Erin and I were quite excited to visit Mexico’s premier wine region – Valle de Guadalupe – where wine makers are making fine and world class wines.
The majority of wineries ask you to make reservations ahead of time. There is simply not the same amount of traffic as in Napa which makes it possible for walk-ins, so don’t be intimidated about calling ahead. In addition most tastings cost about $10 USD.
We learned California limits the amount of wine that California resident’s can bring back via an overland border to 1.0 liter. I’m ready to write my state senator. Seriously? They coudn’t even make it a rational 1.5 liters so each person can bring home a mere two bottles? They could at least do me the courtesy of limiting import to 750ml so I don’t feel I’m losing out on the other 250ml.
If you are not a California resident you are not subject to this ridiculous restriction.
I’ve visited several Caliornian wine regions: Napa, Sonoma, Paso Robles, Santa Ynez Valley, a few Italian (Tuscan) appellations : Montalcino, Montepulciano, and even the Niagara Escarpment in Ontario, Canada.
The Guadalupe Valley wines remind me most of the wines from Santa Ynez Valley (close to Santa Barbara) in that the terroir comes through providing a distinctive taste across many of he fine wines – especially as it relates to Cabernet Sauvignon. There are a great many blends of grapes as their are no restrictions on what can be grown in the region.
Although both Monte Xanic and Baron Balche have premium limes that range from $75 to $250 USD per bottle, neither winery offers tasting flights of these reserve lines. You’ll have to buy your own bottle to sample these.
Monte Xanic has an awe-inspiring 50 foot tall wine cave blasted out of the side of the mountain the winery sits on. Make sure to ask to see this cave. Monte Xanic also has a beautiful man made lake where they host concerts next to.
I’d advise skipping Baron Balche, but encourage you to try all the other three I tried.
I also recommend going to Rancho Cortes for artisan fresh and aged Mexican cheeses.
We did not visit Vinos Pijoan, but we had three bottles ordered along with our dinners. We really like their wines and recommend you visit them.
Vinos Pijoan Silvana – a Sauvignon Blanc with a little Chenin Blanc and Viogner
Vinos Pijoan Domenica – Grenache
Adobe Guadalupe Gabriel 2010 – a Merlot 38%, Cabernet Sauvignon 30%, Malbec 23%, Cabernet Franc 9%
Monte Xanic Cabernet Sauvignon 2008 – but you should spring for their Gran Ricardo
Vena Cava Tempranillo 2010 – this was served at a G20 meeting this year
Vena Cava Big Blend 2010
Vena Cava Sauvignon Blanc
I’m drafting this summary blog post to share with you in one place everywhere I ate during my trip to Baja California Norte. I hope this helps you put together a culinary itinerary for yourself:
Saturday, June 30 : Laja
Sunday, July 1 : Silvestre
Monday, July 2 : Corazon de Tierra
Tuesday, July 3 : Ultramarino and Wendlandt Gastropub
Wednesday, July 4 : Manzanilla
Thursday, July 5 : Endémico (pool-side kitchen)
Friday, July 6 : Taqueria Amigos and Taqueria Los Arcos
If you are ever 30 min from Tecate, Mexico hop over the border for some tacos. I used my Hidden Baja tour guide to refer me to two taco stands:
• Taqueria Los Amigos (on the North East corner of Hidalgo and Rubio)
• Taqueria Los Arcos (on the south side of Juarez just east of Rubio, there is a bus stop right in front of it)
I ordered two Carne Asada tacos from Los Amigos. They are compact and wound tightly into individual paper and aluminum foil wrappings. Burst of flavor. Right-sized.
Next we went to Los Arcos. Here I ordered a Carne Asada, an Adobado Pork, and a Cheese Quesadilla.
The Carne Asada was more tender and moist then Los Amigos. The Adobado Pork was even more outrageously delicious. The cheese quesadilla couldn’t compete with those two other stars but finished me off so I was not hungry the rest of the drive home back to Los Angeles.
I’m uncertain whether I’m staying at a hotel or glamping during my stay at ENDÉMICO in Baja Norte’s Valle de Guadalupe. Either way I’m on cloud 9 – or 15 actually as that’s the room (aka EcoLoft) I slept in last night.
The hotel just opened to the public this week. Last weekend, Saturday, June 30, 2012 they took the property through it’s paces with a large wedding. When we arrived the following Thursday we were the only couple enjoying the pool. We appreciated yesterday’s privacy as today the hotel will be fully booked across all 20 rooms.
While we were at the pool Jorge Garcia (the architect who designed Endémico) and Juan Yi (part of Encuentro Guadalupe who owns the property and future on site winery) were making last minute preparations for a full house the next day. This gave me an opportunity to praise them on the design of the property and ask them a few questions about how the space was conceptualized.
They told me the project started 5 years ago with long walks up and down the slopes of the 300 acre property to determine where the centerpiece – the pool – would be placed. The pool which is designed to blend in with the mountain is framed by magnificent boulders along the ridge above it. The infinity pool has a panoramic view of the valley and the mountains defining it. It appears to be a natural outgrowth of the Mountains crest and in some cases was built around the natural vegetation.
The rooms are also designed to live harmoniously with the ridge. Each room is referred to as an EcoLoft. The architect sought to design a structure that would have minimal impact to the land yet provide guests the luxuries they expect. Jorge helped me understand the EcoLofts by saying they are similar to the oysters found off Ensenada’s coast – the exterior is rugged and protects the interior (e.g., wind, heat, cold nights), yet the interior is delicate and fit for a princess with it’s smooth,pearlescant white internal shell protecting the precious pearl the guest.
The exterior materials are chosen so that they will further blend with the rocky, mountainous landscape as they weather over time. At the moment, the superior roof, jutting askew into the sky, is simply for protection, but it has been designed to accommodate solar panels.
Nearly all of the furniture is specifically designed for this site. This includes poolside chaise lounges, tables, interiors, and the personal, clay chimnea on the outdoor balcony of every room. the ceiling has built in speakers and you can plug your iPhone/tablet into the room to play music. As of of my stay these speakers were not wired for use.
The primary luxury Endémico offers is access to the landscape with no effort on the part of the guest. My friends Sarah and Niels are active in the Sierra Club and frequently go backpacking in the backcountry of the mountains around Los Angeles (read about Niels’ adventures). Endémico gave me a chance to see the beauty that draws them time and time again out of doors – only instead of hiking each day, I got to lounge by the pool.
We spent the day lounging by the pool, absorbing the Mexican sun, and occasionally taking a dip in the water. Endémico is in the process off building a restaurant, winery, and tasting room in the main building at the bottom of the mountain. For now food is available at a small kitchen by the pool. It’s simple fare – quesadilla win chiles and jamon y queso sandwiches, but its wonderful to be able to grab a light meal on the premises. The same poolside kitchen serves coffee, omelets and fruit in the morning.
We retired from the pool to our balcony at 7pm. We had the staff light a fire in our chimnea and drank wine we had purchased from Pijoan and Vena Cava. If you haven’t already been to the wineries do not fret. Your room comes with a wine fridge and four bottles of selected wines. Erin and I stayed on the balcony until 10 pm feeding our fire from a small (and replenishable) stock of wood.
Such a unique way to experience the mountains and wine country perched in the hill top like boulders! Endémico does a good job of giving the felling of remoteness. For Angelenos it starts off feeling off the beaten path because it is not only in Mexico but even off Ruta 1 all the way up in Valle de Guadalupe off Ruta 3. Further remoteness is conveyed by the fact you park your own car at at a “base camp” and take an SUV or Kawasawki cart up to your room. There are convenient trails to the pool and Erin and I walked to and fro at our whim. You can ring up a driver to whisk you over or back down when you want to visit the valley. Further seclusion is afforded by the layout of the rooms which strive for both indoor and outdoor privacy.
Endémico is still getting their operating model running. If you go soon expect you may help them workout some of the particulars of servicing guests in the unique environment.
Escape Los Angeles and head here soon! Now, I’ve found a compelling weekend get away.
• Turn the heater on before you climb into bed.
• If you face east, leave your blinds open so the rising sun wakes you to watch its ascent
• If you’re relaxing by the fire on your balcony a good place to leave the key is in the door lock so it’s always there when you need it and you won’t misplace it in the dark
• Bring a star map
Seeking out fish tacos is reason enough to visit Ensenada. We conducted a mini fish taco safari by referencing Bill Esparza’s thorough Ensenada Fish Taco Baja Style guide posted on Street Gourmet L.A.
We sampled three fish tacos from his list. Each were honestly better than any fish taco I’ve had in Los Angeles. Ricky’s Fish Taco and Best Fish Taco in Ensenada here in L.A. But can’t compete with the experience and repetition in frying fish that comes to the stands in Ensenada, some that have been preparing these tacos for 40 years in the same location.
The tacos very in tortilla, frying of fish, size of fish, texture, seasoning of batter, amount of batter, slice of cabbage, whether you add toppings or this done for you, and homemade salsas. I encourage you to take Bill’s suggestions and explore which style you like best.
Let me know your favorite via a comment!
After enjoying meeting the Chef and his wife, Solange, in the country at his out-of-doors restaurant Silvestre, we sought to seek his cuisine in town at his restaurant Manzanilla.
I came to Ensenada for two reasons: to try Fish Tacos and Chef Benito Molina’s food at Manzanilla. Both were reason enough to come. If you live in San Diego, or if you are visiting Tijuana, it is so easy to try Manzanilla. It is right off of Ruta 1 on the north end of Ensenada. It’s such a conveninent drive. Go for it!
Our dinner was on Wednesday, July 4th. We had read that Chef Molina and Solange had entertained Rick Bayless that Monday. This year Chef Bayless took his crew of more than 30 to Manzanilla for their annual 4th of July trip to Mexico. If you follow @benitoysolange you can see pictures of that night like this one and that one.
It was a much quieter night when we arrived for dinner. We recognized one of the servers who had helped us during our Sunday meal at Silvestre. I enjoy using the limited spanish I know and a phrasebook to decipher the menu on my own, they I was a little self-conscious as I shared my discoveries with Erin as the family next to us spoke fluent Spanish. I started with an order of fresh shucked Ensenada oysters. We followed this up with some broiled clams with gruyere. The latter were a one of a kind experience.
Solange appeared right after the clams were brought to the table. She recognized us from earlier in the week and we once again thanked her for her generosity in serving us that night after Silvestre had officially closed. She noted that the waiter hadn’t presented the tasting menu to us and she asked if we might like that. We were thrilled as we had planned on navigating our own tasting menu anyway.
We asked her about Monday night with Rick Bayless and she said that they’d all had a good time. She was pleased that they had an opportunity to entertain him and his crew as several years ago when she and Benito were in Chicago to to teach a class at Kendall College around Thanksgiving, he unexpectedly invited them to enjoy dinner at his house. They had inquired about a good place in Chicago to try and he responded with “How about my house”. Solange said that dinner had been a great experience.
Amuse Bouche – Fish Roe on Black Bean Spread on Micro Tostada
“First Course” – Kumamota Oysters on half-shelf with mignonette
This is in quotes as Erin and I pre-ordered some of our own dishes before Solange invited us to try the tasting menu. I’ll leave the quotes off from here on out. Delicious! Don’t mistake rock salt on oysters for sand.
Second Course : Broiled clams and gorgonzola
A divine combination!
Third Course – Tiraditos a Peruvian tradition similar to sashimi. Pictured our local geoduck, bonita, fish roe, cooked lobster, and fish broth gelee.
Fourth Course : Abalone Two Ways
One preparation was similar to a ceviche with more acid (right-hand side) and the other was a creamy chipotle preparation (left-hand side). Small tostatdos were served with (center)
Fourth Course : Quail Breast/Wing with Quail Egg
Wow! We moved from fish to poultry but great flavors continued. Egg was perfectly prepared. Quail breast/wings were delcicate.
Fifth Course : Yellow-Tail Filet on bed of arroces (spanish dish similar to risotto)
OMG. Arroces was SOOO good. Please bring me for dinner every night!
Sixth Course : Lomo de Puerco (not pictured)
Sometime during our second bottle of wine we forgot to take a picture of the meat course.
Seventh Course : Dessert
Forgot picture again. It was a date cake.
Our host at La Villa de Valle recommended we try a new gastropub in Ensenada for dinner named Wendlandt. It’s only been open a few months. It combines good food (I only tried and can recommend the sliders, especially the short-rip slider) with good beer, some of which is brewed by the owner. They also bring in craft beers from throughout Baja California Norte and elsewhere (e.g., Stone in San Deigo County). There is quite a craft beer movement in Baja. The young woman sitting next to us emphasized this by sharing that she is a homebrewer. Glad to see a trend active in Los Angeles is equally, if not more active, over in Baja.
We also tried seafood dishes at UltraMarino. People rave about the oyster (ostiones) tacos which were quite good.
Either are great places for a casual dinner.