mexico (wine) fevahOk. Bad joke. (I can't take full credit as one of my best friends, fellow foodie and wine lover actually fed it to me.) What can I say? Sometimes a little levity is needed!And it was Cinco de Mayo yesterday.... Mexico is actually the oldest wine producing country in the New World. Who knew? (Jancis Robinson and Hugh Johnson, apparently. There are two full columns dedicated to Mexico in their most recent edition of the World Atlas of Wine.) I was intrigued - but not surprised - to learn the Spaniards got the ball rolling in the 1500s; but there was a significant interruption in 1699 when "the King of Spain banned new vineyards in Mexico, fearing competition to Spain's wine industry, thus halting the development of a wine culture in Mexico for three centuries." Egad! 3 C's? No wonder no one really knows about Mexican wine - and the country is better known for tequila and refreshing cerveza.

It wasn't until the 18th Century that vines started to get a little local love. Grenache, Carignan and even Pedro Ximenez (used in the production of a yummy, rich Sherry) varietals landed on the scene. Somehow, someway, "they" also figured out that Baja, Mexico was quintessential vine country, er... wine country. Only 10 miles from the Pacific Ocean, Baja has a terrific climate and mineral-rich soil ideal for viticulture. Today innovation seems to be setting in - albeit slowly.

If you caught the recent "Diary of a Foodie" episode on PBS, a work of Gourmet magazine, none of this is news to you. Rather, Casa de Piedra Winery is synonymous with innovative, tasty Mexican vino.  Piedra plants a range of "uncommon" Mexican varietals and their philosophy is to keep yields small while employing a "simple technique". The episode reports they plant Grenache and Mission grapes for the reds, and Palomino for the whites. Further research on their website suggests their repertoire of varietals is much greater: Tempranillo, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Zinfandel are additional red varietals planted; Chenin Blanc, Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon are some of the whites grown. That's certainly a diverse lot! I applaud their willingness to experiment.

Unfortunately I've never had the (dis?)pleasure of sipping on a Mexican wine offering. But by Robinson's account, while "Mexican tastes and drinking habits have long lagged behind the increasingly exciting achievements of Mexico's modern vineyards and wineries", they are worth checking out.

Are Mexican wines even available in your market? Have you had a chance to sample them?