Sunday, January 31, 2021

Viva Vino México


The very word conjures images of sun-soaked beaches and bikinis, carnitas and coronas (the good kind), tacos and tequilas, and everything tropical paradise. Wine, however, does not make the list unless it is part of sangria. So when a bottle of 2016 Santos Brujos Tempranillo came in the June allocation from my local wine store, I was intrigued. And it was delicious! 

2016 Santos Brujos Tempranillo

Let's take a virtual trip to explore Mexican wine in this blog post.


I took a Wine History class a few years ago, and it was fascinating to learn how wine and religion were intertwined. Wine was such an important part of the Christian sacrament that back in the 4th Century AD, monks were the primary winemakers in Europe. Everywhere the church went, wine was sure to follow. 

When the Spanish started making conquests in the New World, they brought with them colonialism and religion. According to legends, Spanish Jesuit Missionary Eusebio Francisco Kino planted the first vineyards in Mexico in the 16th Century. In 1597, Casa Madero in Coahuila became the first winery in Americas. Vines established in Coahuila would eventually be exported to Napa Valley and South America, both of which are now world renowned wine destinations. Yet, Mexico somehow fell off the wine map.

First Mexican winery was founded in Coahuila

Since then, Mexican winemaking went through its ebb and flow before re-emerging in the 70s and 80s. Today, modern Mexican winemaking is regaining attention, making its own expressions of wine from the French, Spanish, and Italian grape varieties.

Latitude and Altitude

The common question about winemaking in Mexico is the climate. It is hard to imagine that the hot weather is conducive to growing grapes. After all, the best winemaking regions are located somewhere between the 30th and 50th parallels on either side of the equator. 

The reality is about 85-90% of Mexican wine today is produced just north of 30°N latitude in Baja California. The vineyards are located at a high altitude of 1,000 feet above sea level, where the climate is cooler. This plus the breeze from the Pacific Ocean creates an ideal condition for growing grapes. There are a handful of wine sub-regions in Baja California; of which, Valle de Guadalupe is known as the Napa of Mexico.

Vineyards in Valle de Guadalupe

The remaining 10-15% of Mexican wine is produced in Sonora and the La Laguna area. Sonora, another northern state located on the other side of the Gulf of California, produces a very limited amount of wine. The La Laguna area straddles two states, Durango and Coahuila. While the area is the southmost of the three, it makes up for it with a high altitude of 5,000 to 7,000 feet above sea level. Coahuila, in particular, takes the claim for the first known winery in Americas and the prized wine region of Valle de Parras. 

Santos Brujos Tempranillo

Santos Brujos, founded in 2006, is a young boutique winery located in Valle de Guadalupe, Baja California. Its first release was the 2012 vintage. The winery is among a few in the region that is certified organic and biodynamic, practicing native yeast fermentation with no added sulfites. Winemaker Luis Peciña Garcia moved from the Rioja region in Spain to join the winery in 2014. 

Santos Brujos logo

The 2016 vintage is made of 100% estate-grown Tempranillo, aged in 80% French and 20% American oak. The wine is unfiltered although I didn't get a lot of sediments. Overall, it is expressive, pleasing, and fruit-forward with lots of berries and a tinge of spice. For me, it is reminiscent of a Rioja, somewhere between a Crianza and a Reserva, although some would argue that it tastes more like a Ribera del Duero.

My Verdict: With a forgotten legacy as the land of the first vineyards and the first winery in Americas, Mexico's revival in modern winemaking is very exciting. I am blown away by the Santos Brujos Tempranillo. The fact that there are beautiful wine countries to explore in Baja California and Coahuila is all bonus. From a country known for coronas and tequilas, I can now add a libation that has a longer history to the list. 

¡Viva Mexico! 

¡Viva Vino Mexico!