Today's oenophiles are more than aware that Mexico's Valle de Guadalupe region – a thin trail of vineyards in northern Baja that has grown wine grapes planted by Dominican priests since the 19th century – is responsible for vigorous varietals that match the quality of anything grown in California's storied wine countries. The 14-mile-long valley looks like a Provence-Napa combo with its iconic farmhouses and olive trees, even though the microclimate differs from California wine regions due to warmer daytime temperatures.
One of the best ways to sample these bottles is by visiting the deepest Guadalupe Valley wine collection in southern Baja. It's located at Las Ventanas al Paraiso, an exclusive private-villa-style hotel that houses a celebrated cave (La Cava) with 3,500 wines, as well as a restaurant with a new locally sourced Mexican menu that was, until recently, reserved only for the hotel's guests. The property's sommelier Alejandro Aviles offers exclusive wine pairings in La Cava, as well as dinners in The Restaurant with Mexican vintners each month.
"Guadalupe Valley wines have an unmatched, refreshingly fruity quality, as well as soft tannins that never leave a bitter aftertaste, unlike other reds," says Aviles. "For this reason, they pair extraordinarily well with fresh and light ingredients from this region." In a unique if not terribly dissimilar explanation of the magic of Santa Barbara's pinot as recalled from the Alexander Payne film 'Sideways,' Aviles says that Mexican wines benefit from the formidable Santa Ana winds, which offer the vines hot days and cool nights. What's more, only specific varietals are grown in the unusually rich soil: Grenache, Tempranillo, Nebbiolo, Sangiovese, Chenin Blanc, and Chenin Colombard.
What all this means – to everyone but a wine snob – is that you will experience some uncommonly memorable vino in Mexico, certainly in Baja, under Aviles' supervision. Mexican wines cut the fat in rich long-braised meat dishes – say, carnitas or cocinita pibil. "But for summer-friendly food, the white chenin blancs and light red wines from the Grenache grapes at Guadalupe's Monte Xanic vineyard are ideal," Aviles says. (Something like Huachinango a la Veracruzana, which is Veracruz-style grilled red snapper with tomato-based onion, capers, and olive sauce, would be a perfect pairing.) So the next time you're hitting Baja to sea kayak, surf, or just relax, remember that you don't necessarily have to stay at a five-star hotel to taste some of the best south-of-the-border wines in the world. [The Restaurant at Las Ventanas al Paraiso, rosewoodhotels.com]