If “Sideways” needs a sequel, Mexico has the location. A little more than an hour past the California-Mexico border is Valle de Guadalupe, a wine region about two-thirds the size of Napa.
Guadalupe’s climate is similar to the south of France, with vines that have been cultivated since the early 1900s. Mexican labels can now be found on wine lists at Ortolan and the Spanish Kitchen.
Major players include Bodegas De Santo Tomas, Chateau Camou and L.A. Cetto, a producer large enough for some to dub it the “Mondavi of Mexico.”
However, the region’s most inspirational and iconoclastic vintner is Hugo D’Acosta. He produces his own wine under the Casa de Piedra and Acrata labels and serves as winemaker for Don & Tru Miller’s Adobe Guadalupe.
D’Acosta advocates what he calls “emotional winemaking.” Acrata (“Anarchy”) comes from grapes rescued from older vineyards left to die off. And he refuses to “typecast” Chardonnay; he labels the bottle simply Blanco.
However, it’s difficult to find Mexican wines. Local vinters sell to their domestic market and its glut of resort hotels, which leaves little for distribution north of the border. Casa de Piedra designates just 28 cases for all of the U.S.
“The wines of Baja have the same problems as any other smaller region,” says wine marketing specialist Dan Fredman. “Logistically, how do you stay in business? They make it down there and sell most of it.”
And while visiting the anarchistic vineyard of an emotional winemaker sounds like a hot road trip, Guadalupe wine tours have limited appeal. Under California law, only a licensed vendor can carry more than two bottles of alcohol across the border.
Wally’s Wines and downtown’s San Antonio Winery both stock a few Mexican labels. Mogor-Badan will soon distribute its Cabernet Franc blend to the U.S.
To navigate this brave new world, V Life Weekend asked area experts to test some of the labels showing up in Hollywood.
Acrata Portada 2003 $29.99
95% Grenache, 5% Carignan
Sarsaparilla , black tea, mocha; a bright, fresh, lush and fruity wine
Pair with: dark chocolate or raspberries
Adobe Guadalupe Kerubiel 2003 $39.99
Blend of Tempranillo, Merlot, Syrah, Grenache and Viognier
Nice viscosity, Argentinean in flavor, perfumey, Christmas spice, good structure and acidity
Pair with: steak, roast pork with spiced apple
Adobe Guadalupe Uriel 2004 Rosé $19.99
Blend of a half-dozen grape varieties
Dark grape color; flavors of watermelon, cranberry, with hints of risotto
Pair with: prosciutto and mozzarella or the salmon pizza at Spago
Casa de Piedra Piedra del Sol Blanco 2004 $29.99
100% Chardonnay ( to dodge preconceptions, winemaker leaves this off the label)
Candy-corn effect; slightly nutty aroma
Pair with: semi-soft Reblochon cheese
Casa de Piedra Vino de Piedra 2003 $54.99
Acetone, too tart on finish. Pushing the envelope, needs food to balance the rough edges
Pair with: rare tuna or creamy cheese
L.A. Cetto Chardonnay 2004 $9.99
Aromatic, apple wax and pineapple core nose; smooth and bright drinking wine that’s not overpowering
Pair with: crab salad from the Water Grill
L.A. Cetto Nebbiolo 2000 $18.99
Soft, lacks tannins and acidity. Well made and pleasant, but nothing like the Italian varietal
Pair with: BBQ