of Scala Dei used to hang around this area which is now in modern day Catalonia. They were probably the first to grow grapes here. The prior of Scala Dei ran things in this neighborhood. Hence the name, Priorat.
So, what’s the big deal about Priorat: It’s the soil. Llicorella is a kind of slate that is unique to this region of Catalonia. It doesn’t rain much here and the soil is kind of difficult to work on. It gives the wines that incredibly concentrated and mineral quality. Also, the vines in Priorat have really low yields. Land is quite limited here, and production is therefore quite limited.
What kind of grapes goes in Priorat?: Although Cariñena is the prominent grape, the wine can be a blend of Garnacha, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. Yes, Priorat is a red wine.
What kind of wine is it?: It is a red wine. It is incredibly delicious and complex. The taste of individual bottlings may vary depending on the blends used, but they are all very concentrated, rich wines with a good streak of minerality. These wines have fair amount of tannins and can age gracefully. I recommend opening and decanting at least an hour before serving.
Food pairing?: Like bigger wines such as Bordeaux, Chateauneuf du Pape, Priorat shows well with smoky meat and strong cheese. However, we paired it recently with some chicken tacos and it was incredible!
I want some: Good thinking! We do have a few cases available for sale. Terra de Fic is from Ferre i Catasus and is now retailing for $38.99. Of course, if you a club member, you pay $31.20! for a Priorat!