06.27.13 – Day 4 – After having an incredible breakfast at the Bistro and Cava restaurant in the Hotel Coral, we were whisked away to the L.A. Cetto Winery, which happens to be the largest wine-producer in the country. That being said, everything at this winery (the fermentation tanks, the barrels, etc) is huge to accommodate for mass-production. I am immediately impressed by the size of the winery and all of its components- this alone makes the winery a “must-see”.
**SideNote: 90% of Mexico’s wine comes from the Guadalupe Valley, which is in Baja, Mexico.
Our tour guide, Iker Mikel Turcott Unzueta, tells us how L.A. Cetto is “One hundred percent Mexican wine and a one hundred percent family business”. At L.A. Cetto, all of the fruit is hand-harvested and they use absolutely no machinery for this part of the process. Considering the size of the winery, this is very impressive. What is even more remarkable? The fact that they don’t add any additional flavors to their wines- at L.A. Cetto the grapes, and the grapes alone, determine the wines’ flavors.
**SideNote: There are over 8000 types of grapes in the world.
**SideNote: Red wine can only be made with red grapes but white wine can be made with both red and white grapes!
After touring the colossal winery and getting a first-hand look at how everything is made, we begin our L.A. Cetto wine tasting. We begin with Champbrulé, which is the sparkling wine of the house. Being the champagne-lover that I am, I instantly fall in love with this bottle and buy one to take home with me!
**SideNote: What is the difference between sparkling wine and champagne? Where it is made! Champagne is sparkling wine made in Champagne, France; if it is made anywhere else in the world it cannot be called “champagne” and is simply sparkling wine.
Next, we try Chenin Blanc, which is L.A. Cetto’s white “table” wine. The flavor is clean and not overbearing- perfect for accompanying food. Even better news: all of L.A. Cetto’s wines are “moderately priced” so you can take home most of your favorites for less than $20 a bottle!
**SideNote: Always hold your wine glass by the stem- this is the formal or “proper” way to hold it because it prevents your hand from heating up the wine.
After that we try the flowery and aromatic Don Luis, followed L.A. Cetto’s buttery and oaky Chardonnay.
**SideNote: The first aromas you smell in a glass of wine come from the fruit but after you swirl the wine around in your glass, those next aromas you smell come from the fermentation and aging of the wine.
**SideNote: Over time, red wine loses color but white wine gains actually pigment as it ages!
As we move on to the red wines I ask Iker what he recommends pairing the wines with. His response: “My suggestion is that our white wines should go with a nice, sexy blonde and our red wines with a firey brunette.” Comical. One of the red wines, the Don Luis “Concordia” was particularly outstanding in flavor. This “Reserved Selection” wine happens to be Iker’s personal favorite and he describes the robust wine as “so good that I feel like I am cheating on my girl- so I call this wine “my mistress”….and she has amazing legs!”
**SideNote: When you swirl wine around in a glass, the liquid that sticks to the sides of the glass are referred to as the “legs” of the wine- the longer they take to come down, the older the wine is, and the more alcoholic content there is!
After a very entertaining wine tasting we head over to the town of Tecate for a gourmet Mexican lunch at the Asao Hotel. Upon entering the emasculate dining room I immediately taken by the classic fine dining ambiance. High ceilings with chandeliers, white tablecloths, authentic Mexican artwork, a complete view of the kitchen, and a fully windowed wall revealing the rolling hills of the valley all compose the dining area- impeccable.
We begin our meal with an instant “table-favorite”: shrimp quesadillas with smoked marlin; the intense flavors of this ‘starter’ made it unforgettable. Next, we have what is called a “pre-Hispanic salad”, which was a rich vegetable dish made with grilled tomatoes, lemon purée and fresh local cheese. The third course is rabbit cooked in sweet red wine with stewed vegetables, which was followed by the most phenomenal dish of the entire Mexican-adventure thus far: a tender rib-eye with a chili crust, coffee sauce, and chipotle salsa. This is a “classic Asao dish” and has been served to guests since the restaurant first opened! This doesn’t surprise me at all because it would be no exaggeration to call this plate “perfection”. It literally tastes like steak and spicy coffee- I’ve never had anything like this before and the flavor combinations have me weak. Who would have ever thought to combine coffee and red meat? I’ve never had anything so sultry and satisfying. Incredible. If you are going to only visit one restaurant for one dish, this is the restaurant and this is the dish. We finish the outstanding meal with a sweet black bean dessert accompanied by crispy buñuelos.
After the mind-blowing lunch in Tecate we visit the Cuauhtémoc Moctezuma Brewery, which produces Tecate Beer (named after the town, of course!).
Here we got to tour the entire plant and learn about how the different beers are made.
**SideNote: In 2010 Heineken bought Cuauhtémoc Moctezuma and now the company produces twelve different brands of beer, including Tecate, Heineken, and Coors Light!
This tour was particularly interesting because it is not everyday that one gets to see how beer is made or experience a beer tasting. After visiting so many wineries, it was really nice to learn about what I would I think is an equally popular beverage. The Cuauhtémoc Moctezuma Brewery uses some of the most innovative technology in all of Latin America and produces 100,000 to 600,000 cans of beer per minute! The factory has over 250 employees and is well known for its community outreach and contributions to its hometown of Tecate.
Our tour guide taught us about the fermentation process for beer and how it is made with five basic ingredients: water, adjuncts, malt, yeast, and hops. I even got to try hops, which I do NOT recommend to anyone, by the way.
**SideNote: Darker pigment in a beer indicates a longer resting period during the beer’s making!
After leaving the brewery we set off to see another one of Tecate’s major highlights: The Tecate Community Museum. This museum is an educational experience where visitors can learn all about the original people Tecate and local indigenous groups. The museum features three hands-on exhibit areas that are all multilingual and accommodate to children and students. The site also includes ethnobotanical gardens, a gift shop, and a traditional Kumiai house.
The Tecate Community Museum is “dedicated to fostering greater understanding of the cultural, historical, and natural heritage of Tecate, Baja California, Mexico” and as I walk through the various attention-grabbing exhibits, I realize how true that statement is. All of the displays are interactive and hands-on; this museum isn’t your typical exhibit designed just for looking- it’s for experiencing. The Tecate Community Museum serves as a great history lesson, but is more fun than any museum I have ever been to- if you’re visiting Tecate, you cannot leave before making a stop here!
After we depart from the museum we head over to the El Mezquite Restaurant at the El Estancia Inn for what I expected to be a casual dinner…to my pleasant surprise, the dinner was far from casual. We were astonished with two large platters of shrimp, beef, sausage, chicken and vegetables- all grilled in a delicious, authentic Mexican style. Again, if you are in Tecate, you cannot leave the town without making a stop at El Mezquite Restaurant for an unmatched dining experience. Here, we all had a wonderful time in the comfortable and family-friendly dining hall as we built our own personalized tortillas with the irresistible grilled ingredients.
Tonight is my last night in Baja, Mexico and the idea of leaving is breaking my heart. I have only been here for four days and my home in LA is just three hours away but I feel like I’ve escaped my entire life, forever ago. The world I once knew feels so far behind me and the past few days in beautiful Baja are all I seem to know. It is unbelievable how wild and extraordinary my adventures here have been. I am so thankful that I get one more day here- I fall asleep tonight contently, knowing that I will wake up in this heaven once more.
Here are links to ALL FIVE DAYS of my wonderful trip to Baja California:
Photographs by Lawrence Davis