Less evident is what is happening in the surrounding soil, a natural wine scene quietly taking root in the heart of the Mexican Highlands. Of Mexico’s 14 distinct wine regions, the Valle de Guadalupe that hugs the Pacific coast accounts for the vast majority of the country’s wine production. Its proximity to California’s Napa Valley and prolific wine production boost the Baja California section to the top of many travel guides.
But in the central states of Querétaro and Guanajuato, where San Miguel de Allende is located, charismatic winemakers who stick to some rules make an argument that they deserve equal attention from wine lovers.
“Ensenada is Disneyland now, and I don’t care who hears me say that,” says Marcelo Castro Vera, a pioneer of Mexico’s natural wine movement based in San Miguel de Allende.
Elias García Viadas, a certified chef and bartender who recently worked on Los Arcangeles Vineyards in Guanajuato, reflects that sentiment. “In the Mexican wine world,” he said, “Baja wine has become tacky, similar to mezcals from Oaxaca.”
North of the border, the thirst for Mexican wine is growing. US search attempts for “Mexican wine” have topped the Google travel category for “Mexican Tequila” and “Mexican Mezcal” at several points in the past 12 months. From 2015 to 2016, US imports of Mexican table wine grew 48 percent, according to a MarketWatch report.
Here are five essential things to know when drinking natural wine
Several local wine experts tell me that they refer to the central Baguio region as Mexico’s unofficial “capital” for natural wines, a category without a global definition. By appreciating organic or biodynamic farming and spontaneous fermentation, natural winemaking usually features little or no interference. Conventional filtration and added sulfates – used to correct acidity, color or flavor and stop further changes after bottling – are also generally avoided.
To completely immerse myself in this dreamland of tart, kombucha-like grip and hazy sediment, I went straight to the brewers, bartenders, and lifeguards around San Miguel de Allende to discover their favorite drinking spots.
Hidden in plain sight, this cozy wine and tapas bar sits on the corner facing the Public Library on Relox Street (spelled Xoler back). Xoler opened just a few months ago, and local wine lovers say it’s the only bar in San Miguel de Allende with a wide selection of natural wines from Mexican and international vineyards.
Even for drink enthusiasts, it’s an affordable way to learn about Mexican wine. Most wines by the glass are under $10. On a recent visit, I understood why a local winemaker told me, “Xoler has reinvented what a San Miguel wine bar is.”
While sipping on a glass of Vinos Pijoan Collage, a full-bodied sauvignon-Nebbiolo-Syrah cabernet mix, I thought, “The only thing that could make this evening better is some really good hip-hop.” Minutes later, Kendrick Lamar’s Pulitzer Prize-winning album “Damn” blasted through the speakers.
At times, you’ll catch San Miguel’s famous mojigangas—comic paper dolls that reach 18 feet in height—glittering in and out of the floor-to-ceiling windows.
Reservations are recommended but not required. Xoler is closed on Sundays and Mondays.
XolerInsurgentes 60, Downtown, 37700 San Miguel de Allende, Guanajuato, Mexico
Founded nearly a decade ago, Cava Garambullo is a wine and life partnership between self-described consultant and connoisseur Natalia Lopez Motta and Branko Pjanic, a Serbian-Mexican couple who met studying in Europe.
Lopez Motta says Guanajuato only had three wineries when they started Cava Garambullo in 2012. Today, there are nearly 30. Finding a place that inspired them, San Miguel de Allende was attractive partly because they could partake in an emerging wine region.
More than a workshop of sprawling vineyards, Garambullo’s squat brick and stone cellar is rich in light and shadows. Slow drinking is encouraged on the intimate patio, as sap from reclaimed timber plantations seeps in.
It’s easy to waste time on a vintage Pepsi folding chair whose white paint is clinging to rust, indicating that you’re not taking everything seriously. The interior tasting room resembles an underground sanctuary from the Middle Ages, if medieval dungeons are furnished with work benches, velvet cushions and handcrafted wooden barrels.
In San Miguel de Allende, Lopez Mota also recommends ICAVI and Cava Sautto. The first is a gathering point for professionals, but tourists can also order a tasting, attend an event, buy wine, or take a class, sometimes led by Garambullo winemakers themselves. The latter is part shop, part bar, and classroom, and you can hang a great bottle anytime to sip on in the back.
Lopez Mota advises against renting a car here if you are not used to driving in Mexico. “People drive without a lot of rules. I warned foreigners wouldn’t understand. Instead, first-time travelers should hire a driver for the day or book a wine tour. Fly to Mexico City first, Lopez Motta suggests, then take a bus to San Miguel.” De Allende, a four-hour flight from $25 to $30 one way.
To secure a spot in Cava Garambullo’s monthly open cellars, visit Instagram, where limited spaces are announced periodically.
Cava Jarampolo, Carretera San Miguel de Allende – Dolores Hidalgo 3.5 km, El Virgil de los Laureles, 37897 San Miguel de Allende, Mexico
Local bartenders agree that if there is a must-visit vineyard in Guanajuato, it is Viñedos Los Aracángeles. Paying tribute to winemaker Ulises Ruíz’s award-winning blend, they describe two of its most special features: views of lavender bushes framing serene ponds and a purple pizza dough made with grape yeast.
Last year, Ruíz’s Canto de Sirenas sauvignon blanc won the grand gold medal in the Mexico Selection National Competition. According to Miriam Nunez, a Guadalajara independent chef and sommelier who trains restaurant service teams throughout Guanajuato, the wine was “very fruity, very vibrant.”
To enhance your visit to Los Arcángeles, plan to stop at some of the nearby pueblos mágicos, the “magical towns” designated by the Minister of Tourism. Neighboring Peña de Bernal is home to one of the world’s largest monoliths and a host of other vineyards and wineries, including Finca Sala Vivé by Freixenet, a favorite of sparkling wine lovers. On your way to the vineyards, opt for a guided tour of the Shazarro Cigar Factory for $5.
You can rent a cabana at Viñedos Los Arcangeles to stay on site with free breakfast and the scent of lavender in it.
Vineyards in Los ArchangelsCarretera Diego de La Unión Km 13, 37823 Dolores Hidalgo Cradle of National Independence, Guanajuato, Mexico
Those looking for the perfect pairing near San Miguel de Allende can enjoy 75 peaceful hectares at the base of the Los Picachos Mountains, where more than 50,000 fruit trees once stood. For over 20 years, the farm has practiced organic farming for just 30 minutes out of town.
Dos Búhos is home to an event space, a restaurant, and a chapel with rotating art exhibitions. Hour-long tours start at about $25, and offer a wide selection of fertilizer-free vineyard varieties. Dos Búhos, one of San Miguel’s premier natural wine producers, offers low-interference varieties that can satisfy almost any palate, from off-white pets to ruby-colored roses that contain more minerals than the syrup’s sweetness.
On a recent Sunday, I sat under the shade of a mesquite tree and nibbled on a shelf of tender ribs that reminded me of the delicious, sugary Chinese variety. On the restaurant terrace overlooking rows of grapes, the server boasted that Dos Búhos was one of the only Mexican wineries to use black Aglianico grapes from southern Italy.
Dos Búhos, Next to Zirandaro, Carretera San Miguel de Allende-Buenavista, San Felipe Km 2.8, 37880 San Miguel de Allende, Guanajuato, Mexico
Al Nidal Hotel & Winery
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This rustic container hotel, winery and distillery is the brainchild of Marcelo Castro Vera, the eccentric 40-year-old owner. Nadal is the first contemporary Mexican winery to produce natural wines in clay vessels, as well as mezcal, beer and other rare spirits, such as the artisanal Moisilla distillery, which is infused with hemp leaves from the greenhouse.
Although he admits he had no idea what he was doing when it opened in 2016, Castro Vera knew that Vergel had been recognized as the “Label d’Origin,” a coveted label for winemakers and mezcals modeled after the French appellation of Origen. Controle and the Protégée wine classification system.
Without stainless steel cash, Castro Vera became fascinated with kvevri, the clay vessels used in traditional Georgian winemaking. Conveniently located, the surrounding municipality of San Felipe is famous for its pottery.
Chef and bartender Elias García Viadas says a minimum of two nights is needed at El Nidal to enjoy homely meals and drinking near the fire pit. If you are expert enough to visit in late summer or early fall, you can see how the wine is produced. There is no WiFi or cellular signal in the waiter, so print out your driving directions ahead of time and plan to disconnect completely.
Nadal Hotel37624 San Felipe, Guanajuato, Mexico
When Castro Vera is in San Miguel, you can easily spot a tall silhouette heading down the cobbled streets in his signature outfit: T-shirt, cargo shorts, Birkenstocks and a backpack full of bottles from his Octagano wine label.
Octagono has a tasting room downtown, but the eccentric winemaker prefers to keep it nameless. It’s known locally by its address in Centro, Tenerías 2. The pairing menu, depending on the mood of the spirit maker, combines Mexican and Middle Eastern snacks with the brand’s own natural wines: white, rosado, orange, red, and fortune (imagine the raspberry musk from Port The medicinal aromatics of fern met for one night). Additionally, expect an introduction to beer, liqueurs, and other unusual spirits produced at the Bartender’s Distillery.
For $25 to $50 per person, you can hear Castro Vera’s wax poet in English and Spanish about what he calls “the four characteristics of natural wine” while surrounded by Uzbek furnishings from his wife’s homeland. Reservations are required in the tasting room and you can book an appointment via Airbnb Experiences.
Tanneries 2, Downtown, 37700 San Miguel de Allende, Guanajuato, Mexico
Before he founded the Tierra de Peña vineyard with his father, Luis Oporto remembers that he drank only beer and Bacardi. An architect by training, the 39-year-old now helps oversee family-run properties in the Valle de Colón in Quéretaro. In contrast to Valle de Guadalupe’s strong, strong offerings, Oporto says central states’ wines are “more subtle and sparkling.”
Oporto warns first-time visitors that there is a great distance between Ruta del Vino chrome. If you’re going to be drinking, he also recommends hiring a driver for the day or weekend. Fly to Leon or Queretaro airport, he says, then stay in Queretaro if you want the full wine experience, or San Miguel de Allende for its rich history, gastronomy, and culture. Call ahead to book a tasting at Tierra de Peña to enjoy sheep’s cheese from nearby farms and other personal touches.
Nearby, local bartenders recommend checking out another from Queretaro Magicos, Cadereyta de Montes, for a taste of bountiful street food. Miriam Nuñez’s favorite barbacoa spot here is little El Tope, located downtown (Los Vázquez 76500) beneath a striped cell phone tower. You won’t find it on any map.
Peña Land, Bernal Highway. Km 3, Los Benitos, 76299 Los Benitos, 76299 Santiago de Queretaro, Queretaro, Mexico