Mexico has always been known for its production of beer and tequila rather than wine, and for those of us who prefer the grape over the grain it has been frustrating to find a pleasing, inexpensive wine while vacationing in the Riviera Maya. I clearly remember the days when I would bubble wrap bottles of my favorite wines and pack them ever so gently in my carry on luggage. Customs would only allow 2 bottles per person, so every member in my travel party would kindly agree to “mule” a of couple bottles. In recent years as tourism has grown, the Riviera Maya’s palate has become more sophisticated now offering wine drinkers good value options if you know where to look.
When buying wine on the Yucatan coast, think Chilean or Argentinean. These wines are going to be your best value, as in the best taste for a fair price. Forget your favorite Napa Valley vineyard, the mark up on imported wines from the States is such that you will pay twice the price for the same bottle, if you even find it. Chilean and Argentinean wines avoid the high import tax because of a grandfather law that excludes them from taxation. Chilean and Argentinian wine is available at a reasonable cost throughout Mexico and many are as good as any California wine. “Why not a Mexican wine,” you ask? All of the choice Mexican wine is produced in Ensenada near Baja California – on the other side of the country from the Riviera Maya. The three main wineries in this region, Pedro Domecq, Bodegas de Santo Tomás and L.A. Cetto produce quality wine, but in small quantities which is then bought up by the high end restaurants in Mexico City and Guadalajara or by the luxury resorts of Cancun, Cabo San Lucas and Puerta Vallarta. While you will recognize these Mexican labels in Covi, the local liquor store, or in the MiniSuper stores, these offerings are not vintages I can recommend. Here are some of the labels I can suggest. I have found these wines to be pleasingly palatable and well priced.
Los Altos Hormigas Malbec – Full juicy red-fruit flavors that are nicely balanced by zippy acidity, providing the cleansing edge needed in a good food wine.
Vistamar Carmenere – an attractive purple red color and black fruit aromas with subtle notes of
Casillero del Diablo – One of the best Cabernets you’ll ever enjoy for the price. Appealing ripe cherries, black currant and dark plums with a touch of vanilla and toasty oak. Medium bodied with a smooth finish.
Alamos Malbec – Wine Spectator gave it a 90 point rating. Perhaps the best value out there for this varietal. Balanced, layers of smoky fruit and licorice framed by soft, but firm tannins. Finishes nicely, with chocolate.
Casillero del Diablo Chardonnay – Fresh, fruity and clean. This wine mingles pear and lemon flavors with good acidity.
Placido Pinot Grigio - Although this is an Italian wine, it is easily found in the Riviera Maya and at a really good price. Placido Pinot Grigio is delightfully refreshing, well-balanced, dry, crisp and fruity. A delicious accompaniment to light appetizers, hors d’oeuvres and seafood.
Where should you go to buy wine when in the Riviera Maya? After 7 years of searching and shopping here on the coast, I find the best selections and prices are at Soriana in the Centro Maya shopping center in Playa del Carmen and Winery and Plus in Playa del Carmen on Calle 8 across the street from WalMart. Winery and Plus is owned by Argentineans that are friendly and knowledgeable. They also stock nice wines from Spain. We all know not to purchase wine from supermarkets or convenience stores that are not air conditioned, right? As tourism grows along the Riviera Maya coastline so do our consumer options and wine is no exception. The days of having to BYOB of wine to Mexico are in the past.