Mexico may not be the first country that comes to mind when thinking about quality red wine production, but it is slowly gaining recognition for its efforts in this area. Historically, Mexico has focused on making beer, tequila, and other spirits, but winemaking has taken off in recent decades. Baja California in particular has become a hotspot for Mexican wineries aiming to produce good red wines.
Quick Facts on Mexican Wine
- Wine production began in Mexico in the 16th century when Spanish missionaries brought vines.
- Today there are over 100 wineries in Mexico spread across 8 main wine regions.
- The main wine producing areas are Baja California, Valle de Guadalupe, and Querétaro.
- The climate in these regions is ideal for quality red wine grapes like Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Nebbiolo.
- Well-known Mexican wineries include L.A. Cetto, Monte Xanic, Casa Madero, and Santo Tomás.
- Mexican wines have been garnering increasing international recognition and awards.
So while Mexico may not have the long established wine reputation of countries like France, Italy, or Spain, it is proving itself more than capable of crafting respectable red wines.
History and Development of Mexican Winemaking
Winemaking in Mexico dates back to the arrival of Spanish missionaries in the 16th century. When Hernán Cortés conquered the Aztec empire, Catholic priests followed and brought along vines to use for sacramental wine production. They focused their efforts in areas around Zacatecas, Coahuila, Durango, Aguascalientes, and Baja California.
For centuries, wine production remained small scale, focused on sweet wines and brandy. It was not until the late 1800s and early 1900s that producers started experimenting with table wines, particularly in Baja California. This pioneering work was led by Russian immigrants and Jesuit missionaries.
The real expansion happened in the 1970s and onward when Mexico’s wine industry shifted to focus on quality table wines modeled after French and Californian styles. Pioneers like Hans Backhoff of Monte Xanic drove this vision. Vineyards were established in new areas like Valle de Guadalupe in Baja. Investments were made in state of the art equipment and winemaking techniques.
Over the last 40 years, Mexico’s wine scene has snowballed with over 100 wineries now active across 8 major wine regions. Red varietals like Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Tempranillo, Nebbiolo and Zinfandel are now thriving in Mexico’s terroir. Wine tourism has taken off as well.
Key Mexican Wine Regions
Baja California – The birthplace of Mexican winemaking. Valle de Guadalupe is Mexico’s most famous wine region with over 75 wineries. Cabernet Sauvignon and Nebbiolo are standout red varietals.
Valle de Parras – The oldest wine region located in Coahuila. Well known for brandy production since the 1600s. Also makes quality reds from Tempranillo and Cabernet Sauvignon.
Querétaro – An up and coming wine region north of Mexico City. Features a high elevation climate suitable for Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Pinot Noir and Tempranillo.
Sonora – Located in northern Mexico along the Sea of Cortez. Warm climate conducive to fruity red wines made from Tempranillo, Grenache and Cabernet Sauvignon blends.
Zacatecas – Historic wine region in central Mexico. Home to quality reds made from Zinfandel, Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon grown at high elevations.
Aguascalientes – Mid-size region near Zacatecas producing easy drinking reds from Tempranillo, Garnacha and Cabernet Sauvignon.
Valle de Puebla – New and small wine region outside Puebla city making light bodied reds from Pinot Noir, Cab Franc and Merlot.
Valle de Santo Domingo – Tiny valley in Oaxaca crafting promising Rhone style GSM blends.
Red Grape Varieties Grown in Mexico
Mexico has enjoyed success with a wide range of red vinifera grape varieties. The growth in quality stems from better matching grapes to ideal microclimates. Here are some of the key red grapes fuelling Mexico’s wine boom:
Cabernet Sauvignon – The king of Mexican reds. Accounts for over a third of production. Performs well across Baja, Querétaro and Valle de Parras. Yields full bodied wines with blackcurrant, tobacco and herbal notes.
Tempranillo – Mexico’s second most planted red. Grows well in cooler high elevation areas. Produces medium bodied, cherry-accented wines, some capable of aging.
Nebbiolo – The rising star grape in Baja California. Gives light colored, perfumed reds with flavors of rose, tar and leather. Needs hot sunny climate.
Merlot – Originally used for blends but now单独种植酿造果香四溢的低丹宁软实中Body红酒。
Zinfandel – Heritage grape of Mexico. Grown in old vines in Zacatecas. Yields jammy reds with blackberry and pepper spice complexity.
Syrah – Performing well in warmer areas like Sonora and Baja. Produces deep purple wines with peppery tannins.
Petite Sirah – Early ripening bold grape. Giving inky dark reds with blueberry notes in Valle de Guadalupe.
Grenache – Most often blended but some single varietal examples exist. Contributes berry fruit and soft tannins.
Malbec – Still limited plantings but early results are promising for this dark fruited Argentine variety.
Pinot Noir – Grown in small quantities in cooler mountain areas. Light bodied and earthy in style.
Red Wine Styles and Blends
Mexico produces a diverse range of red wine styles – from easy drinking fruit forward quaffers to complex oak aged offerings. Common styles and blends include:
– Joven – Young fresh unoaked reds meant for early drinking. Often blends of Tempranillo, Cabernet and Grenache.
– Crianza – Aged briefly in oak. Balanced medium bodied reds like Cabernets and Tempranillo blends.
– Reserva/Gran Reserva – Top tier reds aged extensively in oak. Showcasing concentrated Mexican terroir. Mostly single varietals.
– Rosado – Dry rosé wines made via short red wine skin contact. Refreshing pink hued wines.
– Claret – Bordeaux style red blends, mainly mixing Cab Sauv, Merlot and Cab Franc.
– GSM – Rhone style blends of Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre. Often with spicy, peppery notes.
– Zin-Tempranillo – Popular red blend marrying the bright fruit of Zinfandel and savory spice of Tempranillo.
Key Players in Mexican Red Wine Production
Mexico has a growing number of respected wineries crafting quality red wines. Some of the leading names include:
Monte Xanic – Pioneering Baja winery founded in 1987. Specializes in Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc.
L.A. Cetto – Largest producer in Mexico dating back to 1700s. Known for consistent value-priced reds.
Casa Madero – Historic Parras winery making elegant Cabernets and blends aged in oak.
Adobe Guadalupe – Smaller cult producer of premium Bordeaux and Rhone style reds.
Decantos – Upstart focusing on single vineyard Cabernets and Tempranillo.
Viñedos Don Leo – Family producer of rich Petite Sirah and Tempranillo in Guadalupe Valley.
Vena Cava – Organic certified winery crafting food friendly fruity reds and blends.
Azteca de Oro – Efficient large producer of easy drinking value red wines.
Vega Sindoa – Sauvignon specialists also making solid Tempranillo-based reds.
Noteworthy Mexican Red Wines
Here is a highlighting of award winning and critically acclaimed red wines showcasing Mexico’s red wine potential:
Monte Xanic Gran Ricardo 2009 – Icon wine blend from Guadalupe Valley. Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Malbec, Petite Verdot.
Casa Madero 3V 2007 – Prestigious Parras valley Bordeaux blend aged 36 months in oak.
Adobe Guadalupe Kerubiel 2014 – 95 point scored GSM Rhone style blend. Called the “Pride of Baja.”
Decantos Valeria 2010 – Dense single vineyard Tempranillo with tons of complexity.
Viñedos Don Leo Nebbiolo 2018 – Excellent quality Baja Nebbiolo with rose and tar notes.
Vena Cava Orgánico Syrah 2017 – Robust certified organic Syrah from Valle de Guadalupe.
L.A. Cetto Private Reserve Nebbiolo 2014 – Affordable award winning Baja Nebbiolo.
Azteca de Oro Private Selection Cabernet Sauvignon 2016 – Value priced crowd-pleasing Cab with ripe fruit flavors.
The Question of Mexican Red Wine Quality
So does Mexico produce good quality red wine? Based on expert opinions and tasting reviews, the answer is decidedly yes. While inconsistent wines still exist, the top producers are making reds that unequivocally qualify as good to outstanding:
- Numerous Mexican red wines have scored over 90 points in respected publications like Wine Enthusiast, Wine Spectator and Vinous.
- Renowned wine critic James Suckling has been impressed by Mexican reds, scoring many over 90 points.
- Master of Wine Tim Atkin MW has called Baja Mexico’s “new frontier for great wine.”
- Mexican wines competed well against global competition in 2020 Sommelier Challenge red wine tasting.
- The 2019 Guia Penin wine guide lauded Valle de Guadalupe for red wines ranging from “very good to excellent.”
- In influential critic Robert Parker’s Buyer’s Guide, he recommends quality producers like Monte Xanic and L.A. Cetto.
While value priced quaffers still exist, the industry consensus is clear – Mexico’s best wineries have proven their red wine chops on the world stage.
Why the Improvement in Quality?
There are several factors driving Mexico’s red wine quality revolution:
- Ideal winemaking climate – Regions like Valle de Guadalupe have hot sunny days and cool nights perfect for quality red grapes.
- Improved vineyard sites and management – Better altitude, drainage and spacing for grapes like Nebbiolo and Tempranillo.
- Focus on premium clones and rootstocks – Higher quality vines and propagation materials.
- Investment in modern technology – From drip irrigation to optical sorters, Mexico’s technical prowess has grown.
- Winemaking talent – Emerging class of talented Mexican winemakers trained locally and abroad.
- Quality mindset – Leading producers rejecting bulk wine mentality and striving for excellence.
The Baja wine pioneer Hans Backhoff once said “We’re not looking to turn the world upside down. We just want to make excellent wines.” On the red wine front, Mexico is accomplishing exactly that.
Red Wine Regions and Styles to Watch
While Baja California produces over 90% of Mexican wine, other emerging regions and wine styles show enormous promise:
The highlands – Cooler elevated areas near Mexico City like Querétaro are perfect for Pinot Noir and elegant reds.
Puebla – Volcanic soils around Popocatepetl Volcano are well suited to earthy spicy reds.
Oaxaca – Valle de Santo Domingo is gaining attention for Rhone varietals like Mourvedre.
Sonora – This coastal region has untapped potential for big bold reds.
Blends – Traditional grapes like Durif, Graciano and Carignan are being blended into interesting Mediterranean style red wines.
Alternative packaging – More producers experimenting with boxed wine, bag-in-box, and cans for red wine.
Mexico is vast with over 525,000 acres suitable for future vineyards. The diversity of terroirs and microclimates will open doors for many styles of red wine to flourish.
The Future of Mexican Red Wine
The future looks bright for Mexican red wine. Rising quality, award recognition, and critical praise are starting to give these wines an international reputation. Growth in the premium segment is vastly outpacing lower priced offerings. Tourism is introducing more new consumers to discover Mexico’s wine potential.
While educational and marketing efforts will be key, the groundwork has been laid for red wine to become a flagship style for Mexican wine. Exciting times lie ahead especially for iconic wines from ancient vines and high elevation single vineyards. With continued investment and innovation, Mexico’s time to shine on the global red wine stage has arrived.
The days of viewing Mexico as only a producer of cheap bulk wine are fading. Discerning consumers and wine critics are waking up to the country’s red wine renaissance – a renaissance built on deep passion and pride in the land’s potential for greatness. Raise a glass of quality Mexican Tempranillo, Nebbiolo or Cabernet today and discover red wines that express both innovation and centuries old winemaking tradition reinvented. ¡Salud!