When you think of where good wine comes from you’re probably thinking of the usual areas – France, Italy and California. But other countries are emerging as excellent producers in the wine industry. One country that might be last on your mind when it comes to wine is our Southern neighbor – Mexico.
In the 16th century, long before Napa and Sonoma, the Spaniards coming into Mexico brought wine with them. While Mexico had some indigenous grapes, the Spaniards quickly found that their own varietals were well suited to Mexico’s warm, generally sunny climate. Wine has been made in California by the missionaries with vinifera from Mexico since the 1770’s. Even before, Spanish grapes from the Juarez area and the Senecu Pueblo in Spanish controlled areas of present day New Mexico found their way to the Missions in the Paso del Norte Region in the late 1660’s.
The growing vineyards in Mexico took a huge hit in 1699, however, when Charles II of Spain prohibited winemaking in Mexico with the only exception being wine that was being made for churches. Along with Mexico’s independence on September 16, 1810, however, the prohibition was immediately voided.
Production steadily rose in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, helped along by the continued influx of European immigrants. But while the war for independence allowed wine production to flourish, Mexico’s Revolution in 1910 set the industry back as citizens were entangled in the war.
Since then, however, wine production in Mexico has again grown in both quantity and quality, despite a 40% tax on the product and the stiff competition from foreign winemakers. Competition in Mexico with tequila, mescal and beer have also presented challenges to the country’s wine industry.
Mexico currently has three major wine areas. The Baja California area produces by far the most – 90% of the country’s wine. A “Ruta del Vino,” or Wine Route, that is promoted across the area connects more than fifty wineries and festivals are held in the area annually.
The other wine areas of Mexico include the La Laguna area in Coahuila and Durango and the Center area in Zacatecas, Aguascalientes and Querétaro. All of Mexico’s primary wine areas have a fairly warm climate, contributing to the spiciness typically found in Mexican wines. They are also full-bodied and ripe. The Northern Baja’s humid winders, dry warm summers and sea breezes allow the area to grow many of the same varietals produced in California.
The best red wines that come from the Baja region, where most of Mexico’s wine is produced, include Cabernet Sauvignon, Ruby Cabernet, Zinfandel Grenache and Mission. Mission is the same varietal that was once easy to find in the El Paso area, but is now nearly impossible. The best white wines form the Baja area are Chenin Blanc, Palomino, Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, Sémillon, Saint Emilion and Malaga.
There are three major wine producers in this area: Vinos L.A. Cetto in the Calafia Valley, Vinos Pedro Domecq and Bodegas de Santo Tomás in the Santo Tomás Valley. All three of these producers have won international competitions with their wines and many of these Mexican wines are actually exported to Europe.
The next time you are really looking to try something different – you don’t even have to think very far away. Mexico’s wines are slowly but surely building a solid reputation! You may have to look hard to find a Mexican wine on the local wine shelf, but some do appear periodically. Give them a try!
Owner, Zin Valle Vineyards