The Spanish crown put the mission grape (it wasn't called that until later) on a boat to the New World in the late 18th century and waved adios. We don't know if the grape's banishment was due to the basically boring wines that had been made with it, but it effectively disappeared from the winemaking scene in the mother country.
In its adoptive home, however, it was the new kid on the block; the first European varietal to be grown in the Americas and the pride and joy of the friars who planted it at their missions for use in sacramental wines. Still, it took almost a century for the Dominican Santo Tomás Mission, founded in 1791 in Baja California, Mexico to be rededicated in 1988, as winemaking facility Bodegas de Santo Tomás.
These days, the bodega produces dozens of wines, most of them centered on the usual European vinifera. But at least one, the aptly named Misión Vino Tinto, retains a link to the monkish past. Composed of nearly equal parts tempranillo, carignan and misón grapes, this is a well-made wine, light on the palate, featuring bright cherry and cola flavors that tighten up nicely with a little chilling. It's well worth the $12.99 I paid at Central Market during their recent Passport to Mexico event.
It will take a little missionary work to convince the wine-buying public of the worth of vinos mexicanos, but there are some dedicated proselytizers out there. I sat down with Thomas Bracamontes to taste through his portfolio of wines from Baja California at Edera recently. "Baja today is like Napa 40 years ago," he said at the outset, adding that red blends are the current standouts.
If anybody knows premium Mexican wines at all, Monte Xanic is bound to be among them. It was founded as recently as 1987, and its whites of chenin and colombard were the first national wines of ambition I was introduced to in Mexico. I wasn't thrilled with them then, but times have changed. The Viña Kristal sauvignon blanc, sporting green melon and almond notes and some tropical aromas, is a far better product. And the 2014 Chardonnay ($16-$17) is classic with a spicy edge and complexity added by lees stirring.
Even newer is Alximia, founded in 2008 by a family of academics and scientists. I tasted the 2013 Aqua ($23-$24), a typically iconoclastic Baja blend of petit verdot, zinfandel and grenache, and found spicy/brambly berry flavors along with zin-like pepper and a hint of chocolate. Cabernet and nebbiolo come together in the Viresa 2012 Surco Rojo ($25). The cab seems to dominate on a nose that gives way to chewy, dark fruit. From Las Nubes Bodegas y Viñedos, also launched in 2008, came the 2014 Selección de Barricas ($25): think berry, black cherry, chocolate and coffee, the result of a blending of garnacha, carignan, tempranillo and syrah.
It's all coming together slowly, in other words, and wine drinkers have "got to be willing to discover" along with the new missionaries. Central Market and other suppliers will only continue to carry these wines if the response is good, of course, so get ready to believe.
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