Fiesta de la Bendición de la Flor 2010
If enjoy food and wine and you have never visited, you must go to Valle de Guadalupe. We knew Winter’s rains had been generous and that Spring would be beautiful and green so we planned a return visit. My wife and I, along with two of her friends (one of whom owns a lovely ranch and budding vineyard nearby) spent a great weekend with an unexpected treat on May 1st.
While trying to arrange a wine tasting, I was told of an event, Primavera de los Viñedos, by Antonio Escalante, (one of the two partners of Roganto wines, one of my favorites). It was held at Barón Balch'é, one of the first vineyards in Mexico I visited several years ago. There were 27 winemakers pouring generous samples (all included in the entrance fee of $12.50).
I tried to sample wines I was unfamiliar with, such as Madera 5, EMEVE, Bodegas San Rafael and Quinta Monesterio, but also had to go to some favorites from past visits. There were a few wines that were enthusiastically presented but I found to lack sophistication. Most, however, were good and I believe a few, particularly Roganto’s cabernet sauvignon and the Equua from Viñedos Malagon, to be of fine quality. Equua is a blend of grenache, from 50 year old vines, and petite sirah. The zinfandel from Barón Balch'é is exceptional but it is, regrettably, one of the most seriously overpriced wines I have encountered in Mexico at about $90 per bottle. For that price I can ship three bottles of 2005 zin from Green and Red in Napa.
For those doubters who dismiss Mexican wines, these wines probably do not come close to the quality of the world’s finest (not that I am to be trusted as the best judge of this matter) but I believe there are a growing number that are certainly of high caliber.
Several Ensenada and Tijuana restaurants served food, including Cheripan, the Argentine restaurant in Tijuana. Four booths featured made-on-the-spot paella, two of them being hotels that compete in the Concurso de Paellas (part of Vendimia, held in August), Coral y Marina and Punta Moro. These people know how to make serious paella.
It was a great event. There was a pleasant breeze and temperatures were mild. When we were not sampling wines at the many tents, we sat at tables set beneath arched vines. Along with some local cheeses and desserts, we chose to eat Cheripan's offerings and the Argentine chorizo was fantastic. The four of us shared two bottles of wine with our food and sampled many more as we roamed. Some nice touches were dining tables with white table cloths and staff who came by periodically to bus dirty dishes. Had we wanted, there was even table- side service from some of the restaurants, including Villa Saverio's (one of the more sophisticated restaurants in Tijuana).
Along with food and wine, there were musicians, dancers, artists and local indigenous people selling crafts. And, of course, there was a benediction of Spring’s new flowers and fruit.
Had Sr. Escalante not told me about the event I doubt we would have discovered it as it wasn't listed on any event calendars I checked previously. We were told of another similar event, to be held the following day in Ojos Negros, a town in the foothills about an hour to the south of Valle de Guadalupe. That event was to feature wine and local breads and cheeses. Next year!
We left the festival in time to rest at our friend’s ranch so we could be ready for dinner at Laja, of whcih you may have read about on this board. In spite of what others have posted on this board regarding Laja, I have always had top notch meals. I always appreciate the greens and vegetables, their expert preparation and presentation as well as freshness as they are typically from the restaurant’s gardens. My salad was no exception, consisting of microgreens (that looked like dichondra), local olive oil and perhaps the best tomatoes I have tasted. The entrees were great (roasted lamb and seared sea bass) but the star of the meal was the second plate of thinly sliced, raw scallops with diced cucumbers.
I generally leave my wine selection at Laja to host, Andres Blanco. That evening he brought a bottle of a white wine from a winery at an elevation of about 2000 feet in Tecate, a somewhat mountainous region 30 or 40 miles east of Valle de Guadalupe. The wine is called Quinto Uno. He explained the name as referring to a bullfighting term, “There is no bad fifth (bullfight)” or perhaps more correctly; “No quinto malo.” The wine was 95% sauvignon blanc and 5% moscato. There was a crispness and dry quality one might expect from sauvignon blanc but with a finishing note of sweetness (from the moscato I presume, not that it is always sweet but it is typically so). The cost of the bottle was about $25US. He brought another bottle of an unlabled red made from a blend of grapes that grow in the vineyards that surround the restaurant. It was soft, dry and had a distinctive minerality I find characteristic of the region. It paired well with both the lamb and sea bass. The red wine cost $40US. The cost of the meal ($45US each) and wine is quite reasonable considering the quality of food and service as well as the setting.
I can't wait for the multitude of events during Vendimia in Summer.