by staff grape juice guru, Vino Bandito
The Valle de Guadalupe VIP Tour on Turkey Eve, 21 Nov 2012, included 7 wine tasters, 3 vehicles, 5 wineries and great grape juice during a 12 hour tour. (clicking on photos below will enlarge to 800 x 600).
I was desperate to find wineries available on a Wednesday during the off-season month of November. Most wineries are only open for wine tastings on weekends this time of year. My email inquiry not only was answered, it was showered with this special event opportunity. Thanks to new friends Sitara, Ariana, Abby and Alejandro for welcoming Stephanie, Rich and me to explore Baja’s wineries with them.
Vinicola Retorno was our first stop at 10AM. We were a few minutes late and bit fuzzy from Tuesday evening’s refreshments. Retorno, located in San Antonio de las Minas, is a 1 hour drive from my house. Rallying my team from their sleep comfort was not easy.
Us three gringos were also short on food this beautiful, sunny morning, so the first sips of wine were a challenge. We were better prepared for a coffee and bagel tasting than vino. But, I finally settled into the very earthy Zinfandel. Black cherry bursts quenched my thirst and gave me some fruit to heal my wounds from the previous night.
Adrian and Anna, our hosts, opened their straw bale bodega especially for us and just before Adrian had to race away to conduct a wine-making class. Retorno is a tiny winery, producing a few hundred cases annually and full of Adrian’s love for his artisan wines. I highly recommend Retorno on your tour of the Valle de Guadalupe to experience a unique setting and wine making philosophy.
Cuatro Cuatros Winery, a 13 mile drive to the west was our next stop. We were lucky to catch our host, Juan Carlos, for a complete tour of this sprawling property of 1,700 acres.
That included a van ride out to the coast to view the waves of the Pacific lapping at the cliffs and beaches along the stretch known as Salsipuedes on Mex Hwy 1. Our VIP friends in the group enjoyed the helicopter’s view. If you go to Cuatro Cuatros, be certain to reserve a tour of the property.
Also learned a bit more about differences in wine barrels and the Sequin Moreau brand. I had no idea that you can pay up to $1,000USD per barrel. This wine-making is not a cheap date.
After the property tour, we settled into the canvas covered restaurant and bar for a wine tasting and much needed food. One of the chefs prepared a terrific cheese, meat and bread platter to satisfy those of us still recovering from la cruda.
The cabernet blend we enjoyed included cabernet franc, tempranillo and merlot. This was a very complex character that had some strong fruit along with tannins.
Next stop was the spaceship known as Alximia. Manuel, our host, explained the winery’s philosophy of scientific combination of the elements of earth, water, air and fire in producing his quality wines.
The spaceship description fits, because Manuel is also an astronomer. The dome shaped building includes adobe walls and water collectors to save what little rainfall exists in the Valle de Guadalupe(above right photo shows two holes in the roof, just above the column that is a pipe leading to Alximia’s water tanks.
The three story bodega leads to the cellar, dug out of the ground. Middle photo shows the upper floor balcony. Above right photo shows the earth walls of the wine cave.
I enjoyed a Sangiovese blend known as Aura, including petit verdot and zin grapes. Sangy is one of my favorites, because the typically light fruit, spice and acidity work so well with pastas, salads, soups and stews that dominate my kitchen.
Found it interesting that Manuel studied at University of Colorado Boulder, as I lived most of my life in Denver and my two guests on this wine tour live in Colorado Springs.
Nubes(“clouds”) and our host Victor provided the most detailed tour of the day. The bodega is located just south of the town of El Porvenir and is set in the hills viewing south over the wine valley. See the expansive tasting room view of the valley, upper right photo.
Upon entering the tasting room, a unique glass window is set in the floor that views the cueva of barrels below. Photographers, please take note: If you are traveling with attractive females in short skirts, take care on the camera angle here.
The bottle of “Cumulus”, a blend of Garnacha, Cariñena y Tempranillo was the most delightful wine of the day. This is very much a rhone style blend, which I freely admit is my favorite. Others think I’m just in a rut.
But, I also enjoyed Nubes’ Sauvignon Blanc with its apple fruit. Yes, I’m forcing myself to try more white wine and Sauv Blancs are leading me away from big Chards lately.
Victor shared with us that the cloud themed wine was a result of the partners first visit to the property when discussing the purchase. It was a particularly foggy, cloudy day, highlighting the beauty of the hills and the wine valley.
A fun discussion broke out due to the detailed information on Nubes bottles back label. Front labels are like your business suit or card as an introduction. Back labels provide the more discerning customer more details about the wine’s origin and character. Victor also has a plan to introduce a QR code to provide even more information about his wine for potential buyers.
When Victor discussed the most popular grape in the region, Nebbiolo, I was mildy embarrassed that I did not know that Italian word’s meaning. How about you???
Artisan cheese, toasted earthy bread and Corazon’s famous beet green pesto provided a quick taste treat, Big Blend wine buffer and aphrodisiac all rolled into one grand appetizer plate.
One change-up move I made was sampling Corazon’s hoppy IPA and strong Pilsner beer offerings. Wine Valley Blasphemy? Hey, I like beer and usually drink it liberally in the evening before dining Euro style as late as 1oPM with my vino. Bravo for Corazon’s willingness to embrace different beverages.
Chef Diego Hernández and team prepared a 5 course dinner for us(8 courses if counting the appeteazer, amuse buche and sorbet). As usual, we were seated overlooking the garden from which all of the vegetables grow before they walk into the kitchen and onto our plates.
The prix fixe menu tonight included a terrific salad, grilled black cod and a boneless quail. A chocolate brownie completed the gastronomic reverie.
A sensible person would have reserved a room and crashed at La Villa del Valle’s Hotel. But, we still had some Ensenada grocery shopping to prepare for Thanksgiving dinner.
Got home to Puerto Escondido for a light and frugal Petite Sirah to complete the day’s mood and memories at 10:30PM.
Big thanks to Sitara, Alejandro and our winery hosts for their energy, inspiration and dedication to their art and their business. Hasta Pronto!