For years the Valle de Guadalupe has been the center of the wine world in Mexico. Is that about to change?
I first went to Baja California in the spring of 1990. Back then it was a sleepy area and the Guadalupe Valley a desert hothouse dotted with a couple of big wineries. Now the area is home to a host of great wineries and gourmet restaurants and well, you know the rest of the story.
In 1996 land cost a thousand bucks an acre and yes, I passed on the opportunity to pick up a nice piece of land back then for about 10 grand. And now on that land is a small boutique winery making someone other than me a lot of money.
I was reminded of those days recently when I decided to spend a day getting to know some of the wineries around Queretaro, deep in the heart of Mexico.
Queretaro, located three hours northwest of Mexico City is one of the up and coming wine areas of the country. A quick look at TripAdvisor will tell you there are about 30 wineries in this area, with another 20 or so in nearby San Miguel de Allende. In short, this area, with its easy access to Mexico City is poised to become a wine lovers dream.
I’ll be posting wine reviews and tasting notes later, but today I want to focus on the experience and what you can expect if you decide to visit this area. All the wineries I visited charged a nominal fee for their tours, about $10.00 US. That gets you a guided tour and a small tasting. A simple rule of thumb here is this… pay more and you get more wine.
To choose which wineries to visit, I did what any other tourist would do, I went to the internet and searched for the following… “best wineries in Queretaro.” Looking at my options, I chose 3 that were on most lists. Those three were Freixenet, an international winery based in Spain, Azteca, a small boutique winery working on only 6 hectares and De Cote, a wine made by two brothers who’ve taken a decidedly upscale approach to the wine making experience.
Freixenet Sala Vivé is made for the casual wine tourist. If you can deal with the fancy little head coverings they make you wear you’re going to have a great day.
They’ve got a great presence when you arrive and you really sense that your experience is important to them. You’ll see a huge operation here as Freixenet ships around the world. After viewing the upper production floor and getting your introduction, you head towards the real star of the valley… their wine cave.
Descending 75 feet below ground, you are soon surrounded with thousands of wine bottles and hundreds of casks awaiting the day the wine aging inside is ready to be sold. This part of their facility is unlike anything else you’ll see in this area. In fact, it is so special, every other winemaker I talked to spoke in almost reverent tones of the Freixenet cave. It truly is something special, worthy of some of the great wineries of Europe.
Azteca Wine is a totally different experience. From the moment you arrive, it’s as of you are at a ranch in old Mexico… complete with a bull ring! In fact, Azteca is as small and boutique as Freixinet Sala Vivé is large and industrial. But small and intimate does not mean it provides any less an experience.
With a soon to be ready small hotel on site, this place will soon be a much sought after destination for people who want to explore the region and stay close to both the vines, and the wines. Your experience here, at a small batch wine producer, will not only be memorable, but also show you that big doesn’t always mean better. Azteca clearly hits the mark on their wines.
Our hosts, Jesus and Claudia were gracious, knowledgable and gave us a wonderful afternoon experience. If bigger is not better, Azteca is a place you’re going to enjoy. And, if you’re heading out on a weekend, go with an appetite, because they’ll be cooking some up classic Mexican food for you too.
My final stop was De Cote Wines. De Cote looks like it belongs in the Valle de Guadalupe just outside of Ensenada. In fact, of all the places I visited, this one reminds me the most of that region. Gourmet food, great wine and a facility to match, if you want the total top shelf experience, this is the place.
I’m not sure there’s a better place around Queretaro to unwind as the afternoon sun sets across your table of great food and wine than De Cote. The experience here simply has the potential to be magical.
Their tour is informative, gives you a chance to walk amongst the vineyards and finally, see their wine cave. While not as large as the one at Freixinet, it’s still impressive and not to be missed.
So there you have it, a quick tour of the up and coming Queretaro Wine Region in Central Mexico. At this point it’s still off the beaten track for the average tourist, but hey… so was Baja 20 years ago.
If you’re going… you can fly direct into the Queretaro Airport [QRO] from the US on United and American. If you are in Mexico, you can get there using Volaris, AeroMexico and TAR. If you’re up for some adventure and want to save a few bucks, fly into Mexico City [MEX] and take the Primera Plus first class bus direct from the airport for a three hour relaxing ride… it’ll cost you about $25.00.