Psst…here’s a little something we think you should know: there are some really good wines being made in Mexico. Right under our noses, just across the border, almost within eyeshot of San Diego. It’s happening in Valle de Guadalupe (Guadalupe Valley), the heart of Mexico’s wine country in northern Baja California, just outside the seaside city of Ensenada. Vineyards have been tended and wine produced there for over two centuries, an endeavor begun by Jesuit missionaries in the 1700s; continued by Dominican missionaries in the 1800s; enhanced by Russian immigrants in the early 1900s; and modernized by the 50, or so, private wineries operating today. Valle de Guadalupe is roughly two-thirds the size of Napa Valley, and enjoys conditions that favor quality grape growing and winemaking — porous soils, dry daytime heat, and cool maritime air flowing inland from the Pacific Ocean at night.
Although winemaking in Valle de Guadalupe is deeply rooted, from the vantage point of U.S. wine consumers it is an elusive, if not entirely unknown, wine region whose products few have opportunity to experience. The fact is, while wine production in the region is expanding and most wineries are located within 100 miles of the border (with California), very little Mexican wine makes its way across and onto the shelves of U.S. wine stores or otherwise into Americans’ wineglasses. Few Mexican wines are imported into the United States; Mexican wineries are not permitted to ship wine directly to U.S. consumers; and only a handful of U.S. wine merchants (most in Southern California) offer Mexican wines for sale in store or online.
Given the scarcity of Mexican wines in the United States, we at WOTBH really didn’t know what we were missing until discovering this red blend — “Gabriel,” produced by the Adobe Guadalupe winery in Valle de Guadalupe — on the wine list of a high-end Mexican restaurant in Washington, D.C. The wine (2005 vintage) was a revelation — rich, complex, delicious, and far beyond our expectations of quality and character. That one bottle dramatically demonstrated to us the reality of fine winemaking in Baja California and set us on a quest for more wines from Adobe Guadalupe and, hopefully, other Baja producers.
Asking local wine retailers and distributors for this and other Baja California wines was, however, an exercise in futility. None had any in stock, few were even aware that fine wines were being produced in Mexico, and none expressed any interest in seeking them. Somewhat deflated, we turned to the folks at Adobe Guadalupe who kindly pointed us to a San Diego-area wine merchant — www.thewineconnection.com — who not only carries Gabriel (and another of the winery’s bottlings) but also offers it (and a few other Baja wines) for sale online. Their available vintage of Gabriel — 2009 — was younger than what we had tasted at the restaurant, but we nevertheless ordered a case in hopes that it would be just as well made and delicious. It did not disappoint.
The 2009 Gabriel — a blend of Merlot (40%), Cabernet Sauvignon (39%), and Malbec (21%) — is a flamboyant wine. It offers vivid aromas of mixed berry compote, wood ash, and smoked chiles followed by rounded, layered flavors of ripe black cherries, cola, black peppercorn, and cured tobacco — all brought to exquisite fruition by suggestions of roasted coffee beans and caramelized sugar on the mouth-watering finish. Gabriel strikes a rich, elegant pose on the palate, with finely hewn tannins, expressive acids, and vanilla-tinged oak that bring the wine’s fruit, earth, and spice qualities into perfect harmony. Pair it with sharp, pungent, or peppered cheeses, charcuterie, roasted meats, grilled vegetables, and perhaps best of all, fine Mexican cuisine.
“Adobe Guadalupe’s 2009 Gabriel is among the best wines we have tasted so far in 2013.”
Adobe Guadalupe, owned and operated by Donald and Tru Miller, comprises 60 acres of vineyards established in 1998 and currently planted to Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Nebbiolo, Cabernet Franc, Tempranillo, Syrah, and Viognier. Winemaker Daniel Lonnberg, originally from Chile, crafts several eclectic blends from these varieties, which the winery names after the archangels — including, of course, Gabriel. To say the least, we are very eager to try the winery’s other bottlings…if ever we can ever get our hands on them.
For more information on Adobe Guadalupe and its wines, visit them virtually at www.adobeguadalupe.com. The Millers operate a bed-and-breakfast on their property, and offer a number of leisure activities in addition to wine tasting. To learn more about Baja California wine country, visit http://www.bajawine.info/ and http://www.discoverbajacalifornia.com/bajas-wine-country.php.
Availability: It is well time for American wine drinkers to experience the wines of Baja California. In addition to www.thewineconnection.com, there are a few other San Diego-area wine merchants that offer a respectable number of Baja wines for sale online (although not, as far as we can tell, Gabriel or other Adobe Guadalupe wines). They include www.sdwinebank.com and www.winesfrombaja.com.