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Perfect Pairings: Baja Wines and Your Holiday Meal

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Today, Baja wines come in all varietals and prices, making it easy to pair a special meal with the perfect vinos. Mexico’s wine country, the Valle de Guadalupe, has more than 70 wineries producing everything from sparkling wine to moscato. Here are just a few ideas for food and wine pairings to help make sure you have a vintage holiday feast. Buen provecho y salud!

Appetizers, anyone? 

Espuma de Piedra (sparkling wine) & Smoked Salmon Toast

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Renowned winemaker Hugo D’Acosta, trained in Bordeaux, began Casa de Piedra winery some 16 years ago with an innovative vision for the future of Baja wines. Today, one of Casa de Piedra’s signature wines is Espuma de Piedra, according to Swiss enologist and head winemaker Thomas Egli. This sparkling Blanc de Blanc (the label of the bottle reads EP=bb) wine is composed of white grape varieties.

“The base wine was filled into the sparkling bottles where it underwent the classic second fermentation, traditional champagne method, including typical riddling by hand to get rid of the sediments, that are called ‘lees’,” said Egli. The wine remained in contact with the lees for 18 months.

According to Egli, the Espuma de Piedra features fine perlage (bubbles), fresh citrus flavors in the nose, with notes of baked bread (resulting from the contact with the lees), and is refreshing to the palate. Perfect for pairing with a smoked salmon toast appetizer.

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Smoked Salmon on Toast

Mix ½ teaspoon of creamed horseradish in with half of a small container of crème fraiche. Add a pinch of sea salt, fresh ground black pepper and some lemon juice. Using torta or ciabatta bread, cut into easily eatable slices and toast them, brushing first with olive oil to add moisture and softness. Top with smoked salmon, then the crème fraiche mixture, and then snip watercress, clover sprouts or a little basil on top.

Where to find Espuma de Piedra? La Contra Vinos stores (info@lacontravinos.com), Liverpool and La Europea stores. 

 

Salad:  An Easy Twist on Holiday Greens

Kuiiy Sauvignon Blanc/Chardonnay & Apple-Brie Spinach Salad

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From a distance, the windswept Las Nubes winery (winery of ‘the clouds’) looks like an exotic fortress clinging to a rocky hillside. Upon approach, the handcrafted stonework of this modern edifice is impressive, as is the expansive terrace that fronts the building and offers a magnificent vista of the Valle de Guadalupe. Adjacent to the winery is a man-made reservoir that was developed to provide sustainable water by catching rain run-off and moisture condensation – indeed, a green wine for a green salad!

Here at Las Nubes, winemaker and co-owner Victor Segura crafts his wines, including the popular Kuiiy (Kiliwa language, meaning ‘clouds’), 70% Sauvignon Blanc and 30% Chardonnay. In the past, few white wines were produced in Mexico’s wine country, in part because the high salt and mineral content in the soil. However, in recent years, winemakers have been able to achieve successful results with Chenin Blanc, Colombard, Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay grapes, among others. Segura’s Kuiiy is a great example of this, and with its dry, floral characteristics, it makes a good accompaniment to a holiday meal starting course.

Photo by Taste of Home

Photo by Taste of Home

Apple-Brie Spinach Salad

Cut four apples into wedges and place them on an ungreased baking sheet. Brush the apples with approximately 2 tablespoons of maple syrup. Broil for 3 minutes, watching to make sure they don’t burn, and then turn them. Brush with 2 more tablespoons of maple syrup. Broil 3-5 minutes more until the apple wedges are tender. Put 7-8 cups of baby spinach into the salad bowl, adding 8 ounces of cubed brie cheese (a firmer brie is preferred) and a half-cup of toasted pecan halves. For the dressing, bring to a boil the following mixture:  a minced garlic clove, ½ cup of apple juice, ¼ cup of canola oil, 2-4 tablespoons of apple cider vinegar and a dollop of Dijon mustard. Pour this directly over the salad. (Recipe based on Taste of Home).

Where to find Kuiiy wine? At Las Nubes winery, located between the Bibayoff winery and El Porvenir in the Valle de Guadalupe. Also , at La Contra Vinos stores (info@lacontravinos.com), Ensenada Vinos, and 101 Bistro Bar. 

 

Entrée Extraordinaire #1

The Big Blend & Herb-Crusted Prime Rib of Beef

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In the heart of Ensenada’s Valle de Guadalupe, on a lavender-laden knoll, is La Villa del Valle country retreat, owned by Eileen and Phil Gregory. Flanking this casually elegant inn is the Corazon de Tierra restaurant and its famous executive chef Diego Hernandez Boquedano. And just down the hill is Vena Cava winery – remarkable both for its beverages and for the fact that it is actually tucked under a fishing boat — where Gregory handcrafts his 10,000 bottles of wine each year.

In 2004, Gregory studied wine-making at La Escuelita, the ‘little school’ created by Mexico’s wine pioneer Hugo d’Acosta. The goal of the school is to help aspiring winemakers realize their dreams of hand-crafting some of Mexico’s finest wines and Gregory has taken his training and his passion to heart, surpassing even his own aspirations and expectations.

He originally planted 6.5 acres of Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Syrah, Chardonnay and Viognier, followed by plantings of Tempranillo, along with Cinsault and Mourvèdre for blending. In his second year as a winemaker, he decided to experiment: a Sauvignon Blanc and Chenin Blanc were the popular results of his efforts.

Today, with about 7.5 acres planted, he produces Cabernet Sauvignon (100%), Tempranillo (100%), Sauvignon Blanc, Chenin Blanc, Reserva (Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah),  an outstanding sparkling wine, and the Big Blend. This last, composed of Syrah, Zinfandel, Cabernet, Petit Syrah, and Grenache, features lots of layering and a big taste…a taste big enough to stand up to and even enhance the sensory strength of roast beef. In the world of food and wine pairings, this combination of beef and a big red wine is unbeatable.

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Herb-crusted Prime Rib Roast

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. To properly prepare a 10-12 lb. rib roast, remove the excess fat (and save it). In a bowl, mix about a ½ cup of chopped Italian parsley leaves, ½ cup of chopped fresh rosemary, ¼ cup of chopped fresh thyme leaves, and ½ cup of chopped fresh tarragon. Blot the herbs first, to remove any excess dampness. Once mixed, add 2 tablespoons of salt (if you can find it, artisan basil salt is a good add) and 1 ½-2 tablespoons of fresh ground pepper. To this, add ¼ cup of vegetable oil and whisk. Once everything is integrated, apply the coating to all sides of the rib roast. Place the rib roast on its natural rack, and then apply the reserved fat on top. Roast until the internal temperature is 120 degrees Fahrenheit (for medium rare), about 2.5 hours. Let the meat rest for 15 minutes.

Where to find Vena Cava wines? At Vena Cava winery in the Valle de Guadalupe (info@venacavawine.com), Ensenada Vinos or through La Mision Associates. 

 

Entrée Extraordinaire #2

Julio 14 & Holiday Cornish Game Hens

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Veronica Santiago received her Master’s degree at the University of Adelaide in South Australia, after which she worked at a winery in the famous Australian Barossa wine valley and then the boutique Joseph Phelps winery in Napa Valley. Today, she is owner and winemaker at Viñedos Mina Penélope, working with viticulturist and enologist Nathan Malagon to create some of the best Baja wines. What a coincidence that both of these wine lovers were both born on July 14!

So was born the delicious Julio 14 blend, originally produced in the 2011 harvest.

“It is a blend of grapes — basically Syrah — from our vineyards and a small proportion of grapes from Ejido Uruapan. We do the harvest by hand, ferment the must (fresh pressed juice containing skin, seeds and stems) around 12 days with temperature control,” explained Santiago. “We check the wines every 5 hours during primary fermentation in order to check temperature, brix and to taste the wines.” She added that the must is pressed in a traditional basket press and the malolactic fermentation in French and American oak barrels.

“For all the winemaking, we only use organic wine products in order to make natural wine. We do light to medium extractions during primary fermentation in order to make elegant and balanced wines. The aging is in American and French barrels for 10 months.”

Julio 14 is a versatile wine, but with soft tannins, medium body and a nose that is redolent of cherries and raspberries, along with hints of mint and vanilla. It offers a brilliant complement to poultry. Perhaps some holiday Cornish game hens?

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Holiday Cornish Game Hens

For 6 Cornish game hens, preheat the oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit. Chop roughly:  a fennel bulb, 3 carrots, 3 large onions, 3 stalks of celery and a root vegetable of your choice, and put them evenly on the bottom of the roasting pan(s). Also, cut two oranges into wedges, and place them in the pans. Use a dry rub or make your own – approximately 2 tablespoons of salt, 2 tablespoons of chili powder, a teaspoon of sugar, and a teaspoon of garam masala (or a teaspoon of cinnamon, a pinch of cloves and cumin). Rub the Cornish game hens with olive oil and then sprinkle the dry rub on them, also rubbing it into the cavity. Put a bit of onion and orange in the cavity, as well. Then place the hens on top of the vegetables (do not crowd the hens or they won’t cook correctly). The game hens cook about 45 minutes or until they are nicely browned. They should sit for 10-15 minutes before serving.

Where to find Julio 14 and Veronica Santiago’s wines? Viñedos Mina Penélope is located on the western edge of San Antonio de las Minas on Highway 3 Ensenada-Tecate. You can visit them on Facebook or  go to G. Salinas wine shop in Tijuana.

 

Dessert:  Sweet Endings

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Serafiel & Belgian Chocolate Souffle

The elegant Adobe Guadalupe is a working winery and bed-and-breakfast inn founded by Tru and the late Don Miller. With 60 acres of vineyards, Adobe Guadalupe has hosted some of the wine valley’s most elegant dinners and tastings, always featuring the winery’s outstanding vintages that are produced under the auspices of winemaker Daniel Lonnberg.

Serafiel is one of these, a blend of 78% Cabernet and 22% Syrah. With 12 months in French oak barrels, this wine has a dark ruby color and aromas of violet, black cherry and blackberry, with notes of spicy cinnamon, snuff and white chocolate, and hints of sweet oak and vanilla. It remains in the mouth offering a long aftertaste, making it a delightful partner for chocolate soufflé – but not just any chocolate!

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Belgian Chocolate Soufflé

Using Belgian chocolate is essential. To make the soufflés for six, melt ¾ cup of butter and 8 ounces of Belgian chocolate in a double boiler. Mix 1 1/2 cups of granulated sugar and 3 tablespoons of cornstarch together, and whisk in with the melted chocolate mixture. Whisk in 4 whole eggs, until smooth. Cover and refrigerate overnight. Cook for 20 minutes in individual ramekins, coated with butter, then sugar, at 400 degrees.

Where to find Serafiel and Adobe Guadalupe’s wines? You can email them at info@adobeguadalupe.com. Also, at La Contra Vinos stores (info@lacontravinos.com) and Ensenada Vinos.

 

Savory Endings

Vintango or Madera 5 Nebbiolo & Gorgonzola, Honey & Walnut Crostini

Choices, choices! The Nebbiolo grape is originally from Italy, and it is considered one of the more finicky sorts, not adapting well to many environment. It is typically late-ripening but early flowering, prefers alkaline soil and needs plenty of love and attention. Fortunately for Mexico and the world of Baja wines, the grape vines have taken root in the Valle de Guadalupe, and the resulting wines have been true:  intensely aromatic, dark and rich in color, with haunting bouquets that can resonate with wood-smoke, violet and even roses. Two wineries producing notable Nebbiolo (100%) in Ensenada’s wine country are Vintango and Madera 5.

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Vintango’s owner and winemaker is Jo Ann Knox Martino, whose wine cave opened in the early fall of 2013 in the El Porvenir area of the Valle de Guadalupe. Martino is a graduate of the afore-mentioned La Escuelita. Her first vintages focused on Zinfandel grapes, and just recently, she introduced a Chardonnay to her line of wines. However, it is the Nebbiolo that is, perhaps, the closest to her heart and Italian heritage.

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Madera 5, established by five friends in 2007, is located on Highway 3, Ensenada-Tecate, just about a mile from the intersection with Highway 1. The Madera 5 wines gained rapid popularity, starting with their 300 case production of a Merlot (20%) and Cabernet (80%) blend. Today, the winery features a Cabernet-Sangiovese, Tempranillo-Cabernet, a Sauvignon Blanc-Chardonnay, and Nebbiolo.

Gorgonzola, Honey & Walnut Crostini

Easy, fast and flavorful! Slice a baguette into pieces about ¼”, brush each piece with olive oil and grill each side for about 30 seconds. Top each piece with Gorgonzola cheese (an Italian blue cheese), small walnut pieces, and drizzle with honey. If desired, garnish with a sprig of oregano. Accompany with a cluster of Nebbiolo grapes!

Where to find Vintango? Visit Cava Vintango on Facebook, or email cavavintango@gmail.com. 

Where to find Madera 5? Email ventas@cavaaragon126.com.mx, or visit Wines from Baja.

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About Carla White

Carla White is a freelance writer, public relations/marketing consultant and event organizer based in Ensenada, Baja, California. Carla and her husband Jim moved to Baja in 2003 from the Los Angeles area believing that, thanks to the internet and satellite communications, they could continue working from home while enjoying a richer, more affordable lifestyle. So far, they’ve been right. Connect with Carla Google+

Comments

  1. Bo Bendana says:

    As always, love your articles…had to share it!!!

  2. Ruth Rockwell says:

    FANTASTIC article and ideas. Keep them coming. Happy holidays.

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