I adore giving tours of the wine valley where I live and work and introducing people to the distinctive wines from this region. So when my friend, Liz, from Punta Banda facebooked me and said she had some special friends visiting and wanted to take them winetasting, my mind started working immediately. We could take them here here and there! Or there there and here! Oh my, there are so many interesting wineries with AMAZING wines, it is hard to choose … Impossible to fit into one day. We could go rustic or we could go ultra sophisticated. We could stay on paved roads or really go off the beaten path. We could stick to a neighborhood or try to hit one in each mini-region of the valley. Some wineries have four or five wines– or dozens! — and a variety of tastings. Some wineries have only one or two wines (not to be overlooked!) Some wineries have very approachable, friendly winemakers and others not so much. When I discovered that Liz’s guests are both chefs, and world-renowned chefs at that, my challenge became even more discriminating.
It is difficult to do more than three wineries in a day. Since I landed in the Valle de Guadalupe in May of last year I’ve made a career out of investigating the wines of the region, learning the history and culture, and talking with the winemakers and staff about their methods and philosophies. I try to go to at least a couple of wineries a week just to keep up on new releases, to talk shop, ask for advice, and to keep myself involved. Nevertheless I do not consider myself an expert! There is so much to learn and so many winemakers and wines that I have not yet discovered and are still on my horizon. By the same token, my nose and palette are an ever-developing work in progress so it’s valuable for me to return to past haunts, try again, and continue to compare notes.
Tasting on my own, without companions, I have managed to hit four wineries in a day … though my notes for the fourth winery are decidedly blurry. Recently I went on a tasting tour with a local sommelier, a chef, a student of enology and a couple of other wine maniacs and we managed four wineries. But we started at 10 AM and didn’t end till 7 PM. That’s pretty hard core! It’s not just that the pours are often generous and many people prefer not to waste wine in the spittoons, but also that our local gems are often spread apart on formidably bumpy, rutted dirt roads. Perhaps most importantly as I’ve mentioned in previous posts, wine is convivial. It’s not just about drinking. There are stories to tell, aesthetics to experience, tours to take, friendships to make and buckets of laughter and anecdotes. It is a full, sensory experience. Unless you’re a real pro it makes sense to squeeze less quantity and more quality into a day of touring and tasting.
On the morning that I met Liz and her friends Chef John Ash and Chef Mei Ibach it was cold, dark, rainy and altogether an inauspicious day weather-wise. We met at Los Globos, the wine and cheese shop at the only stoplight between Ensenada and Tecate on highway 3. Introductions were lively, and in good spirits we high-tailed it to Tres Mujeres Winery– a favorite of Liz’s and a thoroughly charming place to begin.
Ivette Vaillard, along with Eva Cotero and Laura Macgregor combined resources to create a “cooperative” in order to develop their internationally recognized handcrafted wines. In the small, enchanting wine cellar at Tres Mujeres we sampled the three following wines:
2010 “Terrazas Grenache,” the result of a Zinfandel/Misión field blend and Grenache grown on a hillside terrace. A fresh, bright, floral, light-to-medium-bodied red. A perfect summer wine for hot days and cold dishes. $20
2009 “Isme” Merlot de Eva, has a very strong following. Named after Eva Cortero’s daughter, Ismene who is a chef. Very spicy with lots of black pepper, dense ripe fruit and pronounced oak. $20
Our overall favorite was “La Mestiza,” a Franco-Mexican blend which is 1/3 Syrah grown in Feillunas, a village in Languedoc-Roussillon (in the south of France, bordered by Spain and the Mediterranean Sea) and 2/3 Ivette’s Zinfandel/Misión field blend with Grenache grown here in the Valle de Guadalupe. The bold fruit is from the Mexican vines and the color and body is from the French, according to our delightful hostess. The vineyard project in Languedoc is one of many innovative ventures spearheaded by local wine guru Hugo D’Acosta and now includes around 20 participants. When observing the velvety mouth-feel, Ivette commented in French, “C’est comme le petit jésus qui descend dans la gorge comme un maillot rouge de velours.” Which to the best of my poor translating abilities is more or less: It’s like the little Jesus who goes down the throat as red velvet. Hmmmmm. If anyone understands this lovely but perplexing phrase better than me, give me a shout! $25
Our next stop was to be “la escuelita,” the “little” wine school which was founded in 2003 due to Hugo D’Acosta’s efforts to kickstart the artisanal wine movement back in the late nineties. Thomas Egli, Hugo’s Swiss born enologist and right-hand man was enthusiastic about hosting Chef John and entourage for a tour and tasting from the barrels. Unfortunately our visit coincided with the staff’s holiday party and we were unable to rearrange our schedules. So we’ve shelved that excursion for Chef John’s next trip to the valley ….
It turned out to be more than propitious to skip the escuelita tour because there is only so much you can fit into a day …. We headed to our next destination: Vinícola Torres Alegre y familía.
We were running a bit behind in schedule …. It was raining. The roads were impressively awful. I entertained my guests with one of Hugo’s famous quips: “Good roads, bad tourists. Bad roads, good tourists!” Very Lao Tzu, Hugo! We were good tourists on this rather gloomy day and just as remarkably cheerful about our wine valley adventure as the day was wet and cold.
Leo Torres, son of Dr. Victor Torres met us at the winery and as it turned out in a particularly Mexican form of serendipity, we were right on time. Dr. Torres was educated in Bordeaux and his son Leo was born there. Fortunately for us, Leo speaks excellent English (as well as Spanish, French and Japanese) and his passion for winemaking, his admiration of his father’s accomplishments, and his understanding and enthusiasm of the methods used at Torres Alegre had us thoroughly spellbound.
We sampled the following three wines:
2011 “Del Viko” 100% French Colombard. This refreshing white wine is characterized by a hint of sweetness with pineapple, peach and citrus notes. This was Chef Mei’s favorite pick of the day and she went home with a bottle. The “Del Viko” line of wine was developed by Victor Torres junior who thought the winery ought to produce affordable and more accessible wines alongside their award winning premium vintages. $20
2003 “La Llave Tinta,” a Bordeaux styld blend of 70% Cabernet Franc and 30% Merlot. This wine develops over time in the glass, opening with red fruit, basil and tobacco, then exhibiting leather and mint as it lengthens. Honestly this is not a go-to wine for me but it is sophisticated and distinctive and most assuredly an amazing pairing with lamb and mint jelly. $44
The 2006 “Cru Garage” Grenache, was today’s all-around winner which is no surprise. It took the Gold Medal in the 2012 International Wine & Spirits tasting competition held in Valladolid, Spain. This robust Grenache is an epiphany of hibiscus flowers, raspberry and dark cherry. It is savory and full-bodied without sacrificing the lovely red fruit expected in a Grenache and has a long spicy (white pepper?) finish. “Cru” suggests the quality of the fruit and the high standards of vinification demanded at the winery. “Garage” refers to the winery’s humble beginnings making wine wherever they could find space. An unforgettable vintage. $67
Feeling edified, educated and thrillingly wine-lubed (though quite chilled), we now eagerly set out for our next destination: foooooood.
Next stop: Corazón de Tierra.
I’ve chosen to separate this mega-post into two parts. Hope you’ll join me again for more tasting adventures in the Valle de Guadalupe with me, my friend Liz, and Chefs John Ash and Mei Ibach. Salud!
More info on Chef John Ash and Chef Mei Ibach: