When thinking of Mexico though, one doesn't necessarily think of wine. Tequila and beer along with non-alcoholic drinks such as jamaica and horchata dominate the beverage scene, but for the oenophile, there is wine to be found in them there hills. This is the oldest wine making country in the Americas. In 1542 Cortes ordered all Spanish settlers to plant vines and make wine, but even before the Spanish, the indigenous peoples of Mexico were making a form of wine by combining fermented grape juice with honey and sometimes other fruit. This would not be unlike early forms of wine on the European Continent which was often blended with honey, lead, spices, and various other sundry items to enhance flavour. The oldest winery in the Americas is also in Mexico. What is now the Casa Madero Winery was founded as the Mission of Santa Maria de las Parras in 1596.
Protectionist measures of the Spanish Government, the Mexican Civil War, steep tarrifs, and free trade agreements have all played a role in hindering the wine industry in Mexico, but it has been undergoing a renaissance since the late 1980s. In past, grapes have been grown primarily for use in brandy and altar wine, but as tastes change wine consumption is on the rise, and so is the quality of wines being made.
There are five grape growing regions in Mexico: Querétaro; Aguascalientes; Zacatecas; Coahuila, and Baja. Baja is the largest region with a flourishing tourism industry that is sometimes compared to Napa. Grapes are grown in regions where winemakers can take advantage of ocean mists and breezes, or cooler weather at higher altitudes.
We tried a Chardonnay, and a Cabernet Sauvignon from Casa Madero, a Cabernet Sauvignon from Calixa in the Baja region, a Merlot from Santo Tomas, also in the Baja region, and a Ruby Cabernet from Cacholá, Zacatecas.
The wines ranged from a little flaccid (the one from Zacatecas), to fruity (the Cabernet Sauvignon from Calixa), to earthy (the Merlot) and nicely structured (the Cabernet Sauvignon from Casa Madero). Both wines from Casa Madero were particularly good.
Here are some recommendations for wine pairing with Mexican fare:
- Tempranillo, Syrah, or Australian Shiraz for their fruit forward profiles to balance the hot chile flavours.
- Pinot Noir and Chianti to match the earthiness of ingredients like huitlacoche and some chiles such as poblano and achiote.
- Malbec for its smokiness, and Torrontés for its floral notes.
- Savignon Blanc for its clean finish and to compliment herbs such as epazote and cilantro.
- Sangiovese and Barbera to match tomato flavours.
- Off dry Riesling or Vouvray to balance heat, and compliment the sweetness of some roasted peppers.
- Dry Riesling to compliment citrus fruits.
- And of course, a Mexican wine if you can find it.