Sunday, 27 March 2016

A brush with Mexican wine

Mexico is the oldest wine producing country in America counting 450 years of sporadic production. However, the Mexicans consume the lowest proportion of wine of almost any country (average two glasses of wine a year per head) exporting 80% of their production we are led to believe. This is strange because one doesn't encounter Mexican wine that often and when one does it tends to be from L.A. Cetto of Baja California. They are certainly a good ambassador for Mexico; we have enjoyed their wines from time to time.

As in almost every part of the world, the situation has changed out of all recognition in recent times and now there are quite a few fine Mexican producers making some very lovely wines.

As yet they lack a USP. Their varieties are eclectic. They include


Sauvignon Blanc


Cabernet Franc
Cabernet Sauvignon
Petit Verdot
Petite Sirah
Pinot Noir
Ruby Cabernet

Wines are made as monovarietals or in blends of almost any and every combination of the above. There are plenty of Bordeaux copies including those named 'Meritage', some Rhone rangers even with a dash of Viognier, but some really original combinations too (Nebbiolo/Tempranillo). Alcohol levels tend to be robust as one would expect. 

a lot of Mexico looks like this

We were fortunate enough to eat at one of Mexico City's best restaurants, Rosetta. It seems you can eat as well as anywhere in the world in this megalopolis (population 26 million).

Rosetta outside by night

Rosetta is an Italian restaurant. We queued for perhaps an hour before being offered a table outside on a quite cold March night. We took it and had a couple of glasses of Mexican wine (a Sauvignon and a Cabernet) which did the trick although we didn't find out who the producers were. Suffice it to say that at such a restaurant you could trust the selection. In that spirit here are some of the Mexican producers represented on the Rosetta winelist;

Baron Balche
Casa de Piedra
Casa Madero
Dona Dolores
L.A. Cetto
Mogor Badan
Monte Xanic
San Tomas
Santa Elena 
Vinos y Terrenos S.A. de C.V.

Returning to the point about a lack of USP in Mexican wine, please note the inclusion of 'Mision' among both white and red varieties in the list above. We are not sure what white wine made from Mision ('Mission' aka Criolla, Pais) may be. Mision is a red grape as far as we know so this may be that grape vinified in bianco - unless there is a white mutation of that variety. 

Álvaro Ptacnik of Shimul makes this Mision with Petite Syrah and Dolcetto in attendance in the belief that this is how Mexican wine can achieve its profile.
Attempts are being made to establish Mision as Mexico's national grape arguing that it was to Mexico that the first plantings would have been taken and it was from there that they were distributed in South America.

On a similar wavelength is a charming story about a vineyard in Chihuahua in the Sierra Madre;

16th century Jesuits set up missions in the remote regions of Mexico’s Copper Canyon. They taught the indigenous Tarahumara Indians to raise livestock and introduced Old World plants to the region including grapevines for wine production.  
The King of Spain a century later expelled the Jesuits from Mexico replacing them with missionaries of the Franciscan order. In what could be described as a form of NAFTA in reverse - Mexico was ordered to cease wine production in order to protect the Spanish wine industry. As a result, Mexico never fully developed its wine industry potential despite it having excellent soil and climate for grape production. 

The Copper Canyon mountain village of Ceracahui (sero-kah-wee) enjoys a micro-climate that approximates Spring-like weather conditions year-round ensuring perfect grape harvests year after year. Or, one could say, century after century.

When the Jesuits left Cerocahui, the vineyards were destroyed - except for some cuttings secretly replanted behind Jose Maria Sanchez’s Casa. Jose Maria’s family preserved the vines, caring for, protecting and enjoying them for many generations up until 25 years ago when the last Sanchez passed on without heirs. 

The Old World Heirloom species of red grape was in danger of being lost forever but was saved when Sanchez’s gardener, working with the Mision Hotel in Cerocahui, decided to restore the vine by planting cuttings on unused land adjacent to the Tarahumara built stone Cathedral and Indian girls orphanage. The Mision vineyard located on a gentle rise in the middle of the village has been producing delicious wine ever since.

The original varieties mentioned in this story are not specified. Enquiries are being made. The red wine produced for the hotel by Vino de Cerocahui, a nearby winery is made from a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot and the white from Chardonnay so no clues there as to the mysterious original plantings. Slotovino promises to bring you news on these as soon as we get it.

There was not much opportunity to buy wine but we came away with this Tempranillo/ Cabernet Sauvignon blend from Duty Free.

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