‘You’re kidding,” I exclaimed (in Spanish) as I scanned the wine chart plastered to the wall of the Freixenet Wine Bar in the Mexican spa town of Tequisquiapan.
“No, the vineyard is only about 20 minutes from here,” said the waitress.
Like most people, I don’t really think of Mexico as a wine-producing country. The best-known wine region—really the only one that gets much press—is in Baja California near Ensenada, just an hour south of the U.S./Mexico border.
So finding homegrown champagne in Querétaro, in the Colonial Highlands, was quite a surprise. An even bigger surprise was finding that it was…good. Quite quaffable, in fact. And very affordable—about $12 a bottle.
The bubbly I drank was produced by the Mexican subsidiary of Freixenet, the Spanish winery known for its sparkling wine (cava) in the black bottles. Cavas Freixenet de Mexico produces nearly two dozen sparkling and still wines—reds, whites and rosés—from locally-grown grapes. A tasting tour of the winery is an easy day trip from the state capital, Querétaro, which is only about an hour away.
Intrigued by my discovery in Tequisquiapan, I did a little research. And it turns out that there are three main wine regions in Mexico, all in the northern and central part of the country. These are the Norte region (Baja California’s Guadalupe and Calafia Valleys, plus the neighboring state of Sonora); the La Laguna area in Coahuila and Durango states; and the Center, in the Colonial Highlands states of Aguascalientes, Zacatecas, and Querétaro (where I found my quaffable bubbly).
That’s the good news.
The bad news is that, based on my own tasting experience, quality varies. I’ve had some Mexican wines that were very drinkable, such as my experience in Tequisquiapan with Mexican-made champagne. And I’ve had some Mexican wines that made me think I’d rather stick with the country’s always-reliable, excellent beer.
For the benefit of wine-drinkers out there, here are a few things I’ve noted—and my suggestions for negotiating the tricky waters of palatable wine-drinking in Mexico.
- By and large, Mexicans aren’t big wine drinkers. As a result, they’re not too demanding yet as buyers or drinkers. This has two effects I’ve noticed. The first is that white wines tend to be on the sweet or overly-fruity side to cater to unsophisticated palates (though I’ve found some that I like). The second is that inexpensive Mexican wines often aren’t as good as inexpensive wines from countries like Chile, Argentina or Spain, where serious wine-drinking locals ensure that even the plonk is good enough to choke down.
- Lots of venues that sell or serve wine (such as supermarkets or bars) don’t know how to store it. Even good wines suffer when they’re left in the blazing sun, whether it’s in a storage bin or a bar shelf.
- If at all possible, taste a wine before committing yourself to a bottle.
- If you don’t like the tasting, check how the wine was stored. And how long since the bottle was opened. It may not be the wine’s fault if it tastes a bit sour.
Finally, be adventurous. Mexico’s wine renaissance is still in its early stages, and wines are improving. Wine-making schools are popping up, and wine-makers from other countries are also bringing their expertise—and planting vines—in areas like Baja’s Guadalupe Valley. And if you have the chance to take a wine tour, jump at it: You may just discover a very drinkable little wine in a place you never considered.