One of the better perks of living in San Diego, aside from the near year-round perfect weather, is the proxcimity to the quickly emerging food and wine region of Baja. So yesterday I joined up with a bunch of other like-minded folks for a wine tasting trip down to the Valle de Guadalupe with Tursita Libre - http://derrikchinn.blogspot.com/ . Why go on an organized tour when I'm fully capable of doing it myself? First, it's easier to let someone else do the driving, especially when wine tasting, and second, going with others provides a more social experience than going alone.
First stop was Tamales Liz on the Libre (free road) a few miles south of the Foxploration studios. The tamales are ubiquitous in the Tijuana area and while these were quite good they weren't necessarily the best. I had one of pork and tasted part of another that was strawberry. The pork in the tamale, WAS very good and very spicy. The masa light, airy but very dry. The strawberry tamale WAS very good, better than the pork one. The masa was not nearly as dry and the strawberry flavor not overwhelming or overwhelmed by the masa. If you're looking for a quick snack on the drive, this could be it. No culinary boundaries will be broken, but it will take care of any hunger pangs pretty well.
First winery stop was Monte Xanic -http://www.montexanic.com.mx/english/ - which has been around in the Valle for 20 years or so. We were treated to tastings of 8 of their wines. Most of them were, thankfully, 1 oz pours but I think it would be fair so say they were a very generous 1 oz pour. Of the 8, I liked 3 of wines really well, the Sauvingnon Blanc, the Cab/Syrah blend (60/40) and the dessert wine made from late harvest chenin blanc grapes. Since I could only bring 1 bottle of wine back across the border, and we still had 2 more wineries to go, I resisted buying any of the 3 I liked, tho' I did like each of them well enough to purchase a bottle outright. It also didn't hurt that the folks at Monte Xanic said they are very, very close (as in perhaps this month) to begin distributing their wines (at least in San Diego) through Costco. Along with the wine they were also liberally pouring their olive oil, which was outstanding. I did buy a bottle of that.
Then we were off to Hacienda La Lomita - http://www.haciendalalomita.com.mx/ho... - a fairly young, but very stylish winery. It was also the setting for a 2010 telenovela. Tasting here was 4 - 2 oz pours, 2 whites, 2 reds. I lost track of the whites somewhere along the line, tho' the first was a chardonnay that had been aged for 4 mos in new French oak barrels. The wine that made the deepest impression, and the one that came home with me was the 100% Grenache. Aptly named Pagan, there is something wild, untamed and deeply earthy about this wine. The stop here also included a tour of their facility and caves. Everything below ground was as beautifully done as above. It's not hard to see why La Lomita was selected as the location for the telenovela!
In addition to the wines, the wine makers wife takes some of the leftovers (think seeds and other by-products) and turns them into health and beauty products such as soap, shampoo, moisturizers and conditioners, all made with only products from the Valle de Guadalupe. Some of these came home with me as well. Anyone for a Merlot exfoliant ;-). This turned out to be the favorite winery stop for most of my fellow day-trippers
Last winery stop was at Liceaga - http://www.vinosliceaga.com/index.php (Spanish) - where once again it was 4 - 2 oz pours. The first 3 wines were rather unremarkable but the last, one of their reservas, was probably the best wine of the day. Then our server broke out a 5th wine that he said was better, tho' the consensus was that it wasn't.
By now we had tasted 17 wines and most of us were experiencing a pretty mellow buzz (another reason to do a day trip and let someone else drive), not to mention a dire need for some real food. So off we went to Ochentos in San Antonio de las Minas. Turista Libre typically uses Tijuana city buses to do his tours, that typically being an old (or at least older) Blue Bird school bus; this trip was no exception. So when the paved road to Ochentos ended, we went off-roading in a school bus (truly an only-in-Mexico type of experience) the rest of the way. Indoor or patio seating is available, we chose patio for the glorious view and ambiance. Being in an area devoted to wine, it's perhaps wasn't so surprising to find there was no beer on the menu. Wine, italian sodas, agua frescas, sangria and wine only. You can bring your own bottle of wine, corkage is 50 pesos, about $3.85 depending upon the exchange rate. At any rate it's a bargain.
We were all pretty ravenous by now and when the pizzas started arriving we happily tucked in to them. The crust is medium to thin, crisp on the bottom and still sturdy enough to hold the generous toppings. For the vegetarians in our group there was a straight veggie as well as a Greek pizza finished with cooked spinach. Both were pronounced very good. For the meat eaters the ham and pepperoni with a healthy kick of garlic and the smokey chicken and bacon disappeared rather quickly. Several different salads are also available, but our focus was the pizza.
Biggest downside at Ochentos were the restrooms, good old porta-potties that had been gussied up and made respectable. More modern restrooms are currently under construction.
The late afternoon in the Valle is magical with the last light gently filtering through the haze, trees, and vines making the patio at Ochentos a relaxing place to hang out. After far too much wine and delicious pizza in an unlikely spot, it was time to head north in our school bus back to La Linea, no pedestrian line for immigration/customs and San Diego