Saturday, April 2, 2011

Valle de Guadalupe's Wine? Consider Petite Sirah

Camillo Magoni, Vinos L.A. Cetto
No wine region I've visited is more challenging for vintners who hope to make wines worthy of high respect than the Valle de Guadalupe at the northern reaches of Mexico's Baja peninsula. The area is stark and forlorn, so dusty and dry that even a cactus that can survive on a drop or two of rain each year anywhere else just barely gets by. Vines in the Valle de Guadalupe almost invariably are stumpy and skinny, more skeleton than fleshed-out members of the viticultural family, even at the peak of the growing season.

In some quarters, this barren and stingy landscape is seen as the perfect setting for assuring that vines struggle, and thus yield grapes with the most compelling stories to tell. I'm not convinced, though on two successive nights now I've had Valle de Guadalupe wines to indicate that site, grape and vintner are well placed.

The grape is petite sirah, the vintner Camillo Magoni, longtime winemaker for Vinos L.A. Cetto, Mexico's largest and most progressive winery. The winery is young, founded in 1974; it's in the difficult Valle de Guadalupe; and it's huge, with a run approaching a million cases a year. Yet, with each vintage it shows that petite sirah just may be the grape most at home in such an inhospitable environment, with the possible exception of grenache, a story for another day.

On successive nights now, I've pulled the corks on bottles of Vinos L.A. Cetto Valle de Guadalupe petite sirah. The first was the 2007, the second the 2008. Neither is expensive. I paid only about $8 for each, and this in Mexico, where taxes on wine and spirits is extorntionist. Nevertheless, both were among the more memorable Mexican wines I've had in some time. I preferred the 2007 for its sunnier fruit and more pronounced black-pepper spice. The 2008 was jammier and oakier, with the spice lingering in quiet authority in the background; in another year or so, however, I suspect it will be more vocal. Both were juicy, well built, muscular and nicely balanced, quite companionable with the rib-eye steaks with which they were served. I know, I know, that's too much fatty meat to eat in such a short span, but after first tasting the 2007 I just had to follow it up soon with the 2008. Vinos L.A. Cetto, incidentally, is distributed in California; one vintage or other of the petite sirah, or perhaps both, is apt to be available in the North State.


  1. I tasted some Aglianico and Montepulciano wines from this region recently. Very interesting stuff.

  2. Good column on a neglected region. Couple of grammatical rewrite points:
    "taxes on wine and spirits is extortionist": Taxes on wine and spirits are exorbitant.
    spice will "will be more vocal" in the wine: Spice will become more prominent.

  3. LaBelle Winery in Terra Bella CA offers several excellent wines from Valle de Guadalupe.I believe from the same vineyard mentioned. I was blown away the first time I had them.Certainly worth trying

  4. If you want to really try the amazing wines from VdeG, try the wines from Adobe Guadalupe, Casa de Piedra, Mogor Badan, and Tres Valles. These are the wines that you should be focused on. LA Cetto..???

  5. I'm a big fan of the wines of Adobe Guadalupe and Casa de Pidra, as well as Vinedo Malagon and Vinisterra. The wines I've tasted at Mogor Badan were a letdown, and I'm not familiar with Tres Valles. I guess it's a weakness of mine that I don't reject out of hand wines from larger producers like L.A. Cetto and Monte Xanic. For more on Mexican wines, check out my chapter on Mexico in "Opus Vino."