The food was glorious at Food & Wine magazine's festival in Ixtapa Zihuatanejo. But the wines were glorious too. And the tasting opportunities were better than you would get even in Baja's Guadalupe Valley, where most of the wines poured at the festival were produced.
To taste this wine usually requires an appointment to meet Bravo at his bodega in the Ejido El Porvenir in the Guadalupe Valley.
Shimul presented its Italian varietals, the first time I have seen these wines, although I have bought Shimul olive oil in Ensenada.
Andrés Blanco, enologist and director of Laja restaurant in the Guadalupe Valley, poured Ulloa, a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Grenache and Petite Sirah.
After the festival, Blanco took his wines to Mexico City, where Laja founder and executive chef Jair Téllez spends much of his time at his new restaurant, Merotoro. Open a little more than a year, Merotoro features Baja cuisine adapted to an urban setting. It's been named one of the city's top three restaurants.
The exception to the Baja presence was Viñedos Santa Elena from Aguascalientes. This winery's line includes a Malbec; a blend of 50% Malbec with Syrah, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, and a Carignan-Syrah blend.
Santa Elena started in 2006-2007 with a small vineyard. The Malbec is grown from a new, high density planting, but 30 years or so ago, it was planted in neighboring Zacatecas, so it has a long history in Mexico.
Years ago, I went to both those states and spoke with an agricultural expert who predicted the area would become a leader in wine grape production. Judging from Santa Elena, it looks like this is happening.
But, guess what, even in Aguascalientes, there's a Baja connection. A partner in this winery is Hugo d'Acosta of Casa de Piedra, who consults for innumerable Baja wineries and is the area's celebrity winemaker.
Making Malbec is something D'Acosta has wanted to do since studying winemaking in France, and he travels to Aguascalientes every couple of months.
The Baja wine boom has made land so expensive that the proprietors of Mariatinto found it cheaper to buy a vineyard in France and so will make wines from that vineyard as well as Baja wines from purchased grapes. The Mariatinto wine I tasted was a smooth blend of Grenache, Syrah, Tempranillo and a little Cabernet Sauvignon.
The Firmamento label offers just one wine, a handsome red blend that made me return to taste it again. It's composed of Grenache, Cinsault, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Tempranillo grown on a small vineyard in the Guadalupe Valley. And it's well worth the price, 640 pesos, or about $57.
Others taking part in the festival included Joaquín Prieto of Tres Valles, pouring among other wines a blend of Tempranillo, Sangiovese and Ruby Cabernet called Kuwal, which means red in an indigenous Baja tongue.
When the catamaran docked, a crocodile swam up, perhaps hoping that someone might be tipsy enough to topple overboard, but that didn't happen.
But the last taste went to Bodegas Santo Tomás, which provided all the wines for the final festival event. This took place outdoors at the Palma Real Golf Course, where visitors from chilly parts of the United States reveled in the warmth of the evening.
Along with wine and food tastings, the event included a costume show from Guerrero state, lively Mexican music and, as the grand finale, a massive burst of fireworks.