10 Interesting Facts about Mexican Wine

January 20th, 2017

Mexico wine history

By Joseph Temple

For a country known more for its tequila and cervezas, you may be surprised to learn that Mexico also has a rich history when it comes to winemaking. Dating back to the early 16th century when the first vines were planted in the New World, Mexican vintners have endured their fair share of peaks and valleys in order to produce some wines that have gained a very loyal following. And while their estimated annual output of 20 million liters is miniscule compared to their neighbors to the north, it appears that when it comes to quality, Mexico has clearly stepped up its game, moving beyond the watery grapes and poor vintages that were commonly associated with their nation. So to get you up to speed on the 25th largest wine producer in the world, here are ten interesting facts. Gracias!


Hernán Cortés and Mexican wine
1. The first Mexican wines were produced in the early 1500s after Hernán Cortés and his fellow Spanish Conquistadors overthrew the Aztecs. Quickly going through their own supply, he ordered each colonist to plant a minimum of 1000 grapevines.

 

Casa Madero first winery in Mexico
2. Casa Madero, the first winery in the Americas was established in 1597 in the town of Santa Maria de las Parras and is still in existence to this day.

 

King Philip II Mexico wine
3. Surpassing Spanish wines in terms of quality while facing stiff competition from France, King Philip II in 1595 ordered that all production stop immediately. After this edict, only the Jesuits and other religious sects made wine on Mexican soil for sacramental purposes.

 

Molokans Mexico wine
4. In the early 20th century, a group of pacifist immigrants from Russia known as the Molokans arrived in Mexico after escaping the Czar. With their knowledge of agriculture, they were able to revitalize the country’s wine industry in the Guadalupe Valley, which came to a halt during the Mexican Revolution.

 

Mexico’s National Viticulture Association
By Gabriel Flores Romero from Tecate, México (originally posted to Flickr as viñedos) [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

5. Serious attempts to make quality wines again began during the 1980s using modern techniques and backed by Mexico’s National Viticulture Association.

 

Mexico wine growing provinces and areas
By Marrovi (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 or GFDL], via Wikimedia Commons

6. Today, Mexican wine is made in three main areas—in the Baja Peninsula, the states of Coahuila, Durango and Chihuahua that are south of Texas and New Mexico, and in the central states of Zacatecas, Aguascalientes, and Queretaro.

 

Baja California mountain range Mexico wine
By Tomascastelazo (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

7. Of these three, the Baja Peninsula is where more than 90% of all Mexican wine is produced. Divided by the Sierra de Baja California mountain range, all vineyards in the peninsula are located west of these mountains where the climate is similar to the Mediterranean with the Pacific Ocean helping to cool the grapes.

 

Baja Peninsula Mexico wine
By Jaime Sanchez Diaz (jsanchezd) [GFDL, CC-BY-SA-3.0 or CC BY-SA 2.5-2.0-1.0], via Wikimedia Commons

8. Along the Baja Peninsula, Guadalupe Valley is considered to be the Napa Valley of Mexico, being home to approximately half of the all the country’s wineries.

 

Mexico wine grapes varietals
By Tomas Castelazo (Own work) [GFDL or CC BY 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

9. Many of the grapes grown in Mexico are of either Spanish or French origin. These include syrah, cabernet sauvignon, malbec and chardonnay.

 

Mexico wine bottle labeling
By Kjetil2006 (Own work) [GFDL or CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

10. With no system of denominations of origin, all bottles simply need to be labeled “Product of Mexico.” (However, some may note the valley it was made in.) Also, the grapes listed may not be listed in the order in which they dominate the blend.

Sources:

MacNeil, Karen. The Wine Bible. New York: Workman Publishing, 2015.
Micallef. (2017, January 7). Wine Stories: Mexico’s Wine Renaissance. Huffington Post. Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.com
Newton, James. Mexican Cookbook – Traditional Mexican Recipes: Recetas Mexicanas. Springwood EMedia, 2014.
Palmerlee, Danny. Baja California and Los Cabos. Oakland: Lonely Planet, 2007.


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Ask Sid: Best Sauternes Vintages?

January 18th, 2017
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Ask Sid: Best Sauternes Vintages?
By Laurent Espitallier from France (Sauternes & Foie gras) [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Question: I have collected quite a few Sauternes from different years starting with 2000 and onwards. Which vintages do you consider the top ones and best aging?

Answer: Discussed this issue last night at a dinner while sipping on the amazingly pineapple rich forwardly Chateau Coutet 1989. Middle year of the successful Sauternes trio with those early picked powerful 1990 and more botrytis with higher acidity 1988. Starting this century 2000 had a lot of rain from October 9th resulting in fragrant lighter Sauternes. The following year 2001 is so outstanding with their incredible balance! Also the 2005 has balance but less acidity though exceptional while the 2009 is ultra-rich with lots of botrytis. Some promising ones coming along from this decade to monitor. Expert Bill Blatch on his www.bordeauxgold.com is a good site to follow. Try some from your collection and make you own assessment.


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Château Palmer Vertical

January 16th, 2017

Château Palmer Vertical bordeaux
By PA (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Last week your scribe had the pleasurable opportunity to reflect on one of my favourite wine properties and study at a dinner 10 vintages of Château Palmer. Most of my early visits to Bordeaux in the seventies and eighties always included memorable tastings of exquisite old bottles of this 3rd growth in Margaux with the family syndicate ownership represented by either the outstanding weather chronicler now deceased Peter A. Sichel or old Bordeaux vintage collector Franck Mahler-Besse providing invaluable insights into their wines. This property was the star of the appellation during this period before the re-emergence of Château Margaux under the Corinne Mentzelopoulos and the late Paul Pontallier leadership. Palmer also was made in quite a different style not using a clear majority of cabernet sauvignon but instead usually an equal amount nearing 50% of seductive merlot in the blend. Since 1998 there is a second label Alter Ego de Palmer showing a more forwardly drinking style using Estate fruit but in different proportions from the Grand Vin. Since 2004 Château Palmer has been under the competent management of talented Thomas Duroux (with Ornellaia winemaking experience) and his team. They go from strength to strength every vintage. A property to follow and collect.

Some brief tasting impressions:

1999: Successful limited selection of Grand Vin grapes of cab sauv, merlot, and petit verdot 48/46/6. Medium bodied with colour lighter at the rim. Less of a power statement but superb lovely complexity here on nose and palate. On excellent drinking plateau already but no rush either.

1998: Dark colour from superb year for ripe merlot. Underrated and so expressive because of choice grape selection similar to 1999. Well balanced very Palmer style with variety of herbs and flowers is drinking well. Like the 1999 was early on a smart good value buy.

1996: Surprisingly paler colour but has more cab sauv at 55% which is much more closed yet rich and powerful notes in a cassis style. Harder finish. Needs time.

1995: Very dark colour right to the rim. Similar to 1996 but better tannin integration here and much softer plush textures. Drink before 1996.

1989: Hot weather resulted in early picking with all varieties having phenolic ripeness. Clearly my wine of the night with compelling exquisite exotic flair. Concentration with complex elegance. A winner!

1988: Deep colour but leaner herbal style shows more lively acidity & coarser tannins which are still rather prominent. Has fruit there so may come around with patience.

1986: Better year for cab sauv especially in north Medoc. Atypical for Palmer here being a bit stern and austere. OK.

1985: Red ruby with better mature fruit than 1986 showing more charm. Drinking at best level with some drying tannins on the finish. Enjoy now.

1983: Enjoyed this vintage many times over the last decade often paired with the 1989. 1983 Palmer always has overshadowed the 1982 yet shows now a more herbal quite minty lighter charm and elegance when compared to the fuller sweeter richer longer aging 1989.

1978: Miracle vintage that was saved late. Sometimes like here a bit too herbal earthy and less than full ripeness with bottle variation.

Also tried during 2016 four outstanding Palmers all showing brilliantly: 1975: big hard brutish vintage but this one coming around nicely now; 1970: is so classic and maybe the wine of the vintage luckily purchased in BC liquor stores during December 1975 for the bargain price of $11.50 a bottle; 1966: the long distance runner of perfect balanced acidity with wonderful fruit; 1961: always ranks among the very best wines I have tasted being still so remarkably aristocratic perfect from well stored bottles. Big salute also to those ancient special treasures of 1959 & 1928!


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The Pioneers of British Bubbly

January 13th, 2017

history of English sparkling wine
Image: nyetimber.com

By Joseph Temple

Just an hour’s drive south of London, along a ring of chalk and limestone, it’s safe to say that the future is indeed looking very bubbly. After beating the Champenois at their own game in numerous international competitions (while reaping a whirlwind of publicity), English fizz has risen like a phoenix. In fact, across the counties of Kent, West Sussex, East Sussex, and Hampshire, nearly two thirds of all bottles produced today are sparkling. And experts predict that approximately six million bottles of British bubbly will be available for purchase by 2023. From a very niche product to one that is currently exported to a record 27 countries, some have even opined that English sparkling wine, arguably on par with the best Champagne houses in France, is greatly undervalued – especially given its geographical constraints.

Of course, for those of us who live on the other side of the pond and think the term ‘English wine’ is an oxymoron, it probably seems surreal that there are now over 500 commercial vineyards operating on British soil. Not only that, but these vineyards are giving the French a run for their money with their award-winning bubbles.

Simply put: How did this all happen?

In trying to identify a key turning point in the two thousand year history of English wine, one needs only to travel back to 1988. The same year that Margaret Thatcher became the longest serving British prime minister of the twentieth century also turned out to be the year that the first vines of Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Pinot Meunier were planted on a property recorded in the Domesday Book and once owned by Anne of Cleves, the fourth wife of Henry VIII. Ironically, it wasn’t even an Englishman who planted them.

Noticing that the 438 acres that surrounded the 11th-century Nyetimber Manor shared an almost identical climate and geology with the region of Champagne, Sandy and Stuart Moss of Chicago decided to bring in French experts to assess the region’s potential. Realizing that the greensand soil was near perfect for sparkling wine, the American couple moved full steam ahead with their trailblazing vision. According to Oz Clarke, “Everybody told them they should plant apples—bureaucrats always say that; we’d have no Marlborough Sauvignon from New Zealand, no Oregon Pinot Noir, if the true believers believed them.”

Living up to its potential—and then some—Nyetimber’s 1992 Premiere Cuvee Blanc de Blanc, its very first vintage, ended up winning an international gold medal in 1996. But the estate proved it was no fluke when two years later, its Classic Cuvee 1993 won the trophy for best sparkling wine in the world. Given all the accolades, it was no surprise that Queen Elizabeth II chose Nyetimber for her fiftieth wedding anniversary, helping to solidify their brand as England’s most recognizable sparkling wine.

Fast forward to today and the vines that were first planted nearly three decades ago have grown to become a multi-billion dollar enterprise as hundreds of other vintners (including some French wineries) decided to follow in the footsteps of the Mosses. While Nyetimber’s Blanc de Blanc is described by one writer as “light and lithe with fabulous length,” the Classic is “breadier with bright acidity and a crisp clarity and pure zesty orange fruit to it.” So if you ever get a chance, try a glass of the wine that has redefined the world of bubbly!

Sources:

Clarke, Oz. The History of Wine in 100 Bottles: From Bacchus to Bordeaux and Beyond. London: Pavilion Books, 2015.
Harvey, David. Grape Britain: A Tour of Britains Vineyards. Castle Douglas: Neil Wilson Publishing, 2011.
Time Out. Time Out Kent & Sussex. London: Time Out Guides, 2011.


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Ask Sid: Decanting Using a Candle?

January 11th, 2017
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candle decanter wine

Question: Saw you across the room on Monday at the BC Sommelier of the Year competition finals. Wanted to get your thoughts about how they used a candle flame for the decanting service.

Answer: Sorry I missed speaking with you there. Wonderful very difficult competition organized by The Canadian Association of Professional Sommeliers BC Chapter. Really enjoyed the finals with the top 3 each being given 18 stressful minutes to orally give their impressions on 7 glasses served blind – 4 wine and 3 mixed drinks. Also only 3 minutes to point out the errors in a specially made-up many mistakes full wine list page with spelling, region and pricing etc. The decanting of the magnum of wine went well. Perhaps prefer using a magnum decanter rather than 2 smaller ones. Not a big fan of the candle use for decanting because of the resulting smells. My thoughts were that I didn’t think that lighting and especially extinguishing the candle flame right at the dining table was the best method to use. Prefer it to be lit and extinguished away from the table. Otherwise it leaves behind some smoky odours that may detract from your enjoyment of the bouquet of the wine. Prefer using a bright flashlight that avoids this issue.


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