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La Cava de Don Carlos: An Uptown Ensenada Wine Experience

By Carla White

Recently, we had visitors from Orange County, California — visitors who had not visited our little corner of Baja for several years.  We wanted to do everything possible to be sure that this little two-night getaway would be fun for them and filled with the sights, scents, sounds and flavors that make Ensenada a true traveler’s paradise.  Having boasted ad nauseum about the wines of the region, it was a top priority for us to showcase some of Baja’s finest; however, with only one day to tour, we knew we didn’t have time to meander through the beautiful Valle de Guadalupe, tasting wine at our favorite cavas.  We were bemoaning this fact as we headed back to the car, parked just off of Lopez Mateos,  and came upon La Cava de Don Carlos.

La Cava de Don Carlos Dining Room

Actually, it was our friend Doug who pointed to a spot at the corner of Lopez Mateos and Alvarado and said, “This looks really inviting and warm…let’s go in here.”  I was hesitant because, previously, the spot – which is called Carlos Importes and was founded in 1936  — had been solely a store of fabrics, craft works and pewter, ceramics, Spanish fans and more.  Most of it remains as such but about a third of the shop has been converted in a charming wine cave called La Cava de Don Carlos, which represents wines, cheeses, breads, olive oils and other products from the region.

According to Elsa Patricia V. Tavarez, the granddaughter of Carlos and Elsa who began the store, their business has been passed down through generations and her family has been in the Ensenada area for more than 200 years.  Today, as Ensenada has seen intensifying interest in its gourmet products, Patricia and her family are adapting the store’s mission and wares to help support local artisans, whether they specialize in food, wine or crafts.

The wine cave is open every day of the week, generally starting at 10 a.m., and closing at 10 p.m. on Sunday and Monday-Thursday.  On Friday and Saturday, the tasting area is open until midnight.  In European style, it is open to the street, so that patrons can sip, munch on olives and artisan bread, and watch the passing parade.  On any given day, one of the cava’s young hosts – Carmen, Mario or Oswaldo, all of whom are studying either wine or tourism – greets patrons and explains about the tastings that are offered.

We tried the US$6 tasting that included (although tasting menus can change) a Fumé Blanc by LA Cetto; a Rosé (Deseo, a winery in Ojos Negros); a red varietal Tinto de la Hacienda by La Lomita winery, and a Cabernet/Zinfandel by Bibayoff.  The US$8 tasting would have included three different reds, at varying levels in the price and value spetrum. To buy any of the wines we tasted would have been approximately US$9 for the Fumé Blanc; approximately US$12.50 for the Rosé; US$17.50 for the Tinto varietal, which was excellent; and US$18.50 for the Cabernet-Zinfandel.  Across the board, we felt that the US$6 tasting was extremely reasonable and gave an interesting sampling of a broad cross-section of wines.

“We have been open three months,” said Elsa Patricia, “and we plan to have an event a month, including maybe some blind tastings where our customers get to taste and then comment to winemakers about their individual wines.”  She also noted that there will be several big events over the summer.

“This is a great spot for people who might not have the chance to get to the wine valley,” she explained.  “We represent 27 wineries and more than 250 wines…people can get to know what Ensenada does best!”

The Cava de Don Carlos is located in the main shopping area, at #8801 Lopez Mateos.  Email, or call on cell (044-646-183-9577).

(And by the way, our friends adored the cava, the visit, dinner at Ollie’s Pizza near Rosarito, breakfast at La Villa del Valle, and everything, except the wait at the border when they were going home.  Thanks for asking!)

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