Wine has been produced in Mexico since the 16th century. With Spanish rule came mandatory vineyard plantings, wine-loving missions, and a steady flow of vino.
Today, the country is responsible for some exciting up-and-coming wines. The Baja region, in particular, is home to more than 125 producers and is beginning to get some serious industry recognition. Beneath the tequila and beach-friendly lagers, there’s quality wine on Mexico’s Pacific coast.
“Baja Norte is scratching the surface of potential,” says Erin Ungerman of New France Wine Company in the Twin Cities. She’s been looking into Mexican wines for a couple of years now and has seen firsthand the promise of the Baja region.
New France Wine Company launched its own portfolio of Mexican wines last September. Prior, Ungerman worked with California importer La Competencia Imports to bring many of her favorite south-of-the-border labels to Minnesota (and beyond as they presently service many U.S. markets).
Buzzing restaurants like Popol Vuh, named a James Beard semifinalist earlier this year, are spreading the Mexican wine gospel in the Midwest too, featuring an eclectic list with plenty of intriguing Baja options. Ungerman worked with restaurant owner Jami Olson to bring the list to life.
Wine may have a five-century legacy in Mexico, but this area is just starting to see what it’s capable of.
The climate in Baja is grape friendly. Big temperature swings from day to night encourage ripening and the retention of acidity. Ungerman even refers to the Valle de Guadalupe, a booming stretch of land enjoying some great press right now, as the Napa of Baja.
But part of the Baja draw is its formative and experimental nature. Wine may have a five-century legacy in Mexico, but this area is just starting to see what it’s capable of. There’s not a lot in the way of formal appellations or wine rules in general as of yet, but that could be coming if the growth and quality continue.
“It is very much the wild, wild west,” she says. “The wines are wild, but represent place.” Young imbibers increasingly want to experience terroir and can do so via these offerings. The relative curiosity of this wine region only adds to its intrigue. “For the wine adventurer, this is a perfect region to explore,” she continues. It’s also an easy weekend trek for millions of southern Californians.
Ungerman sums up the Baja wine scene as full of food-friendly options and unique blends from predominantly small, family-run estates. The wines tend to show their close proximity to the ocean with some pleasant salinity. “There are some great wines being made now, but with a little more time I think we will see some amazing things coming out of this region,” she says.
Below, check out a handful of must-trys from Ungerman.
6 Mexican Wines to Try
Bubbles are pretty rare in Mexico, but this one made from Chardonnay suggests there’s plenty of potential.
An unexpected blend incorporating Vermentino, an Italian varietal only recently introduced to the Guadalupe Valley.
A more delicate take on the noble Chardonnay grape.
A fresh and focused white that’s perfect with just about every warm-weather dish you can imagine.
This wine is a blend of Sangiovese and Cabernet Sauvignon and holds on to its fruity nature thanks to a non-wood aging regimen.
Nebbiolo is a famed northern Italian variety that happens to do quite well in the San Vicente Valley of the Baja region.