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Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Viña de Liceaga

Viña de Liceaga
by Steve Dryden

Touring the premier wine country of Baja California Norte in Valle de Guadalupe can be very rewarding during the late winter and spring seasons. Life is somewhat relaxed during this brief period giving inquiring guests an opportunity to mingle with winemakers and knowledgeable winery staff. The crowds have thinned and you’ll often have the whole wine country to yourselves, especially during mid-week. And, if you want to spend a few nights, room rates are reduced at this time for Hotel Plaza Fatima, Hacienda Guadalupe and at the famous Rancho Malagon B&B.

As you enter the wine country from Ensenada be aware that highway construction into the valley on Highway 3 is somewhat challenging, so be cautious, and don't drive at night. The first village in the wine country is San Antonio de las Minas which is about seven miles from the Pacific Ocean and scenic Highway One. About one mile beyond the village, as you travel towards Tecate, you’ll see a large white building on the right at km 93.5, this is Viña de Liceaga. This newly completed complex offers amazing wines, great hospitality and is staffed with knowledgeable employees. The tasting room is open daily from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. with tasting fees ranging from $3 to $10 per person. For $10 you get a wine glass, samples of one white wine, four red wines, and one taste of their Grappa; $3 gets you one taste of white wine and one red wine. Large tour groups of more than ten people need to make advance reservations with Marisa at (646) 155-3281.

This winery is famous for their Merlot, but Viña de Liceaga continues to make a good Chenin Blanc from grapes grown in Valle de San Vicente. Their 2007 Chenin Blanc is aged in stainless steel tanks which allows for a refreshing and light white wine with hints of pineapple, green apple, honey and peach. Their 2007 Vinto Tinto is a palate pleasing blend of 80% Merlot and 20% Cabernet Sauvignon, both varietals are grown in Valle de Guadalupe. This user-friendly table wine was released in mid-July 2008 after aging for nine months in American oak barrels. Vino Tinto is a smooth red blend, medium bodied and easy to drink.

Liceaga’s 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon is a mellow red blend of 90% Cabernet Sauvignon and 10% Syrah—most delightful and smooth. The grapes are from Guadalupe Valley and are aged for two years in new American oak barrels. Aromas of tobacco, violets, vanilla and coffee with flavors of black fruit, and bell pepper. Smooth, elegant and complex with 13.5% alcohol. Their 2005 Gran Reserva Merlot is an elegant blend of grapes grown in San Antonio de las Minas with 95% Merlot and 5% Cabernet Franc. Aged in new French oak barrels and with 13.5% alcohol this wine makes for a smooth, fruit forward, rich, complex and palate pleasing Merlot. Their newest 2006 Gran Reserva Merlot was released in November 2008, with a slightly different blend of 90% Merlot and 10% Cabernet Sauvignon, no Cabernet Franc added. My favorite wine for 2009 is their new 2006 L—Selection #1, which is the Eduardo Liceaga Campos memorial wine. This remarkable wine is a superb blend of 80% Syrah and 20% Merlot, aged for 20 months in new American oak—a connoisseurs delight!

For those who missed their morning cup of coffee, you can still “wake up” with their potent distilled Grappa, called Aqua de Vid. Viña de Liceaga. But, don’t try driving, dancing or walking after a sip or two! Grappa is a distilled spirit without color made from black grape pomage, fermented, gently pressed from several wine varieties, and aged for three years in new American oak. Their Grappa creates a powerful clear beverage that will awaken even the most laid-back individuals.

You’ll love the new facility, the friendly staff and their delightful wines. This summer, they plan to add a new picnic area with a large fountain, tables and various food vendors to provide lucky guests with a fun-filled day in Baja California’s beautiful wine country. The best times to visit are October through June, but if you don’t mind crowds and summer heat, you won’t want to miss their Fiesta de la Vendimia event held in August.

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