Distinct ‘Baja Med’ cuisine
As well as wine to suit all tastes, olive oil, cheese, chocolates, locally roasted coffee, craft beer, and other gourmet offerings have put this region on the gastronomic map. The region boasts several restaurants on the list of Latin America’s 50 best, and a distinct local cuisine – referred to increasingly as Baja Med – is emerging.
One of its best-known exponents is Javier Plascencia, who has restaurants in San Diego and Tijuana, as well as the hugely popular Finca Altozano in Valle de Guadalupe. This casual indoor- outdoor eatery is right on trend in both concept and menu, from the cucumber and mint drinks in mason glasses, to the succulent lamb roasted on the restaurant’s wood-fired grill.
From the deck there are panoramic views over the vineyard, kitchen garden, a bakery where they do all their own bread, animal pens, a coffee spot serving locally roasted coffee, and a casual eating area with food truck.
Equally on trend is the massive open-air wine bar, Bodegas del Valle, across the road from the Museum of Vines and Wines. It has 8,000 bottles of wine behind the bar and an amphitheatre catering to music lovers.
Pioneer of Baja Med cuisine, Miguel Angel Guerrero, has four restaurants including La Esperanza with sweeping views of the Cetto vineyards. An avid hunter, fisherman and diver, he draws on Mexican, Mediterranean and Oriental influences to create dishes such as zucchini carpaccio with nine chilli sauce, and octopus cooked in black tea for tenderness.
With a large Chinese community just south of the Valle, the area is reputed to have some of Mexico’s best Asian food. Miguel’s Spanish heritage introduced him to Mediterranean cuisines, and Baja’s Mediterranean-like weather allows him to grow olives, herbs, fruit and vegetables, all of which he integrates into his dishes. He hunts for rabbit, quail, and pheasant, making this a true paddock to plate experience.
Another restaurant combining Mediterranean and Asian influences with Mexican flavours is Manzanilla, in Ensenada. Listed in the top 50 of restaurants in Mexico, it is run by chefs Benito Molina and Solange Muris, who regularly appear on Mexican TV. They are great advocates for local and organic and their six-course tasting menu is prepared with flair and creativity. This is a classy restaurant, dark and moody with wingback chairs, red chandeliers and a huge old mahogany bar.
A great place to stop for breakfast on the way to the wineries is Leonardo’s, on Highway 3 in San Antonio De Las Minas. It’s popular with locals for its egg and machaca (shredded meat) dishes and especially for its towering apple pie. Another popular local hangout is the rustic La Cocina de Doha Esthela. If you’re lucky, you’ll see Esthela baking empanadas in the adobe oven outside, and you’ll be able to feast on them straight from the oven.
Although there is plenty of accommodation in Ensenada and elsewhere on the coast, the choice is more restricted within the Valle. We loved Hotel Boutique which with just 24 guest rooms is, well… boutique. It is simple but sweet with complimentary toiletries made from local grapes and olives. The restaurant here, Fuego, also has an up and coming Baja Med chef, Mario Peralta.
One of the region’s loveliest guesthouses is Adobe Guadalupe, an elegant inn built by an American businessman and his Dutch wife, who came to the valley to make wine and raise Azteca horses. After the loss of her son and more recently her husband, Tru Miller, is still very much involved in running the property.
The six guest rooms offer a peaceful retreat with a gorgeous courtyard, swimming pool and garden, the smell of rosemary lingering everywhere. The Adobe Guadalupe wines, available in California and Chicago, are named for the archangels, as director of operations Luis Garcia tells us “Tru is a lady who believes in signs.”
While the Rose, Uriel, is an easy quaffer, it is the red blends that reign: Gabriel, a Bordeaux- style blend; Kerubiel, a Rhone Valley-style blend; Serafiel, a Cabernet/Syrah blend; and the pinnacle, Raphael, a Cabernet Sauvignon/Nebbiolo.
In devising your own wine trail, take your pick from industrial-scale producers, like L.A. Cetto, Santo Tomas, and Casa Pedro Domecq, to boutique wineries and experimental new producers.
L.A. Cetto is responsible for 60% of Mexico’s production and exports to 35 countries. Renowned particularly for its Petit Syrah and Nebbiolo, we also enjoyed its Chardonnay, barrel-aged Sauvignon Blanc and stunning Moscato dessert wine, Passito.
Finca La Carrodilla has pinned its success on being one of Valle de Guadalupe’s few certified organic vineyards. It’s amazing what the earth can provide when properly nurtured. A l’/2 acre garden adjoining the vineyard bursts at the seams with carrots, heirloom tomatoes, edible flowers, baby kale, melons, beetroot, peppers, basil, artichokes, lavender, strawberries, Chinese melons and other produce that supplies their restaurant and is traded with local businesses.