Wine in Mexico has a long history. In the early 1500s, Hérnan Cortés issued a decree that all farmers plant ten grape vines per year, something that was then prohibited in 1699 to protect the interests of winemakers in Spain. Unfortunately, those political winds precipitated in the demise of Latin America’s then-blossoming wine industry, but, today, Mexican winemaking is making a comeback, especially in the Valle de Guadalupe region.
Valle de Guadalupe is located in northwestern Mexico, roughly 50 miles south of Tijuana. It sits on the Baja Peninsula in the embrace of surrounding mountains. High daily temperatures and extremely low humidity ensure pest-free, grape-growing conditions while the chilling Pacific breeze that funnels into the valley brings much needed cooling at the day’s end.
At the moment, many varietals are being experimented with, but it is already clear that big, bold reds like the heat-tolerant Grenache, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Carignan varietals do very well in the Valle. “Temperatures get really high, and some of the more delicate varietals have a tough time maintaining their subtlety,” says Andrea Borgen, general manager and owner of Los Angeles’ Barcito. “It’s still a new wine region, and there’s a lot of room to play.”
Jay Schroeder, beverage director and partner of Quiote and Todos Santos in Chicago, describes the Valle as a melting pot for different grape varietals and vinification styles. “They are producing excellent Cabernet and Merlot, as well as Sauvignon Blanc,” he says.
Maurice DiMarino, certified sommelier and wine and beverage manager for San Diego’s Cohn Restaurant Group, with 27 restaurants, adds that Valle winemakers also do a great job with Barbera, Nebbiolo, and Rhone varieties.
Stylistically, Borgen at Barcito finds Valle wines tend to be less boldly pronounced than those from Napa, with a more restrained fruit and tannin profile. “Think more French bold than California bold,” she says.
DiMarino at Cohn adds that salinity is another classic hallmark of Mexican wines. “Many of these wines have a saline note because the region is dry and lacks water,” he says. “The vines tend to pick up more of the savory salinity from the soil.”
The wines of boutique producer Monte Xanic are recommended by Faith Fulginiti, wine director at Del Frisco’s Double Eagle Steakhouse in San Diego. “They are a very popular choice. Established in 1988, the wines are widely recognized as a benchmark for Baja wine country.”
Schroeder of Quiote and Todos Santos also likes the Monte Xanic wines, especially the Sauvignon Blanc, as well as the lush and fruity Santo Tomás Misión Tinto—a blend of Mission, Carignan, and Tempranillo.
DiMarino looks to the region’s best in fruit-forward and intense red blends. “They are unlike most red blends in that they are blends of grapes which would not work in other parts of the world,” he says. A favorite of DiMarino is the Lechuza Amantes red blend featuring Cabernet Sauvignon, Nebbiolo, and Grenache.
One of the most popular wines on Borgen’s list is Paralelo Ensamble Arenal—a dense Bordeaux-style blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Zinfandel, Petite Sirah, and Barbera.
The brut sparkling wine Casa de Piedra Espuma de Piedra Blanc de Blancs NV is favored by both Borgen and DiMarino. “This is one of the few sparkling wines produced in the Valle, and it’s really remarkable,” Borgen says.
When pairing these wines with food, Fulginiti prefers big and bold steak options. “Our bone-in filet is my suggested pairing, but they can also stand up to the marbling and complexity of a dry-aged ribeye or Wagyu.”
Schroeder likes to pair the region’s whites with seafood. “They play really nicely with bright dishes, even when they’re heavy on acid.”
DiMarino suggests serving some of the region’s lighter red blends—slightly chilled—with tacos or spicy dishes but, he argues, the most versatile wines are Valle rosés. “They have fresh acidity which can work with seafood like ceviche and with grilled white meats,” he says.
But there is still so much to explore in this region, Fulginiti says. “Italian, Spanish, and French varietals are all flourishing in the Valle. Right now, Tempranillo, Nebbiolo, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Malbec, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc, and Sauvignon Blanc seem to be the most popular varietals. However, it remains to be seen which ones will come out on top,” she says.