Funny but when I was younger I could never understand why people felt the need to get away from winter but let me just say, I totally get it now. It’s barely the beginning of November and I dream of someplace warm.
One of my favourite escapes when the cold Canadian winter is in full swing is the Riviera Maya in Mexico. Dollar for dollar it’s a great value vacation and I’ve never been to a five-star resort I didn’t like. If you’re staying close to Playa Del Carmen, a short taxi ride will take you into town for a day of shopping and dining.
I really only have one complaint – no matter the quality of the resort, the wines they offer are definitely lacking. It’s not that I’m a wine snob, lets just say I have particular tastes. Since I’m not into Tequila or sugary fruit drinks my inner wine snob (ok, so I admit it) pales at the thought of only having 2 choices – vino blanco and vino tinto unless you’re willing to spend big bucks on a high-end domestic or imported wine. And while cheap and cheerful works for something cool by the pool, I definitely enjoy something a little better when I’m having a nice meal.
So why is it that Mexico doesn’t have better wine considering it’s actually the oldest wine industry in the New World? Well, I figured I’d do a little digging and share what I found.
In 1521, just after the Spanish invasion, conquistadors started planting vines and in 1524, Hernán Cortés, the governor of New Spain (Mexico), decreed that each Spanish settler given lands must plant ten grapevines per year for the next five years.
With the success of the Mexican wine industry Spanish imports started to dwindle. So in order to protect the Spanish wine industry King Carlos II banned the production of wine in Mexico in 1599, except of course for use by the church. The ban remained in effect until Mexico won independence from Spain in 1821 and lets just say a few hundred years can turn any wine enthusiast towards other popular domestic spirits like Cerveza (Mexican beer) or tequila.
In the 20th century winemaking gradually increased, but with the removal of trade barriers in the late 1980s production declined again due to inexpensive imports from around the globe. With this increased competition the government soon levied taxes to around 40% on each bottle and wine makers recognized in order to compete they would need to rely on quality, not price.
The average Mexican is still not a big wine drinker but consumption is on the rise much of that due to tourists who consume about 40% of the wine. One element which is considered key for a broader consumer base is the need to produce more palatable entry-level wines.
Considering Mexico is the number one fly in destination for Canadians going on vacation here’s hoping the resorts will soon be sourcing some of those.
Now if you’re not planning a trip to sunny Mexico just yet but want to try a Mexican wine, my partner who endlessly snoops through the aisles at the LCBO to source great finds has suggested L.A. Cetto Private Reserve Petite Sirah 2008. It’s from the Baja California region of Mexico and priced at $19.95 you’ll find it in the Vintages section.
We would love to know about your experience with Mexican wines or if you’ve found one worth sharing.