Thursday, February 20, 2014

The Spirits of Mexico

Tequila? Si! Cervesa? Si! Wine? Uh, not so much...

 As wine and beer lovers, Nancy and I like to sample local offerings when we travel. We have visited vineyards and wineries, breweries and beer pubs in many states and countries. In the twenty years of coming to Mexico, we have judged the local wines barely passable and, at times, undrinkable. Until now. But more on that later.
Cortez, planter of first vineyard in the Americas
 [image from Wikipedia]

 First, some history. After Cortez conquered the Aztec empire in 1521, his celebratory party quickly finished off the Spanish wine that had sailed with them. On his next voyage, Cortez brought vines from Spain and planted the first vineyard in the Americas in 1597. The first winery, still in existence in the mountainous state of Queretaro north of Mexico City, today is called Casa Madero.

 Eventually the New World wineries began producing so much wine that the colonists no longer needed imports from Spain. That made for some unhappy merchants across the Atlantic. Finally the King of Spain forbade the retail production of wine in Mexico. Churches could produce enough for their needs, but could not sell any. The clergy, though, having enjoyed their nice little income stream, were not about to kow-tow to the distant king.

Father Hidalgo [image from Wikipedia]

 The first battle of the Mexican War of Independence in 1810 was fought over Father Hidalgo's vineyard, which he had refused to pull up. Hidalgo, the great hero of the revolution, is as revered as George Washington is in the U.S.

 Today, ninety percent of Mexican wine comes from the Baja region, and that is where the highest quality of wine is produced. The Guadalupe Valley hopes to rival the Napa Valley some day.

 Nancy and I visited La Europea wine shop in Cancun, and on the advice of staff, bought an Orlandi label merlot/cabernet blend from La Redonda Winery in Queretaro. It's a winner and bodes well for the Baja wines we haven't tried.

Nancy with spent bottles of Orlandi
Although Mexican wine is coming of age, it accounts for only a fraction of the sales of liquor in Mexico. It is highly taxed and expensive compared to beer and tequila. While once only tourists and the social elite in Mexico City indulgmoreed, wine drinking is expanding. Just the other night when we were having dinner at Mineno's, a local hole-in-the-sand restaurant on Isla Mujeres, we noticed a Mexican couple enjoying a chilled white.

 The times are changing. And that goes for beer, too. Isla Mujeres will soon have its very own micro-brewery. For information about that joyful development, check out Isla Brewing.

 Finally, we can buy more local products. Now that's something to say "Cheers!" about!

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