28 September 2009

2005 Barón Balch'é Reserva Especial

The Roommate doesn't drink, but she was kind enough to snag me a bottle of Mexican wine during a summer trip to Cancún. I told her, "I don't really care what it is, I just want to be able to say I've tasted a Mexican wine." She found a shop with a helpful proprietor. To use a baseball metaphor, I was expecting a foul ball or perhaps a single. Instead, The Roommate knocked it out of the park.

The wine she got was the 2005 Barón Balch'é Reserva Especial from the Valle de Guadalupe in Baja California, Mexico (just south of the US border). This is a beautifully restrained 12% abv--it drinks like silk. I've had similar low alcohol wines from places like Israel and Turkey, which runs counter to the conventional wisdom that the closer you get to the equator, the higher the alcohol must be.

It's a proprietary blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Syrah, much like a lot of the creative blends coming from California in the US. It's got a blackberry nose with a touch of leather. Good berries: cherry and blackberry, with a lingering cassis flavor on the finish. For a hotter climate this is surprisingly smooth and mild, far more delicate than you would imagine. I served it with a Tex-Mex dinner of turkey tacos and baked beans (trio of black, kidney, and pinto--good flavor combination). However, this could be outstanding with any grilled or roasted meats.

Food & Wine has an informative article on the wines of Baja California. And as that writer points out, Mexican wines are difficult to find outside of the country, but I would strongly suggest trying some of the more European-styled wines like the Barón Balch'é. You can add another wine country to your merit badge sash, and get to enjoy a delicious bottle in the process.

The name is unusual, and on first glance it looks more Hebrew than anything else. But it's actually a combination of Spanish and Mayan, meaning roughly "noble ceremonial beverage".

Now for the fun part... I had this with dinner the night before I was going to meet up with Fredric Koeppel for a wine tasting, and couldn't resist the opportunity to give him a blind pour. You can read his full writeup on his blog. Part of it was just the joy of sharing an obscure wine with a friend, but I also needed to, in some small way, get revenge for his classic Blind Petite Sirah Tasting that stumped a room full of wine lovers, retailers, and certified experts.

P.S. Lots of people ask me, "Should you sniff the cork when you open a bottle of wine?" I've never learned anything useful from smelling a cork, but looking at it closely can be helpful. The cork on this one was constructed well, no leakage, mold, or other problems, but it was a 2004 cork in a 2005 wine. Is this a big deal? Not for this wine. There's not a big collector market in Mexican wine and it's a pretty recent vintage. Most likely they just had extra 2004 corks lying around and wanted to use them up. If you're shelling out a lot of money for a special bottle, it's a different story. If the cork is from a different region, different winery, or substantially different year, then you might have a counterfeit bottle on your hands, the restaurant might be committing fraud, or other foul play is afoot. Check out the New York Times Freakonomics blog for a story on the trade in empty wine bottles from highly collectible vintages.


Tracy said...

Mexico is a favorite travel destination of mine, coastal Mexico that is. However, it wasn't until last year that I decided to try the local wine instead of looking for something more familiar. I, too, was delightfully surprised. Mexico isn't just for Tequila anymore!

fredric koeppel said...

excellent post, and thanks for letting me try Le Baron.

fredric koeppel said...

well, I guess that should be El Baron, n'est-ce pas?

Benito said...


I haven't made it to our southern neighbor yet, but I've been close to the border many times. Glad to hear you had a good experience with the wine!


I'm thinking Chrysler missed a great marketing opportunity with Baron Rothschild for Le Baron wines. :)


Samantha Dugan said...

I've had a fair amount of wines from Mexico on both sides of the border and I can tell you, there are some really well made wines but....most of it is not. Could be why importers are not falling all over themselves to get them in the market. Sounds like you were lucky enough to get one of the good ones.

Benito said...


Thanks for the input, obviously you're in a closer position to find these wines. :)

I am, of course, endlessly fascinated by lesser-known wine regions and love pointing out curiosities like this bottle or nice Canadian icewines. My advocacy for such things as a decent Colorado Cab Franc have fallen on deaf ears.