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San Miguel de Allende’s Wine Scene on the Rise

Jun 21, 2023

It’s common knowledge that Mexico is traditionally not a wine-drinking country. Residents prefer tequila, mezcal and beer. But global interest in Mexican wine has grown of late, as has its reputation for excellence.

According to legend, Hernan Cortés and his soldiers drank all the wine they brought with them from Spain while celebrating their conquest of the Aztec Empire in 1521. Depleted of vino, one of Cortés’ first acts as governor was to order the planting of grapevines throughout “New Spain.” Established by padres in monasteries during the early colonial era in the states of Coahuila and Zacatecas, the European rootstock flourished in Mexico. Which is how Mexico came to be the oldest wine-growing region in the Americas.

While Mexico’s reputation as a producer of top-class wines has flown well under the radar, things have changed since the 1980’s, when quality and production began to ramp up. These changes have not gone unnoticed.

For example, the No. 1 wine at the prestigious Concours Mondiale de Bruxelles (CMB), held in Croatia in May, was the Cenzontle Blanco 2019 (20% Chardonnay, 70% Sauvignon Blanc, 10% Palomino). The wine was produced in the Guadalupe Valley near Ensenada, which dominates Mexico’s fine wine market. This blended white beat 7,504 competitors from 50 countries. It was blind-tasted by 304 judges. For the record, Mexico earned a total of 85 medals at the competition.

While the Guadalupe Valley in Baja California Norte has garnered a deserved reputation as a producer of exceptional wines, several northern, high-altitude areas of Mexico have begun to distinguish themselves as first-class wine districts, notably the state of Guanajuato west of Mexico City. The state’s famed Baroque jewel is San Miguel de Allende, site of the new Pueblo Bonito Vantage hotel slated to open at the end of this year.

Situated at an altitude of just under 2,000 meters and flanked by rugged mountains, San Miguel de Allende’s outlying regions have good terroir (soil) and a semi-dry, Mediterranean-like climate that’s conducive to growing grapes. While Syrah, Merlot, Tempranillo, Grenache, Cabernet Franc, Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon are the common grape varieties cultivated in Guanajuato, the region also specializes in Pinot Noir, a delicate, thin-skinned red grape used to produce some of the world’s finest wines, including the red wines of Burgundy in France.

According to a recent report in Travel + Leisure, “Over the past two decades, more than 30 wineries have opened in the region—ranging from traditional to experimental—and today they form stopping points on Guanajuato's Ruta del Vino (wine route), which follows five paths across the state. This motley group of established and new vintners is rediscovering the rhythm of the land. Torrential rains fall during the harvest season, and temperatures swing fiercely from day to night, often by as much as 30 degrees. This type of stress defines the grapes' skin, sugar and balance of acidity, resulting in wines that are charismatic and intriguing and that go down with great ease.”

The younger generation of winemakers describe their wineries as workshops where they've moved past conventional techniques in favor of crafty experimentation, using grapes from various farms to create unfiltered natural blends. The vineyards themselves, many of them set among lavender fields and olive groves, are very picturesque.

And while the region’s wine scene may be young, it is alluring and full of promise. Here’s the proof: The 2024 Concours Mondiale de Bruxelles will be held next June in Guanajuato, a historic city in the central highlands of Mexico not far from San Miguel de Allende. It will be the first time the competition has been held in the Americas.

Imbued with colonial history and endowed with natural beauty, all indications are that the environs of San Miguel de Allende will continue to evolve into a world-class wine region.