Varieties from Baja California’s increasingly famous Guadalupe Valley are making their way up to Newport Beach — one bottle at a time.
By Alina Orozco
Just a few hours south of Newport Beach, in Mexico’s Guadalupe Valley, wineries are turning out impressive blends that are gaining attention. The flourishing wine-growing area is located off a dusty path between Tijuana and Ensenada—the tricky route is a series of abrupt, uneven and unpaved roads.
Once there, the scenery is stunning: Mountains surround the valley, while oak trees, olive groves and vineyards stretch along the hillsides. This picturesque, seemingly small town, has actually been producing wine for nearly a century. Today, the Guadalupe Valley is estimated to be home to more than 100 wineries and produces the majority of all the wine made in Mexico.
The dry, hot summers and the cool winters of Baja California, combined with drainage-friendly, porous soil and coastal breeze make up the ideal conditions for grape growing. In fact, virtually any vine variety excels in the region, which has no signature grape. Additionally, there aren’t any rules, so winemakers create blends of tempranillo, cabernet sauvignon, grenache and malbec, as well as chenin blanc, palomino and sauvignon blanc, among others. Wineries in Guadalupe Valley are experimenting yearly and perfecting their craft.
For those who can’t get to Baja—or in between trips—several Newport restaurants are beginning to discover the wines from this burgeoning vineyard region and are enthusiastically adding them to their menus, making it easy to enjoy one of Mexico’s top wines without crossing the border.
Robert Galvez, restaurant manager and wine director at Red O, chose the Monte Xanic Chenin Blanc Cosecha Tardía for Red O’s menu, which he recommends patrons pair with the fresh corn and goat cheese tamales. “The fruit simultaneously provides a good compliment to the sweet corn,” notes Galvez, who has been managing and running the wine program since the restaurant first opened at Fashion Island. Other items to try with the chenin blanc are yellowtail aguachile or Yucatecan shrimp and calamari ceviche.
Another bottle that can be sampled at Red O is the Cava Aragon 126 Madera 5 Nebbiolo. “Typically grown in small pockets of California and Argentina, finding quality nebbiolo-based wines sourced outside of Piedmont, Italy, is quite rare,” Galvez says. “So you could imagine the level of surprise when we tasted a nice representation from Baja. The bouquet offers small hints of the trademark tar, leather and roses, while the palate offers good acidity balanced by the requisite spice and ripe cherry. Prevalent tannins make it ideal for prime steak and game.” Try the Madera 5 with the 18-ounce prime cowboy rib-eye served with a 20-ingredient mole negro.
The Winery Restaurant & Wine Bar
For more Baja wine selections, stop at The Winery Restaurant & Wine Bar. Here, Wine Director and sommelier Rafael Hernandez Jr. added two new bottles to the ever-evolving wine program. Hernandez recommends pairing the Bodega Vena Cava, a red blend cabernet sauvignon, with notes of anise, spice, cassis, blueberry and blackberry, with the bone-in filet mignon, while the Bodega Emeve malbec is best paired with the bacon-wrapped venison chop—both are menu specials available through the summer. “Its great fruit structure and acidity craves game,” Hernandez explains.
Last year, Wine Lab, just over the border from Newport at The Camp in Costa Mesa, hosted an expert tasting of Baja’s most celebrated blends. “This is an exciting place where experimentation is blending with a long tradition of winemaking,” says Wine Lab sommelier and Wine Director Roger Richards. Stop in to taste what could become your favorite red or white blend, and ask the experts behind the bar to help you pair your selections with the menu options.