Saturday, March 11, 2017

Wine Travel Stories Transitions to Version 2.0

After eight wonderful years of posting wine travel stories on this site, I have decided to transition to a Wordpress platform.  Please join me at  WineTravelStories2.com.







Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Snapshot of the Mexican Wine Industry – Home of Oldest Winery in the Americas

(Excerpts of this post are from an article co-authored with Jorge Covarrubias in Winebusiness.com)

(Dec. 2016) One of the distinguishing features of wine from Mexico is that the country is reputed to be the home of the oldest winery in all of the Americas. This winery is Casa Madero and is located in the Sierra Madre Oriental mountains in the state of Coahuila, about one hour’s drive east of the city of Monterrey.

Records show that in the 1520’s after conquering the Aztecs, Cortes had Spanish grapevines sent to Mexico in order to plant vineyards and make wine in this region. The date is several decades earlier than vineyards were first planted in Chile (1548) and Argentina (1551).

Major Wine Growing Regions of Mexico (Map created in Powerpoint by L. Thach, 2016)


Statistics on the Mexican Wine Industry

Finding up to date statistics on the Mexican wine industry can often be challenging, but there are several reputable sources. These numbers are primarily from the Euromonitor June 2016 report on the Mexican wine industry, the Consejo Mexicano VitiVinicola December 2015 website report; and La Ruta del Vina website for the Valle de Guadalupe.

Number of Wineries: approximately 100, with 70+ headquartered in Valle de Guadalupe of Baja

Major Wine Regions: Wine is produced in 12 of Mexico’s 31 states, but more than 80% is produced in the Baja Peninsula, which has a similar climate to California. Other major wine producing states include Sonora, Coahuila, Durango, Zacatecas, Aguascalientes and Quer├ętaro (see map)

Major Varieties Produced: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Tempranillo, Syrah, Chardonnay and Chenin Blanc

Largest Wine Producers: La Madrile├▒a (20% of the volume); Casa Pedro Domecq; L.A. Cetto, Monte Xanic

Wine sales in 2015: 91 million liters valued at $28 billion Mexican pesos

Imports: 65% of wine is imported; 35% domestic

Economic Impact: annually generates 500,000 in employee wages and 1200 permanent jobs

Growth Estimates = 10% in volume and 11% in value in the next few years

Vineyard in Valle de Guadalupe of Baja.   Photo Credit: J Covarrubias 

The Future Trend in Mexico for Wine is Positive


Though beer and tequila are currently more popular drinks in Mexico, wine has been gaining traction over the past few years. Euromonitor forecasts that the growth trend in positive, especially since Mexico has a large population of 130 million people, with a median age of 27, and is ranked 10th largest country in the world. The Millennial generation in Mexico is beginning to adopt wine as a new beverage, as well as many of the urban professionals. In addition, the trend to consume local products is also positive for Mexican wine, as people begin to seek out more of their home-grown products.


References:



Saturday, December 24, 2016

Searching for Mexican Wine on the Mayan Riviera

(Dec. 2016) The last time I visited Mexico was in Cabo San Lucas where you can buy a glass of Mexican wine in almost every restaurant. This is because more than 80% of Mexican wine is produced there in the Baja Peninsula, south of California. The climate is Mediterranean, with hot dry summers and cool wet winters, and is ideal for wine grape growing.

Beautiful White Sand Beaches of the Mayan Riviera, Mexico


However, this time I traveled to the opposite side of the country to the Mayan Riviera located on the Yucatan Peninsula and bordered by the Caribbean Ocean. Here the climate is much more humid, with an average temperature of 80 F degrees year-round. Lush jungles embrace miles of white sandy beaches, and the exquisitely colored turquoise water is warm and balmy. Due to the climate, most visitors drink margaritas or beer (cerveza). And though I found bottles of Mexican wine for sale in restaurants, I struggled to find any wine by the glass.

About the Mayan Riviera

The Mayan Riviera of Mexico stretches from Cancun in the north to the temples of Tulum in the south, with the town of Playa del Carmen in the middle, and the island of Cozumel just a short ferry ride away. Huge resorts line the fluffy white sand beaches, and the area is filled with many delicious restaurants and fun shops. Scuba-diving, snorkeling and deep sea fishing are amongst the most popular tourist activities, as well as visiting the ancient Mayan cities and the unique “cenotes” – sink holes with fresh water that often form underground caves.

A "Cenote" Sink Hole Cavern

It is hard to believe that a mere fifty years ago there were only sleeping fishing villages along the coast. Today it is a booming international tourist destination, identified by the Mexican government in the 1960’s as part of the country’s mega-development projects, which also included Los Cabos in the Baja Peninsula.

Resort Hotels Along Beach in Playa del Carmen

The Ancient Mayan Civilization

I was fascinated to learn more about the Mayan culture, which is considered to be one of the great civilizations of the world, with amazing knowledge of science and architecture – similar to the ancient Egyptians.

The Mayans actually lived not only in this part of Mexico, but further south and into Belize, Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras. However their capital, Mayapan (for which they are named), was located in the Yucatan Peninsula. The original people were called Olmecs (1500-200 BCE), and they carved huge heads out of stones – many of which are still around to be viewed – but most of the famous stone cities and pyramids of the region, such as Chichen Itza and Coba, were built in the Classic Period from 250 – 950 CE.

Mayan Temple Ruins at Tulum, Mexico

Tulum, the famous Mayan walled city near the ocean, was built during the Post Classic period, around 1200 CE.  In addition to their great architecture skills, the Mayans were also well-known for their skills in astrology and mathematics, and the creation of the Mayan calendar. We visited Tulum and found the site to be fascinating, as well as the lovely white sandy beach below.

Ancient Mayan City of Tulum Near the Ocean

Food and Wine Found Along the Mayan Riviera

After talking with many people who had visited the area previously, I decided to stay in Playa del Carmen, because it is supposedly a little less touristy and crowded than Cancun and Cozumel. My hotel was the all-inclusive, ROYAL, located on a huge white sandy beach and only one block from the famous Quinta (5th) Avenue – a pedestrian only street with many restaurants and colorful street artists.

The Royal All-Inclusive Resort at Playa del Carmen, Mexico

The resort has eight restaurants, and they featured a total of 27 different bottles of Mexican wine, which is impressive. Prices ranged from $44 for a Monte Xanic Chenin Blanc/Colombard blend to $113 for Icaro Nebbiolo and Bordeaux Blend. These wines illustrate the penchant of Mexican wineries to focus on innovative blends. However, since I was traveling with my daughter, and she doesn’t drink wine, I didn’t want to purchase a whole bottle for myself. Thus I was forced to sample the six wines by the glass that they did offer – all from Spain and Chile.

Mexican Food with a Glass of Chilean Chardonnay

The food in and outside of the resort was all fresh and tasty. We focused on the local fish, most of which had been caught that day, as well as fresh fruit and vegetables. We gorged ourselves on guacamole and other Mexican food favorites, such as cheese quesadillas, enchiladas, and fajitas.

Finding a Mexican Wine on the Last Night – Casa Madera Winery


On our last evening we ventured out to a Mexican restaurant called Maria’s at the Gran Porto, and I finally found a half bottle of Mexican wine to order. It was recommended by the server with great pride in his voice, and when I saw the bottle, I knew why. It was a 2014 Casa Madera Cabernet Sauvignon. I was very excited when I saw this wine because I’ve always wanted to taste it, and the price was reasonable at 375 pesos (around $18). Regular price in a store is around $9, so this was a 100% mark-up, which is normal in restaurants.

Mexican Steak and Shrimp with Casa Madera Cabernet Sauvignon

Established in 1597, Casa Madera is reputed to be the oldest winery in all of the Americas. Located 70 miles west of Monterrey, Mexico, it is nestled in the Valley de Parras, a mountainous region with an elevation of around 4900 feet, which provides the cooler more temperate climate that winegrapes love.

As the server deftly uncorked the wine, then poured a small amount for me to taste, I noticed that it was lighter in color than I expected – a medium-dark ruby red. The nose was enticing with ripe berries and plum. This carried through on the palate with subtle oak notes and spice. It had smooth silky tannins, good balance, and showed its New World pedigree in the ripe and approachable style. The cab paired very well with the rib-eye and shrimp combo I was having, along with a red spicy mole and rice.



The experience was very positive, and made me want to sample more wines from Casa Madera. Someday it would be nice to visit such a famous historical winery.

A short video highlighting our time on the Mayan Riviera can be found HERE.


A Wish for More Local Wines by the Glass


As I finish this post, I can’t help but reiterate my wish for all global wine regions to feature their local wines in restaurants and bars in a “by-the-glass format” so that tourists can taste them. Only offering local wines by the bottle is a deterrent for many visitors, because they don’t know how the wines will taste. A by-the-glass offering is much less risky, and encourages exploration. Restaurants are already featuring local cuisine – why not show-off local wines as well?  A simple investment in a Coravin makes this option much more feasible, because the restaurant doesn’t have to worry about the wine spoiling. My hope is that more places along the Mayan Riviera will begin to showcase wines from Mexico by the glass.

References

  • Berger, D. (2006). The Development of Mexico's Tourism Industry: Pyramids by Day, Martinis by Night. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.
  • Covarrubias, J. & Thach, L. (2016). Mexican Wine, Beer or Tequila: The Amazing Resilience of Mexico’s Wine Industry. Winebusiness.com, Feb. 1, 2016. Available at: http://www.winebusiness.com/news/?go=getArticle&dataid=164050
  • Hinsdale, J.E. (2015). Explorer’s Guide to Playa del Carmen, Tulum & the Riviera Maya. Vermont: Countryman Press.
  • History.com (2014). Maya History. Available at: http://www.history.com/topics/maya
  • Mark, J. (2012). Maya Civilization. Ancient History Encyclopedia. Available at http://www.ancient.eu/Maya_Civilization/



Monday, December 12, 2016

A Visit to Villa Margon and a Dinner with Ferrari Winery at Locanda Margon, Italy

(November 2016) On our last evening in Trentodoc we were truly spoiled with a tour and seated tasting at Ferrari Winery, followed by a visit to their historic Villa Margon and dinner at their Michelin star restaurant called Locanda Margon.

Entrance to Ferrari Winery Tasting Room in Trento, Italy

Ferrari was started in 1902 by Giulio Ferrari, who had a dream of creating world-class sparkling wine in his homeland of Trentino. After studying winemaking in France, he returned and started Ferrari and today it is one of the most well-respected sparkling wines of Italy. See video

When we asked if they were related to the Ferrari car company, we were told that the name “Ferrari” in Italy is very common – like Smith in the US. So no relationship, but the two firms have agreed to support one another and not infringe on copyright issues.

Ferrari owns 85 hectares and also purchases grapes from 600 families in order to produce around 4.5 million bottles of sparkling wine per year. They export around 20%, but want to increase this. Today it is owned and operated by the Lunelli family. We met with Matteo, Camilla and Marcello during our visit and dinner.

 
Wine Tasting at Ferrari Winery in Trento, Italy

We tasted five wines (see photo), and all were excellent.  Even the basic NV Brut Ferrari which sells for only 13 euros was extremely well made. A blanc de blanc, it is filled with pear, apple, lemon and has a big creamy texture. I found all of the Ferrari wines to have a fuller-body than the majority of the leaner more focused wines we found in much of Trentodoc.

Wines Tasted at Ferrari Winery in Trento, Italy

The grand cuvee is the Giulio Ferrari, which is always aged 8 year on lees and is fermented in 10 to 20% oak. We tried the Giulio Ferrari 2005, which actually tasted a little young, but had a pure, streamlined nose of nuts and lemon carrying through on the palate with spice and apple.  Big, complex but with a creamy mouthfeel and an elegant finish.  Very satisfying. Average price of $66 per bottle.
  
A Visit to Villa Margon – 500 Year Old Country Mansion

Built in the 16th century, Villa Margon is perched on a hill above the winery with a sweeping view of the city and hills of Trento.  With its beautiful Venetian architecture of rounded arches, tiled floors, and very famous frescos, which cover almost every wall, the villa is truly one of the most aristocratic houses in the Dolomites.  Many famous people have stayed in the villa over the years, including Emperor Charles V. It was also owned by a baron and became a hunting preserve for a while.  It was donated to the Lunelli Family, because they had the money to maintain it, and continue to do so today – keeping it open for visitors.

Villa Margon at Night

The frescos that cover the wall are amazingly bright and vivid in color, even though they date from the 16th century! The scenes range from biblical to romantic to war, and would take months to study them all in-depth. One of my favorites was a mural of the different seasons of the vine. The rooms of the mansion are also beautifully decorated with antique furniture and unique chandeliers.

Frescos and Chandelier in Villa Margon

Dinner at 2-Star Michelin Restaurant - Locanda Margon

As if they didn’t have enough on their plates, the Lunelli Family decided to open a restaurant on the hill above Ferrari Winery, which they call Locanda Margon. They hired chef Alfio Ghezzi, who within a short time turned it into a 1-star Michelin restaurant, only to be award 2-stars the week after we left!  Certainly the Michelin inspectors had been there before us, and it was truly a two-star experience.

One of the Many Exquisite Dishes Served at Locanda Margon Restaurant in Trento, Italy

Arriving at the restaurant we were ushered into a private dining room and enjoyed the special menu and wines listed below. Each dish was a work of art, and the different tastes were dazzling – especially offset by the sparkling wines that helped set them afire on our taste buds. To add to the experience, we were honored to have Camilla Lunelli join us during the dinner and offer eloquent toasts to make the evening even more memorable.

Amuse Bouche
Ferrari Perle Bianco 2006, Trentodoc

Gamberi E Arachidi  - Zenzero e caviale
Ferrari Perle Nero 2008, Trentodoc

Riso Mantecato – Trentingrana, mele e timo
Ferrari Riserva Lunelli 2007, Trentodoc

Agnello – Camomilla e polenta di patate el Vezzena
Ferrari Perle Rose 2009, Trentodoc

Piccola Pasticceria
Ferrari Maximum Demi-Sec, Trentodoc

Zucca E Castagne – crema al limone, cioccolato e polvere di coffe
Segnana Grappa Solera


Thank you to Ferrari and the Trentadoc Wine Association for a once in a lifetime visit to the exquisite Italian Alps and the sparkling wine made by the mountains.




Friday, December 9, 2016

Visit to Five Sparkling Wineries of Trentodoc, Italy

(November 2016) When you next find yourself in the breathtakingly beautiful Dolomite mountains of northern Italy, make sure to take a few extra days to visit these wineries which specialize in producing the sparkling wine of Trentodoc, made in the traditional method with secondary fermentation in bottle. During our visit, we were able to enjoy tastings with the following producers:


Dolomites Mountains of the Trentodoc Wine Region in Italy.  Photo Credit: Trentodoc Wines


Cesarini Sforza – Sparkling Wine from the Land of the Eagle

We met with the owner and winemaker of Cesarini SforzaWinery while having dinner at Maso Franch Restaurant in Giovo in the hills outside of Trento. They treated us to a vintage tasting of six of their wines, including some single vineyard riservas from Aquila Reale, which means “land of the eagle.” The 2009 and 2001 were real standouts.

Cembra Valley – Home of Highest Altitude Winery in Italy

After a delicious lunch at Le Due Spade Restaurant in Trento, we drove into the mountains and through the steep vineyards of the CembraValley, home to the highest altitude winery in Italy. It reminded me of the steep slopes of the Mosel in Germany, but the vines here were on the high pergola trellis systems. With the rugged snow-capped Dolomites in the distance, this truly is one of the most beautiful and unique to wine growing regions in the world.

We were honored to have a lecture on the viticulture practices and climate from Professor Tomas Roman, which was fascinating, until the howling winds brought snow down from the mountains to swirl around us – chasing many of us (including me) back into the warm van.


Steep Hillsides of the Trentodoc Wine Region in Italy with Snow Covered Mountains

Opera Vitivinicola – A Wine Named “Opera,” But Not for the Music

The next winery we visited was called Opera, which means “work passion” and doesn’t have anything to do with “musical opera,” but should, because the wines are very harmonious and unique.  Founded in 1885 and re-established in 2005, owner Alfio Garzetti and winemakers Paul Tiefenthaler and Mattia Clementi, are passionate about making linear high-acid sparkling wines.

Alfio told us that in order to farm on the steep hillsides it takes 700 hours of work per year per hectare. Many of their wines are aged 60 to 75 months on the lees, with very low or zero dosage. The razor sharpness of these wines reminded me a bit of “Salon” in a cold year.  They only produce 80,000 bottles from 10 hectares of vineyards, and do not export any wine yet. With such a marketable and memorable name and a unique wine style, they should be quite successful once they start.

I had many favorites, but one that really lingered with me was the Opera Nature. It was 100% chardonnay, 40 months on the lees, no dosage, fresh, chalky, mineral, hazelnut, and mouthwatering.



Winetasting at Opera Winery in Trentodoc Wine Region of Italy

Maso Martis Winery – A Walk in the Vineyard with the Family Dog

Still dreaming of the private dinner in the MUSE Museum that we had enjoyed the evening before, we woke up to a bright and sunny day.  The snowflakes from the day before had disappeared, and it was calm and almost warm when we had a chance to walk in the vineyards of Maso Martis Winery. Here the whole family came out to greet us, as well as the winery dog. We were very impressed with the passion and dedication to the land and fine winemaking expressed by Antonio, the father, Roberta, the mother, Alessandra, the daughter, and Mateo, the winemaker.


The Winery Dog in the Vineyard at Maso Martis Winery, Italy

They believe in organic viticulture as a philosophy of life for the 12 hectares they own, planted on gently rolling hillsides composed of red dolomite soil. They only produce 60,000 bottles of wine and export a small amount. Their most famous sparkling wine is Madame Martis, which is 70% pinot noir, full-bodied with power and structure.  It is also aged 8 to 9 years on the lees!


Enjoying the Sunshine in the Maso Martis Winery Vineyard of Trentodoc Italy

Dorigati Winery – Home of Methius Sparkling Wine

Winemaker Paolo Dorigati welcomed us to his home and small winery located next to a sheer rock cliff of the Dolomites. Started in 1894, Dorigati Winery is not only known for sparkling, but it also famous for its red wines made from the Teroldego grape.

We enjoyed a visit to the cellars, and then were fascinated with an experimental tasting of the famous Methius 2002 Riserva  - one which had been disgorged in 2016 and one that had been disgorged in 2007.  Though both were the exact same wine, the late disgorged one showed more ripeness and was fuller-bodied, whereas the older disgorged wine showed more complexity and elegance. Both were extremely well-balanced with a very long finish.


The Sheer Rock Cliff Rising Behind Dorigati Winery in Trentodoc, Italy

Rotari Winery – Part of Mezzacorona and Wines of the Italian Alps

For lunch we were welcomed to Mezzacorona, one of the largest winery cooperatives in Italy with over 1600 farmers. Started in 1904, they farm 2500 hectares, and make a variety of wines. Their sparkling wine brand is Rotari, which is sold in the US as well as other countries.

We met with the winemaker who immediately gave us a glass of sparkling wine and invited us to sample some appetizers while he described how the wines were produced. “This is the only place in the world where you can see people skiing while pruning the vineyard,” he said, as he described their vineyards in the Italian Alps.


Lunch Table Set in Sparkling Wine Cellar of Rotari in Trentodoc, Italy

Over lunch, we tasted six sparkling wines, with one of the best risottos I’ve ever had in Italy and a delicious branzino fish. Some of my favorite bubblies included the Rotari Extra Brut 2010, Rotari Alperegis Pas Dose 2009, and Rotari Alperegis Rose Brut 2011.


Lunch Menu Paired with Rotari Sparkling Wines