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Wednesday, May 11, 2011

BAJA - Visiting Mexico's Predominant Food & Wine Region 'Vino-Tourism'

Visiting Mexico's Predominant Food & Wine Region 'Vino-Tourism'
by Steve Dryden

You'll have one more chance in 2011 to experience the best in Mexican wine and cuisine, in August, when La Cofradia presents its annual wine and food pairing competition. This event matches the top chefs in the region with the best winemakers, thus you can sample excellent wine and culinary delights at one event, and in a beautiful setting along the harbor in Ensenada, Baja California.

The Festival of Shellfish and New Wine was a splashing success along the Baja California shores of the scenic seaport harbor of Ensenada, Mexico. ProVino, Banamex, Volaris, Caracol, and CESAIBC (Comité Estatal de Sanidad Acuícola e Inocuidad de Baja California), as well as local seafood establishments and wineries, all pooled their creative energies and conducted a remarkable wine and culinary event. Thus, more proof that Ensenada has indeed become the official "Wine and Gourmet Cuisine Capital of Mexico."

Having attended many wine and culinary events in this region over the last seven years, I have to say that I was most impressed with the professional level of organization, ticket sales and marketing, and by the well-balanced performance of the seafood and wine cultures of Baja California. This presentation exposed the unheard truth: "we experience amazing levels of quality in lifestyle, those of us (global citizens) who are fortunate to be living in Ensenada with an abundance of world-class wine and seafood delights. And, of course, we're blessed with a large portfolio of natural resources, many talented chefs and artisan winemakers."

There is nowhere in the world that can compete with this quality of life — with more than reasonable pricing and perfect weather, further enhanced with a diverse international mix of free-spirited, creative and innovative people, all living in harmony while drinking good wine and exploring delicious culinary delights. It's enough to make you dance while gazing into the colorful sunset overlooking the beautiful harbor of Ensenada, with the Todos Santos Islands and Punta Banda as a backdrop.

Looking at Mexico from a global perspective during these times of economic hardship and confusion inspires serious wine and gourmet food lovers to ponder the satisfaction gained by living here in this marvelous community of wine country consciousness.

Many of the wines featured at this event were of the 2010 vintage or recent releases from local wineries. Although the 2010 growing season was challenging for many grape growers because of cool weather, powdery mildew disease and uneven fruit ripeness, many of the 2010 wines offered this day were of outstanding quality.

One interesting result from 2010 growing conditions was that many of the Chardonnay wines featured at the event provided aromas and flavors more like Sauvignon Blanc. Four wines that stood out for me as excellent were from Alximia, Vinicola Torres Alegre, Tres Valles, and Las Nubes, but every wine poured was of good quality or better. I did get a sneak preview of L.A. Cetto's 2006 Private Reserve Nebbiolo, which was recently awarded a "double gold" medal in Italy's top wine competition for 2011. The 2010 Kuiiy from Las Nubes is a nice blend of 75% Sauvignon Blanc and 25% Chardonnay; stainless steel processed without oak aging, the twenty-year-old vines grow in clay soils of Valle de San Vicente.

Furthermore, Las Nubes will be opening a new winery in Guadalupe Valley this summer, and you can visit their website for opening information and details at www.vinoslasnubesbc.com.

Alvaro Alvarez Parrilla, the General Director of Alximia winery, generously poured his newest wine release, Aura. This is a pleasant blend of Petite Verdot 33%, Zinfandel 33%, and Grenache 33%. Fruit is sourced from three distinct locations and from three dynamic growers, the dry-farmed Zinfandel (Primativo) is from old vines, the Petite Verdot vines are 15 years old, and the dry-farmed Grenache vines are 20 years old. Alvaro likes his grapes to tell their own story via aromas and complex flavors, so he limits his use of oak barrel aging.

This delicious red blend is aged in 10% new French oak barrels, followed with additional time in neural oak barrels. According to Alvaro, "this allows my wine to be about the grapes and not the wood." His project has turned into a family operation that includes his entire family. Their new winery facility and tasting room will open this summer in Valle de Guadalupe by August 19th. For details: www.alximia.com

Victor Torres Alegre is a master winemaker who has consistently crafted premium wines in Mexico for many years. His newest release, 2010 Del Viko Blanco is a marvelous white blend of French Colombard, and Chenin Blanc. Stainless steel tank fermentation with no oak barrel aging makes for a fruity and easy to drink wine. The grapes are purchased from Bibayoff Farms; the vines are 35 years old. David Bibayoff and his family are considered to be among the best grape growers in Mexico. These natural resources placed in the skilled hands of Dr. Torres Alegre allows for superior wines that reflect the best of Mexico. More details at www.delviko.com

Baja California shellfish was the other key ingredient at this festival, and it certainly gained much attention and appreciation from local, regional, national and international gourmet food lovers. Oysters, mussels, clams and abalone were featured in various forms from fresh culinary delights to canned products. Sabina Bandera Gonzalez of Mariscos La Guerrerense in Ensenada prepared fresh oysters (plain or spicy) from San Quintin that were most delightful. Her family has been in the seafood business here since 1960.

The restaurant venues were organized by Elvira Romero Gutierrez, the current President of CANIRAC or the Restaurant Association of Ensenada. Some of the local gourmet culinary establishments in attendance with stunning seafood creations were El Olivo, Barra Azul, Lorca Restaurante Español, Punta Morro, Temaky Sushi Bar, Hacienda Guadalupe, La Villa de Valle, and many others.

Gourmet food lovers might note that Ensenada is now home to some of Mexico's top chefs, four culinary schools, over fifty quality restaurants, world famous fish tacos, and it is further blessed with an abundance of fresh seafood products. This charming seaport city is in the midst of a wine and culinary revolution, with local chefs and winemakers teaming up to match their artisan treasures into innovative marriages.

Ensenada is the driving force behind Mexico's unique expression of the wine culture. As well, our wine country just happens to be less than a 30 minute drive from Mexico's leading seafood industry that cultivates world-class shellfish, oysters, mussels, clams and tuna.

In addition, the UABC (local university) is a leader in fisheries research and natural resource management, thus teaching a generation of intelligent young people in oceanography, environmental science, viticulture, wine making and culinary arts.

Mexico's timing in creating premium wines just happened to coincide perfectly with the rise of the culinary arts and aquaculture development. Of course, this region has always been blessed with a diversity of natural seafood resources and gourmet chefs. A few serious food lovers may recall that Ensenada is the city that made fish tacos a world-renowned phenomenon.

A final element that added icing on the cake for this event was the display of seafood products offered by various aquaculture firms and producers. J. Benito Altamira of Abulones Cultivados proudly displayed his abalone products, and offered amazing samples to lucky guests. Lorenzo Lopez Gomez of Productos Derbys presented a nice display of his products, as did Baja Cavala with their Productos Ahumados del Mar. Baja Cavala offers canned sardine filets, oysters, mussels, and clams. If you love oysters try their Deep Water Farm Oyster products — they're delicious! Unfortunately, the world of fine cuisine lovers isn't really aware that Mexico now grows and processes the best oysters in the world at Bahia de San Quintin. These premium oysters are called Kamumoto, and they are winning gold awards throughout the world. To find these products please contact cesaibc@yahoo.com.mx or www.cesaibc.org

Life is not good in Ensenada, it's excellent! When you combine good wine with gourmet cuisine in a Mediterranean-like climate, along the scenic harbor of this seaport village, heaven is clearly visible on the horizon or at least in the reflection of the sea. If you are looking for paradise, one that is affordable and easily accessible, I'd be looking seriously at Ensenada, in Baja California, Mexico.

You'll have one more chance in 2011 to experience the best in Mexican wine and cuisine in August, when La Cofradia presents its annual wine and food pairing competition. This event matches the top chefs in the region with our best winemakers, thus you can sample excellent wine and culinary delights at one event, and in a beautiful setting along the harbor. For tickets, event schedule or details, please contact ProVino www.provinoac.org, telephone (52) 646-178-3038, or e-mail info@fiestasdellavendimia.com

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Steve Dryden, an international wine, food and travel writer, and filmmaker, has lived in the Valle de Guadalupe, Mexico's premier wine country, for a number of years where
he also guides small group wine tours. He can be reached at sbdryden@hotmail.com