My trips to Baja traditionally start early in the day so I can beat San Diego traffic as I blast towards the border as I crave some street tacos and a Mexican Coca Cola in a bottle. I have Motown music on the radio, thanks to Candela Bar in LA. I know that after crossing the border, a few quick rights, and one big left towards the toll road, a little more than five dollars in toll payments, and a terrific view, I will be just north of Ensenada.
My first stop is always El Trailero Taco Stand along the highway. My standard order is three Al Pastor tacos with fresh avocado, no onion, and an ice cold Coke. There is something about sitting in an open-air restaurant looking out at the busy streets that immediately transports me to another time and place. Maybe it’s the year’s worth of race team stickers posted all over the walls and air ducts above the grill. Or maybe it’s just the incredible memories I have shared on that patio with fellow racers and friends that have helped me support the orphanages over the years. Regardless, I feel like I’m at home.
After a great meal and a few bucks, I am ready to hit the Valle. My first stop is at the Santo Tomas winery. They are the oldest winery in the Valle and have an incredible selection of wines and olive oil. I am always greeted with a smile from Ruben as he dazzles me with some new knowledge at the wine counter. Ask him to take a tour and you will never think of wine the same way. He is a master at description and Baja wines.
When I leave Santo Tomas I like to make a quick stop at the local cheese store. It’s just east of Santo Tomas winery before the first light on the right. And yes, directions are that easy in Mexico. The cheese is fresh and they have over a dozen choices to choose from. It’s my wife’s favorite thing to enjoy down there or when I bring it home. Besides, if the border wait is long, it could be your dinner.
My next stop is Monte Xanic. They have been producing luxury wines in the Valle for thirty years. You must have an appointment to tour the facility but it’s worth the extra effort. Besides, you know Baja United if you are reading this—they will surely get you an appointment if you ask. The drive up to Monte Xanic is stunning. Some of their oldest vines are at the entrance on the East side and on the West side is a flower farm where you can see them harvest almost year around. You gain access to the property by passing a lake and the hillside winery. You are able to taste through a number of varietals but I like to try the ones that are not available anywhere else but there. You can’t go wrong with the Gran Ricardo or the latest Grenache for 2018. Take your time and enjoy the view.
Sometimes when I leave Monte Xanic I head over to the Russian Empanada restaurant. Most people don’t know that the Valle is filled with Russian immigrants but in 1905 the Mexican President, Porfirio Diaz granted a Russian sect 13,000 acres in the Valle De Guadalupe. It’s worth the stop and it’s only five minutes from the winery. The easiest way to order is just ask for one of each type of empanada. Another major discovery for me in the area. They have a great little store there to buy dipping sauces and olive oils.
The final winery for my day is always El Cielo. This is one of the most beautiful properties in the Valle with all the amenities you might need. The winery itself is a must see with the barrel aging rooms and beautiful area for tasting wines. This is the place that I realized Baja Mexico had some of the most incredible wines. I was introduced to the Cappicornes Chardonnay here and knew that would be my next favorite wine. Period.
Jim Riley, CEO of Adventure
A few weeks ago, on a warm Los Angeles day, I opened up the Monte Xanic 2016 Sauvignon Blanc from the Valle de Guadalupe in Baja, Mexico, and was immediately was taken back to the first time I visited the region. I recalled standing on the deck of Monte Xanic on a hot summer day, looking out at the spectacular view of the Valle de Guadalupe. It was my first trip to Valle de Guadalupe and I was in awe of the modern winery that sat in the middle of the rustic valley.
The Monte Xanic 2016 Sauvignon Blanc is a straw gold color with a green tinge. Tiny little bubbles show the youthfulness of the wine which looks like it is jumping within the glass. Putting my nose to the glass, fruit aromas rush to the front. We are not talking New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc with strong aromas of gooseberry and green grass. Rather, citrus notes such as lemon and passion fruit and tropical notes such as pineapple are all in the glass, as well as a sour-patch character. On the palate, the wine is subtler. It fills the palate and coats the tongue with notes of sour lemon. There is medium acidity and a medium finish. But just when you think you have finished tasting the wine, your mouth will water, and you will want another sip.
The Monte Xanic 2016 Chenin-Colombard offers a bit more body than the Sauvignon Blanc. A pale gold color, it is made with 98% Chenin Blanc and 2% Colombard. The wine has aromas of red apple, apple skins, lemon and notes of hibiscus flower. The wine hits the front of the palate with notes of lemon and tart pineapple and then tucks under the tongue, making the mouth water. The elegance in the nose of the wine and delicate acidity on the palate make me crave food.
The Monte Xanic Chardonnay 2015 is a bright yellow-gold color with aromas of lemon curd, apple, passion fruit and brown spices. The wine hits the back of the palate, leaving a little tingle of acidity on the front of the palate. More fruit driven than other Chardonnays, I enjoyed this wine over two days and found the wine opened up more on the second day, expressing notes of pear and lemon.
Located 15 miles from the coast, the Valle de Guadalupe experiences hot and dry summers, little rain and a breeze that travels in from the coast. These conditions make the area also conducive to ripening red grapes and the Monte Xanic red wines are fruit driven but not over the top. The Monte Xanic 2016 Cabernet Sauvignon-Merlot is made with 65% Cabernet Sauvignon and 35% Merlot. The wine is a beautiful deep cranberry red color. On the nose, the aromas are intense. There are notes of blackberry, raspberry, pomegranate, sweet tobacco, cedar box and brown spices. On the palate, the wine has soft tannins and the fruits and bramble notes prevail. The acidity is fresh and makes the mouth water, wanting a second sip.
I saved my Monte Xanic Calixa 2016 Cabernet Sauvignon-Syrah, made with 80% Cabernet Sauvignon and 20% Syrah, for a rainy day. A vivid cherry red color, just the color of the wine brightened my day. The aromas of dark cherries, plum, cassis and raspberry jump out of the glass, dominating the vanilla, licorice and spices that poke through. While the nose is quite big on this wine, the palate is less aggressive. This is just a drinkable wine.
As I drink the wines of Monte Xanic, not only do I dream about returning to the Valle de Guadalupe but I am also happy to know that a percentage of ALL of the wine sales goes to Orphanages in Baja.
Allison Levine - Freelance Writing for Wine, Spirits, Food, Travel
Certifications: WSET Level 3, Italian Wine Specialist, Barsmarts wired
Contributor: Napa Valley Register, California Winery Advisor, ATOD, Drizly and more
Keep up to date on Baja United's latest wine releases, events, and promotions.