Appreciating Mexican Wines

Appreciating Mexican Wines           

Tara A. Spears

In recent years the production of quality Mexican wine has finally gotten the notice it deserves. Each year, the Mexican wine-growing area is expanding and the quality of wines produced in Mexico continues improving. If you haven’t sampled a Mexican wine you’re missing out on a great experience!

It’s taken centuries for the Mexican wine industry to be appreciated worldwide. The legend of how wine making got started originally is interesting. The story goes that Spanish conqueror Hernán Cortés quickly depleted his wine stock when celebrating the conquest of the Aztecs in the early 1500s. One of his first acts as governor in the new land was to order thousands of grapevines planted throughout New Spain; the first vineyards took root in Puebla, Querétaro, Aguascalientes, and Coahuila states.

During this colonial period, all ships bound for the colonies carried grapevines, and eventually wine exports from Spain to the New World plummeted with the availability of home grown wine. Mexican wineries were so successful that by 1699, King Charles II issued a ban on New World wine production; this wine was supposed to be limited to use in religious ceremonies by the church. Jesuit priest Juan Ugarte planted the first vines in Baja California when he came to the Loreto mission in 1701.      

The Parras Valley is a small wine region in the Sierra Madre Oriental Mountains of central northern Mexico. According to wine-searcher, “the valley plays only a small part in the modern Mexican wine industry (90% of the nation’s wine comes from Baja California 1000 miles/1600km west), but it is of great historical significance. The oldest winery in the Americas – the Casa Madera – can be found here, on the site of a Jesuit mission.”

Parras de la Fuente (which means ‘vineyards of the spring’) is the commercial center of the Parras Valley. Parras is also known casually as The Oasis of Coahuila – for many miles in every direction the landscape consists entirely of mountains and semi-desert. At an altitude of almost 5000ft (1525m), the climate here is significantly cooler than on the low lands. The few vines that were indigenous to Mexico proved less suitable for quality wines, so almost all modern Mexican wine is made from international varieties of French, Spanish and Italian descent.

 Though it produces 90 percent of Mexico’s wines today, Baja is a relative newcomer to the industry.  Mexico’s Guadalupe Valley, northeast of Ensenada, has single-handedly put the country on the wine connoisseur’s map and earned the moniker, “Mexico’s Napa Valley.” Monte Xanic, Santo Tomas and L.A. Cetto are among its best-known brands.


Another geographical region that produces excellent wine is located in Querétaro.  This is one of Mexico’s most prosperous wine growing areas where the Querétaro’s vineyards occupy altitudes around 6,500 feet. Sparkling wines make up the bulk of its output, but sauvignon blanc, St. Emilion, cabernet sauvignon and pinot noir are also produced here.

Queretaro is also the home of the Spanish vintner Freixenet’s Mexican operation. Freixenet is best-known for its dry sparkling wines (vinos espumosos, or “frothy wines”) in satiny black bottles, produced by the champenoise method of fermentation discovered by Dom Perignon in the 17th century. The winery also produces still wines, mostly red blends. Cavas Freixenet de Mexico, north of Tequisquiapan, offers guided tours, classes, concerts and festivals throughout the year.

 Earlier in May, in Valladolid Spain, in one of the premier winemaking regions, Castilla y Leon, the 2017 wine completion Concours Mondial de Bruxelles was held. This year had nearly 10,000 entries from 50 countries all competing for gold and silver medals. Mexican wineries submitted 18 wines to the Brussels World Wine Competition and came home with 18 medals, six of them gold.  A panel of 320 international judges — journalists, buyers, oncologists and sommeliers — gave Mexican wines the highest number of medals, followed by France, Italy, Portugal and Chile. Congratulations to the Mexican delegation!

The next time that you visit Mexico or even if you’re just dreaming of the good times south of the border, try a change from tequila or Mexican beer (both excellent). Savoring a glass of Mexican wine at sunset is an excellent tradition.