Wine Talk

Snooth User: EMark

Pretty Good Mexican WIne

Posted by EMark, Dec 20, 2011.

When I introduced myself to Snooth, last spring, I mentioned that my brother-in-law had gifted me with a bottle of wine that he'd picked up on one of his fishing expeditions to Baja California--Casa Pedro Domecq 2007 Reserva Real, a blend of Barbera and Ruby Cabernet.  I asked if anybody on Snooth had any experience with this or Mexican wines in general.  The response that I received from some correspondents was, pretty much, what I expected--not a whole lot of knowledge or experience, but, certainly, curiosity and encouragement. 

One of my big beefs is people asking for advice on the Snooth forums, getting that advice from enthusiastic and knowledgeable Snoothers, but never coming back and providing an update on how the advice panned out. So, lest I be accused of accepting advice and not paying back, I am now reporting that I opened that Reserva Real, last night.  Our dinner plan was to make sandwiches with some leftover Tri-tip that we'd grilled over the weekend.  So, I picked a wine in which, frankly, I did not have much expectation.

In a nutshell it's a pretty darned good wine.  Somewhat woody and a tad yeasty on the nose.  Initial mouth experience is tartness, but then some nice berry fruit emerges.  Noticeable tannin, then, on the edges of the tongue.  Not a terribly full-bodied wine, but a good mate to a sandwich dinner.

I don't have much experience with the Barbera grape, but this is the second one I've had, lately, that I have liked.  Prior to that one, it had been years since I'd had a Barbera.  I am going to seek more.  I really can't recall any previous experience with Ruby Cabernet.  So, I really don't know what affect it had on the blend.

I might denigrate the name, "Reserva Real" as marketing hyperbole.  This is not what I would call a "Royal Reserve."  It's a good quaff with a casual meal, but drink it now.  

Replies

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Reply by Richard Foxall, Dec 20, 2011.

Thanks for that--missed the original post, but always look for your comments now that I have been aware of you for a while.  Nice to know our neighbor down south can produce something more interesting than Corona beer and "aged" tequila that's counted in months. 

Barbera is a good casual grape that might have gotten a little carried away with itself on the one hand but has also been sloppily vinified on the other.  Montevina makes a very inexpensive but thoroughly enjoyable "pizza wine" from Barbera grown Amador County.  For a fun label, I like "Barbera da Vine" (which wasn't bad tasting, either) from Piemonte--you can get it in downtown LA at some hip pizza place a couple blocks behind the Biltmore/Pershing Sq. I can't remember the name of the place offhand but I think it's Urbano, and one of my mates says who ate there says that sounds right. I throw that in there, EMark, because I think that's your part of the world.Ruby Cabernet is a hybrid of Cab Sauv and Carignan (had to check that--for a minute I remembered it as Cinsaut, but wrong--that's the second grape in Pinotage) that was developed at UC Davis to provide Cab properties in the heat of the Central Valley--and didn't really work out.  Hybrids and even genetic engineering aren't completely predictable.  Here's the Wiki on it. I've seen it on its own and never been tempted to buy it because what I had read about it didn't impress me.  But now I know a wine I can buy if I am in Mexico that contains it, so who knows?

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Reply by EMark, Dec 21, 2011.

Thanks for the info, Fox.  I checked the Wiki entry that you cited, and the way I read it, while Ruby Cabernet has not succeeded as a preferred quality grape, it has, in fact, improved the quality of bulk wines.  No, I don't drink San Joaquin Valley bulk wines as a habit, but I am in favor of advances like this that help the state's agricultural economy.

Thanks also, for the tip on the pizza place.  I do live near Los Angeles, but don't get downtown as often as I used to when I worked there.  We do go downtown for events, concerts mostly, or an occassional hockey game, and, when we do, we then are looking for restaurants that are serving fairly late into the evening.  Unfortunately, that is a tad hard to do in Los Angeles.

I'll keep my eye out for Montevina Barbera.  I've enjoyed Montevina Zins in the past.  I'll also suggest to you the other nice Barbera, that I mentioned in the original post--Di Arie, Sierra Foothills. Between this one and the Montevina it looks like the Gold Country might be Barbera territory.  As an aside, I remember also really enjoying a Di Arie Petite Sirah about six months ago. 

 

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Reply by Richard Foxall, Dec 21, 2011.

Oh, diArie--the owner does tastings at WineMine down the street from my house.  I keep meaning to go.  Now I know I will have to make it.  Definitely some good wines up in the Sierra Foothills--Easton/Terre Rouge (Zin for one, Rhones for the other, same folks) is a favorite, and Bell sources his grapes for his Syrah from Canterbury vineyard up that way.  Edmunds St. John got a lot of his Rhone varietals up there.  I need some PS for NYE, I think, so diArie it will be. The Montevina is available in Safeway and BevMo in Northern Cal.  I imagine the same is true down there.  I first had it when we were skiing at Northstar and I wanted to have wine when we went out to dinner and wanted to save a little bit (the food didn't promise to be that great).  Funny trying to save a couple bucks on the wine when you just paid for ski school for your kids, a condo... but I was glad I did because I found a good wine that I have enjoyed many times since. 

Urbano is actually open late--we had dinner there at 10 p.m.  That whole area is shifting to a club/resto kind of thing, but we actually went there because a lot of the restaurants were closing.  They were still open and doing some business when we left.  It's not far from Staples Center and the W. Disney concert hall--I walked there the same evening--and all the things in that area. Let me know what you think if you go there.

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Reply by Richard Foxall, Dec 21, 2011.

Y'know, I have to agree that improving bulk wines is not at all a bad thing--you just never know when someone is going to hand you some at an event or their house, and I'm all for improving things from the bottom up!

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Reply by dmcker, Dec 21, 2011.

I'll second the thanks that Foxall proferred, Mark. I can almost taste the mouthpucker as you describe the wine. 

I remember your earlier thread, and though I've had dozens of bottles of Mexican wine, they're usually the result of the wrong decision at a cantina on the outskirts of Puerto Vallarta at 5 in the morning, resulting in unremembered returns to hotel beds at 7 or so and very bad hangovers through the afternoon. Might as well stay with the Mescal and Cerveza, is the decision a day or two down the line... Or is that just my drinking habits?  ;-)

Have you had any Barbera from central or northern Italy? Very good accompaniment to pizza and pasta--deals excellently with tomato sauces. Not the complexity of a nebiollo or sangiovese, but can be every bit as satisfying depending on the needs of the moment.

 

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Reply by EMark, Dec 21, 2011.

Dm, I am very excited about Barbera and will be searching out native Italian in addition to California examples.  Any suggestions that you might have will be greatly appreciated.

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Reply by Richard Foxall, Dec 22, 2011.

Don't mean to slight the Italian versions of Barbera, either.  Fontanafredda Briccotondo is very popular, and reasonable at 11-15 a bottle, but I haven't been overwhelmed by it.  In general, I haven't found huge deals on Barbera from Italy lately.  There's a lot more of it trying to be upper-end these days, and it has to compete with Barolo for the best sites in Piemonte.  Since Nebbiolo hasn't really flourished in Cal for some reason, Barbera doesn't compete for the same sites, but of course everyone seems to want to grow Cab on their prime land these days.  I think the folks in Amador, because they don't pay as much for the land, are more willing to try and crack the low to middle part of the market. 

D, I woud definitely like to hear your recs for reasonable priced Italian Barbera (besides the kitschy but tasty one I mentioned above--which is really the product of its American importer)

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Reply by dmcker, Dec 22, 2011.

Too bad Eric Guido and even GregDP aren't showing up on these boards anymore. They're a wealth of info on Italian Barbera. I'm running out the door right now, but will post back when I have a chance....

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Reply by dmcker, Dec 22, 2011.
Edited Dec 23, 2011

OK, so it turned out I didn't have to run as early as expected.

I've had my best Barbera experiences with wines from the Piedmont, but interesting ones also outside Parma and even in Sardinia. Mostly northern (especially northwestern) Italy, with some creepage south and SW and even east. Worst experiences were in Oz and even the wrong pizza parlor in SanFran (wrong Vic Aussie and Modesto-ish CA wines...). First sit-up-straighter bottle was a Gaja Barbera d’Alba I Fagiani d’Oro with a vintage from the late '70s, about 20 years ago at a Tuscan friend's restaurant in Tokyo. A surprising eye opener since I already knew Barolo and Barbaresco from the area and maker, and wasn't expecting anything that good with my pappardele cinghiale (a dish that also goes well with barolos and brunellos and even French-varietal super tuscans). Previous barberas had been shipping-damaged and disappointing, from lesser labels. Like most Gaja wines, this was not shy. And it could even age well over a dozen years! GregDP knows I went through a serious Gaja consumpution phase in the early '90s that doesn't sit all that well with his stylistic sensibilities, and though I've moved a bit on, that maker's wines still hold a warmspot in my heart and gullet that sometimes overcomes my wallet's reticence.

Cheap/rushed/poorly made barbera can be thin and overly acidic, but wellmade stuff is truly an eye (gullet?) opener, and a great match to dishes that can often destroy other wines. Other bottles I remember I've very much enjoyed include Giacomo Conterno, Mascarello, Rinaldi and Voerzio, all with different styles. I've not tried to source those in the States, so can't speak to availability or price. Probably more than a dozen other labels I've had that have been more than very sufficient unto the day, and likely cheaper, though--Giacosa and Pio Cesare and Sottimano, amongst others. Will try to think on them and post later if this thread gains legs.

I suppose I haven't had enough of them (or frequently enough) that I've developed the stylistic demands that I have with some other wines. I seem to enjoy a range of approaches, and how I can get into the meal itself even more with this wine than some that demand more focused attention. Be sure to let some of the bigger ones like the Conterno and Gaja (hell, I suppose most of them) breathe a bit after opening.

Oh yeah, and here's a link to Eric Guido's blog where he talks about three different barberas. Good to see he agrees with me on the Conterno!  ;-)

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Reply by dmcker, Dec 23, 2011.
Edited Dec 23, 2011

I'd also recommending trying barbera with not-too-hot Mexican food, though in Tokyo that only really means stuff I make at home. Over in LA (or Oakland), that's obviously a different story. Johnny's burritos up in Ventura might be a ways off, but try some of those taco trucks across the city, like this one, with some barbera. Yum. ;-)

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Reply by EMark, Dec 23, 2011.

Is that a shrimp taco?  It sure looks good.

I've always had a tough time matching wine with Mexican food.  The Barbera idea sounds good.  It would probably have to be at home, though.  I don't think most Mexican restaurants have winelists adventuresome enough to include Barbera.  My normal go to when at a Mexican restaurant is either Dos Equis or a Margarita.

Los Angeles covers a pretty big geography and Ventura is close to some, but, unfortunately, not for me.  I live east of downtown and Ventura is west and a tad north of downtown.

Favorite L.A. area Mexican restaurants:

  • La Huasteca in Lynnwood
  • Gabi's Kitchen in Orange
  • Loteria in L.A.--Farmers Market.  Jimmy Shaw has opened another Loteria in Hollywood.  This one is a sit-down restaurant vs. the stand at Farmers Market.  I have not been to the Hollywood Loteria.

I do not subscribe to the theory that the best Mexican food comes from the dinkiest little hole-in-the wall places.  La Huasteca and Gabi's are both "white tablecloth" restaurants that offer dishes from different regions of Mexico.  Loteria is, as mentioned above, a stand, and it's food is terrific.  I love to go there for breakfast and order the Huevos Rancheros Morita.  The Morita sauce is killer.  Peggy, Mrs. EMark, goes for the Chilequiles or the Chile Rellenos.  The Farmers Market Loteria does not offer any alcoholic beverages.  So, go with one of the aguas frescas.

The only truck I've ever tried is King's Tacos at the Grand Prix.  It is outstanding.

As long as I have the floor, I'll throw in a mention for what I think is a very neat Mexican restaurant in N. Cal--Guaymas in Tiburon.  Another white tablecloth place with an outstanding location right at the ferry dock.  (A former colleague who worked in the city would take clients over on the ferry, have a nice casual lunch and ferry back.)  Very good Margaritas and the Chile Relleno queen approves of their version.  They have a roasted chicken with pumpkin seed sauce (senior moment--don't remember the name) that I really like.


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