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Bottled Up: Think Mexico is all about Tequila? You'll be surprised by the variety of its wines
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Bottled Up: Think Mexico is all about Tequila? You'll be surprised by the variety of its wines

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Whenever I travel, I’m always excited to dive into the foods, cultures and wine experiences that a new land has to offer.  

Last week, I visited Mexico’s Playa Del Carmen area, and as a foodie I could not wait for what was in store. I enjoyed a meal at HA', a restaurant by Mexico’s first Michelin star chef, Carlos Gaytán. Located at the Hotel Xcaret Resort, the nine-course tasting menu was paired with seven delicious and unique Mexican wines from Valle de Guadalupe in the northern Baja wine region.

I will pause here as you may have done a double take on that last sentence. Mexican wines? While the country is synonymous with Tequila and Tecate, many aren’t aware of Mexico’s wine-growing regions and the emergence of some great-tasting wines.

Mexico doesn’t have the longstanding traditions of Napa or the wine regions of Europe, but it’s start was very much in alignment with much of new world productions. The Spanish, settling in Mexico in the 1500s, brought along vines of their homelands. Mexican wine culture represents a mélange of cultures and grapes based on which European forefather settled there.  For instance, you may come across wines made from grapes hailing from original Spain, Italy and France, perhaps incorporating Cabernet Sauvignon, Nebbiolo, Syrah, Tempranillo and Chenin Blanc. 

The Mexican wine country is made up of nine main regions spread diagonally from northwest to southeast starting with Baja California, and Sonora, Coahuila and Durango in the middle and Queretaro in the southeast toward the gulf.

While much of the wine produced in Mexico comes from Baja, which benefits from the cooling breeze from the Pacific Ocean, many of Mexico’s winemakers are taking advantage of new technologies and irrigation techniques allowing them to produce wines in more unforgiving areas. While these wines don't rival the top bottles in the world, it is exciting to see what winemakers are doing in climates and locations where experimentation and creativity can take reign.

At HA’, the restaurant celebrates Mexican ingredients, refined atmospheres and salutes the classic foods of Mexican cuisine. As you walk into the dining room, you walk down a series of concrete pavers suspended over the floor almost as if you’re walking toward the sea floor of the nearby ocean. The meal started with Waygu Tartare with a Chile emulsion and caviar. This was paired with a delicious Monte Xanic Vina Kristel Sauvignon Blanc, a tart and lean Sauvignon Blanc that boasted grassy and citrus elements and presented an exciting and unique start to the meal. While you would think to pair Wagyu with a richer bolder red wine, in this pairing the delicate pepper and natural earthiness of Waygu paired perfectly with the green and grassy elements in the wine.

Over the next few courses we were treated to everything from Mexican-style French Onion soup, crafted with roasted Poblano peppers and Comte cheese, paired with white blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay. Both offered perfect texture and structure. Course after course continued to arrive with everything from delicately grilled octopus, lamb medallions with liver pate, and rosemary ice cream with strawberry sauce and macadamia nuts.

Every time I travel abroad, I'm on the hunt, challenging my palette and exploring something new. During our visit at HA’ we were treated to the top-level service one would expect from a Michelin star restaurant and the authenticity and richness of classic Mexican cuisine. As you’re planning spring-break trips or summer vacations I encourage you to try HA’ in Playa Del Carmen; this is one meal that foodies and winos alike won’t want to miss.

Carson Bodnarek, a self-proclaimed “cork dork”, is a certificate recipient from the Court of Master Sommeliers, WSET Level II and is currently studying for his certified sommelier exam. Always on the hunt for his next great bottle of wine for his collection, he is an avid jetsetter and devout foodie. After moving to Quad-Cities from Iowa City in 2013, Carson now resides in Bettendorf.

Contact Carson Bodnarek at 563-383-2299 or cbodnarek@qctimes.com.

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Carson Bodnarek, a self-proclaimed “cork dork”, is a certificate recipient from the Court of Master Sommeliers and is currently studying for h…

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