Gourmet Mexico, Part 2

We had made a reservation at Vinos Lechuza for noon on Wednesday. Having read good reviews, we called them to check on their hours and found that they did wine tastings by appointment only, so we decided on Wednesday before lunch. We were also interested in taking a look at Rancho La Puerta, a spa near a reservoir west of Tecate on Highway 2, which parallels the border to Tijuana, and figured there would be plenty of time in the morning before driving to the valle.

Rancho La Puerta, the spa we never found

Evidently, we took the wrong highway, driving west on the free road rather than the toll, and went right past the spa. After about an hour of nothing but auto shops, small businesses and Oxxo stores, we got concerned about getting back to Tecate and down to Guadalupe in time for our tasting. We stopped at a gas station and asked the attendant if there was a way south over the small mountain ridge to the valley, and he nodded and told us to go back to the road marked Las Palmas. Back we drove and, sure enough, found the Las Palmas road. We drove about 15 minutes up into the hills until we came to the town of Las Palmas, a new town of a couple of thousand people. We drove through it and discovered that it looked to be the end of the line.

Spotting a police car, we asked them how to get down to Guadalupe, and the driver smiled and said, “Follow me.” He proceeded to lead us clear down the road back to the highway, then turned right. In about a mile, he turned off onto an unmarked road and drove a couple of hundred feet, where he pulled over and rolled down his window. We pulled up and he pointed up the road and said, “Aqui.” Amazed at the time he had spent driving us down to this spot, we thanked him and drove on. Reaching the top of a ridge, we came to a gate and fence with a couple of large buildings beyond. The gatekeeper told us this was a branch of Northern Baja University, but the road went no farther and he wasn’t sure how we would get down to the valley, which we could now see below.

With a locked gate and no answers, we turned around and headed back. There was a small residential community on the next ridge east, and we found a side road that took us there. It was a quiet little place with very little going on. We drove around, and at one point, a large truck built for hauling dirt came out of a dirt road, blowing dust all over our car. A young boy about eight stood by the road playing with a stick. He waved to us, and Laurel asked him if there was any road that went down to the valley. He nodded, and pointed to the dirt road the truck had come from, then motioned right. “Derecha. Derecha. Derecha.”

The wrong way road

We looked at each other and decided we might as well try it. The road was rough with plenty of gravel and rocks and accordioned for a bumpy ride, but it headed in the right direction. Before long another truck approached and drove by us, then another and another. We had found some kind of primitive highway for construction trucks. Eventually, we reached a point where the road leveled out and continued past parked road equipment and piles of gravel and soil, then finally reached Highway 3, the road to Guadalupe. We were in Palm Valley and still 20 minutes or so from our winery date, but it felt good to be back driving on pavement. I called ahead to the winery, and the manager said no problem. We like to think of this holoholo as the “wrong way” to Guadalupe.

Vinos Lechuza

When we finally reached Lechuza, we were half an hour late, but our pleasant host seated us on their terrace and served us a delicious and educational tasting. He told us about other wineries he felt we should try and gave us the phone number for the owner of Bichi, just five minutes south of the rancho, to make an appointment for us. We bought a bottle of Amantes, an excellent red blend. We were also pleased to find that they work with a wine distributor here in the U.S., so we can buy their wine here at home.

Just up a side road from Lechuza is Finca Altozano, a casual, open-air restaurant, and one of our favorites in the valley. They serve very good food and a nice selection of local wines. We were starving after all the morning excitement, and we took advantage of its location in between three or four wineries in the center of Guadalupe.

The next day was Thanksgiving, and we celebrated by splurging at Laja, also just a short drive from Lechuza. We first tried Laja in 2017 and raved about it then, and it’s nothing but even better today. Laja is all about the food. A choice of either four or eight courses which change all the time. We asked for eight courses with the wine pairing. That’s eight incredible courses for only $50, plus eight matching wines for $25 more. I won’t write anymore, just quote the menu:

Tomato salad with aromatic herbs and roast piñons
Pressed piglet with butternut squash
Sea bass carpaccio with kimchi and black salsify
Spider crab raviolis with squid ink
Catch of the day with arugula pasta and tender squash
Local beef with sweet potato puree and sautéed vegetables
Yogurt and ramonetti cheese with quince in syrup
Flamed meringue with tuile and fig leaves ice cream

We liked it better than turkey and cranberries.

On Friday, we took the short drive south to Bichi, a new winery just a couple of miles from the rancho. With their first vintage release in 2014, the two brothers, Noel and Jair Tellez, and their mother, Ana Montaño, are putting Tecate on the map for a new concept in winemaking: Raw, or natural wine. In fact, the name Bichi means “naked” in their Sonoran dialect, where they moved from when they found Tecate, its ancestral grapes and its weather and soil. Raw wine is made from grapes grown on non-irrigated, organically farmed vineyards. They found some vines in the region that are so old no one really knows what variety they are. But so what, when the wine that comes from them is such high quality and wonderful tasting? With no additives and special aging techniques, Ana Montaño currently oversees the farming and is responsible for converting their vineyard to biodynamics. (Here’s a link to an article with more about Bichi and raw wine.)

With Noel Tellez at Bichi

Noel has ended his law practice in Tijuana and now spends all his time working at the winery. When we drove into the parking lot, we knew we were in a different kind of place—no tasting room, no souvenir shop, a working winery. Noel greeted us and led us past a couple of buildings and back to the edge of one of the vineyards. He found three glasses and a bottle of water he used to rinse the glasses between tastes, then took us into one of the buildings where he took wine out of an aging barrel and described its history and taste. And we sampled several superb wines that were completely impressive, except for one, which we tasted and then threw out at Noel’s request. He wasn’t happy with the way it’s aging. We ended up buying two bottles, one lovely rosé which didn’t yet have its label. I wrote Bichi Rosé on the bare bottle when we got home. We also got a bottle of “No Sapiens,” “No Name,” one of the grapes they bottle whose variety is unknown, but terrific to drink. While we were there, their mother, Ana, came by and gave us hugs and chatted for a while. Lovely people we’d like to spend more time with.

We had heard that Bichi was affiliated with Laja, where we had such a wonderful meal just the day before. In fact, we noted that two of the wines they served were Bichi varieties. But we were surprised and impressed to find that Noel’s brother, Jair, had founded Laja in 1999 and was the chef who cooked such exquisite fare. He now has two more restaurants, both in Mexico City, and is considered one of Mexico’s most influential chefs.

After all these discoveries, you can bet that we’ll be going back to Tecate before long.

One Response to Gourmet Mexico, Part 2

  • well, you’ve done it again. while I’m not going to go down to Mexico to taste those wines you mentioned, I do give you a lot of credit. As it was in Temecula, there are lots of various varietals in wine, and I’ve noticed you usually mention only that they’re red or white or rosè. I don’t know anything about wines from down there, so all I have is that you do have a way of making a wine sound like it tastes “good”, which is plenty, of course. I still have no idea which of the “red” characteristics each of those wines possess, such as Pinot Noir, Zinfandel of Cabernet Sauvignon.

    (Just downloaded this from Google asking of “Wine Characteristics)
    1. The 5 Basic Wine Characteristics | Boldness in Red Wines. Wine Characteristics Conclusions. Wine characteristics help identify and relate different wines to each other. Since over 250,000 different wines are released every year around the world, it’s helpful to think about wine characteristics in terms of the varietal and where they’re from. 
Red wine is heralded for its ageability, but in order for a wine to age to its full potential, it must be stored properly. Factors that affect the aging process are temperature, light and humidity. 
The 8 major types of red wines – French Scout
frenchscout.com/types-of-red-wines
Districts: cabernet sauvignon is planted wherever red wine grapes grow except in the Northern fringes such as Germany. It is part of the great red Médoc wines of France, and among the finest reds in Australia, California and Chile. Typical taste in varietal wine: full-bodied, but firm and gripping when young. 
Varietal Characteristics | Wine Basics | Learn Wine | Wine …
www.winespectator.com/webfeature/show/id/… 
In order to appreciate wine, it’s essential to understand the characteristics different grapes offer and how those characteristics should be expressed in wines. Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Zinfandel are all red grapes, but as wines their personalities are quite different. 
Red wine
wineeducation.com/redchar.html 
Red Wine Grapes. Color: From red to purple. The more blue or purple, the younger. CM wines are very purple. Orange or bricky denotes age. Fruit: From red fruits to dark bramble fruit. Raspberry and cotton candy in CM wines. Older wines tend to be lacking fruit. ….




    ANYWAY:
    My problem with being a wine connoisseur (of the lowest grade, I admit) is that the more I find about wines from places I’ve never been, or wines from those areas, I feel that I’ll just wait till I have dinner in their country and leave it up to the wine steward to choose and explain the wine 😉

    THANKS AGAIN FOR YOUR GREAT DESCRIPTIONS OF WINES AND FOOD OF MEXICO. YOU’RE MY EXPERT!!! -Gerry

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