Baja Wine Tasting

My “kid” sister is turning 50 and wants to get away for some girl time and to celebrate. Originally we were planning on going far away (Europe or something) for X-mas week, but we couldn’t agree on a destination. So I thought that a road trip south might be fun (I’m in LA and she’s in the OC)—possibly stay in SD for a couple of days and/or go down to Baja for some food/wine.

I haven’t been to Baja since the explosion of wineries, upscale dining and the entire wine region in general. Should we stay in SD and take a day wine tour to Baja, and if so any recs on which Baja wine tours are the best?

Or should we stay in Baja instead and explore the area/scene more extensively?

Soooo I’m looking for some tips and suggestions—wineries to check out, restaurants to eat (if not on a food tour). THANKS!!

Stay overnight in Ensenada, if you can. Forget white wines from Baja. Some of the best grapes here are tempranillo, merlot, and cabernet. Plus the lesser known nebiollo and grenache. Some of the roads to the best but most modest wineries are unpaved. Avoid rainy weather.

Whatever you do, while you’re right there, try to find time to dine at Finco Altozano.

Stay in Ensenada and eat at Muelle 3 and/or Boulles, maybe at Manzanilla (similar food but more expensive since famous and on more lists). The Contra group does the wine lists at both Boulles and Manzanilla.

Most of the best Valle de Guadalupe wines I’ve had were white. Chenin Blanc does particularly well there. Some notes:

Interesting. Disagree.

But I’ve liked a few Baja whites. Lechuza does a nice chard.

Tasting notes from 2012. The ones with prices listed I bought at La Contra Vinos in Guadalajara, they have branches in Tijuana, Ensenada, and elsewhere. Almost all Mexican wines of limited production, mostly from Guadalupe, plus a few wines made in France by Mexican wineries.


L.A. Cetto Nebbiolo: this is my ex-pat friend’s everyday wine. Reliable, good, relatively reasonable price. Too oaky for me.

Monte Xanic Chenin Blanc: off-dry, good acid, if I’d tasted blind I’ve have taken it for a Vouvray. Great if you like that style. I don’t know what it cost in Mexico but it’s $12 at Baja Wines in San Diego.

Badan Chasselas de Mogor 2010 12.3% $263 ($20): could pass for French, fruity, tart, simple, everyday southern style

Viñas Pijoan Silvana 2011 (48% Sauvignon Blanc, 40% Chenin Blanc, Moscatel 12%) 11.6% $228 ($17): Could pass for Sonoma, similar value; fruity nose, fruity and slightly Maasia-herbal on palate, tart, dry finish

Viñas Pijoan Paulinha 2010 (55% Zinfandel, 15% Merlot, 15% Petite Sirah, 15% Barbera) 13.3% $228 ($17): delicate, tasty, food-friendly


Casa de Piedra Espuma de Piedra Barbera (blanc de noirs) NV 12.5% $390 ($29): lovely pinkish-orange color, cava-like nose, a bit sweet on the palate, slightly grapefruity sour-sweet finish; okay but way overpriced

JC Bravo Palomino 2011 10.6% $186 ($14): somewhat herbal / rosemary nose like Malvasia; light, fruity, very dry, slight tannin & acid, slightly oxidized? But not unpleasantly so; slightly piney finish; if tasted blind, would probably have guessed Greek. Not reminiscent of Spanish Palominos I’ve had

Viñas de Garza Blanco del Rancho Mogorcito 2011 (Sauvignon Blanc & Chardonnay) 12.5% $263 ($20): good gooseberry / cat pee, nice acid, tasty, pleasant, could pass for Napa / Sonoma, similarly (over)priced


Agrifolia Quinto Bueno Ulloa 2010 (Sauvignon Blanc & Moscato Canelli) 13.3% $245 ($18): fruity, nice balance between varieties, decent acid, finish a bit flabby

Sinergi Coco Rosé 2010 (Muscat Canelli & Grenache) 12.0% $255 ($19): nose like strawberry jam, watery cooked fruit palate, short finish

Adobe Guadalupe Uriel Rosado 2010 (Cinsault, Tempranillo, Syrah, Sauvignon Blanc, Barbera, Moscatel) 11.1% $241 ($18): unbalanced, lacks acid

Fratelli Pasini Artigiano Grenache & Tempranillo 2010 13% $254 ($19): light nose, hint of lychee; palate, intense spices (anise, allspice, clove); short finish

Viñas Pijoan Domenica 2008 (90% 35-year-old Grenache, 5% Petite Sirah, 5% Cabernet Sauvignon, 12 months in barrique) 13.8% $326 ($25): oak juice, undrinkable to my taste (other people drank it but thought it was over-the-top oaky)


Moebius Antitesis 2011 (Monastrell, Moscatel, Syrah) 11% $239: very light, like a rosé; mostly muscat on palate; unpleasant bitter finish; dumped

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Aloha LAgirl!
I love heading out to Tecate to Rancho la Puerta spa…they have short stays of 3-4 days and might have some deals going on.
Food is fantastic and the small town is lovely.
I’m sure they, the resort, can arrange several wine tours with a driver, so you can enjoy the wine.

Estero Beach resort in Ensenada is a lovely hotel and you can stay there for a long weekend and do day trips to the valley.
Go to the famous street food stand, La Guerrerense that is supposed to be epic…
The mariscos place for fish tacos by docks with some cold Pacifico’s are cheap and fab.

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Tecate is a long drive from Valle de Guadalupe and there can be delays.

With all due respect, I have to disagree with a lot of what Robert has posted. There are tons of options but Xmas week may not be the best timing for your trip. Go earlier in December or after the first of the year, but the December 21 - Jan 3 time frame isn’t going to be ideal for a trip.

Most of the wine makers in the Valle will tell you their reds are better than their whites. I’ve had a lot of V de G wines and would agree with their assessment. There are, of course, exceptions, and V de G is no different, there are some nice whites, it’s just the reds are better. Nebbiolo, grenache and tempranillo are 3 of the red grapes that do very well in the Valle and a large proportion of the red wines are actually blends. No matter what you like, the whole objective is to go and taste and see what you personally like. I tasted several quite good rosés this past June and was surprised at how much I Iiked them. There has been a huge influx of investment $$$ into the Valle over the last few years with new wineries popping up all the time.

It used to be that the options for staying in the V de G were limited. That is changing. There are now multiple lodging choices, many of them small B&B or boutique hotels. If you want to try glamping, there is Cuatro Cuatros. Others include
Casa Mayoral
Hacienda Guadalupe
La Villa de Valle
Adobe Guadalupe
Encuentro Guadalupe (very expensive)

If you don’t want to, or can’t, stay in the Valle, your two other best options are the Coral Hotel & Marina or Punta Morro, both out on the coast, and an easy (10 mins or less) drive into the Valle.

There are a growing number of dining options in the Valle as well, however, a good number of the them, especially the big name campestre-style restaurants, are open only seasonally. Finca Altazano is open almost all year, as is Deckmans at Mogor*Badan. The tasting and restaurant at El Cielo are both quite good. Corazon de Tierra is part of La Villa de Valle and the Vena Cava winery and is outstanding, one of the top 50 restos in Latin America and definitely a must-dine location. Laja is still around and still worth trying. Ochentos in San Antonio de las Minas makes a mean pizza.

Ensenada is worth a quick stop. The seafood at La Guerrerense food cart is worth the trip alone. The Santo Tomas tasting room in Ensenada is big and features both their wines and their olive oils. Manzanilla is a good choice for BajaMed style dining. Muelle 3 was sold a couple years ago.

Tecate is the real hidden gem in Baja these days. El Lugar de Nos, Amores and Asao are all turning out fantastic food. Rancho la Puerta has been there for eons and offers winter specials. They also offer once a month Saturday at the Ranch. I’ve done the Day at the Ranch and it’s fun and relaxing. It’s an easy 45 minute drive from Tecate to the Valle de Guadalupe. The drive on the U.S. side of the border is not especially convenient as it is a 2-lane mountain road. Crossing south at Tecate is pretty simple. Crossing north on the weekend is a PITA with often long waits, and the border crossing closes at 11 pm sharp.

You could have a great girls trip in Baja. Start in Tijuana. Eat some good food, drink some craft beer, shop. Then drive to Tecate, visit the Kumyaay museum, buy some pastries at El Pan Mejor de Tecate, eat at El Lugar de Nos, spend the night at Asao. Then drive into the Valle de Guadalupe, spend 2 or 3 days just wandering around, tasting wine and eating good food. Spend the last day in Ensenada, overnight at the Coral Hotel & Marina or Punta Morro and then head back to the border.

A lot of the wineries in the V de G are only open until late afternoon/dusk and most are closed on Monday and Tuesday.

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that’s very good to know—thank you, exactly the sort of extra info that I need. I happen to have that week off from work, so… but my sis’s b-day is actually in Feb. so maybe a 4 day weekend early next year might be the best idea. it might be tricky to plan around el nino tho…

question—any particular reason that x-mas week won’t be ideal (places closed for holidays or?)

seasonally, meaning the summer? or?

Somehow I ended up on this part of the board and everything sounds pretty fucking dope.

Thanks DD.

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THANK YOU everybody for some very good and helpful info! it’s very much appreciated.

I’m mostly a red wine drinker, but I certainly do drink whites (sis is a white wine drinker). But for me, when wine tasting—unless something is overly cloying and sweet I’m more than willing to taste (kinda the point in order to discover new favorites).

I’ll send a link to this thread to my sister and we’ll start to sort things out/plan. Any other recs or tips are welcome!

Some wineries and restaurants many not be open during that time frame. Xmas is often a travel time for Mexicans.

Seasonal meaning early Spring through late Fall. Weather in the Valle during the winter will be chilly and the outside restaurants aren’t quite as comfortable then.

And, as DC pointed out, if it rains a lot of the roads will be wet and muddy.

If you only want to do a day trip, you could consider taking one of the Turista Libre or Club Tengo Hambre trips

I’ve done both. They are similar in price and itinerary. I think CTH probably does the Valle better while TL is fantastic for Tijuana. Both are safe, reputable and loads of fun


I don’t think Muelle 3 being sold to the guy who was running it was a problem. The food was great.

Last year we crossed the border back into the US at Tecate to avoid a six-hour backup at Tijuana. Had a nice lunch at Asao.

that might be a good option as well—we could spend the weekend in SD and go down for the day. thanks, I’ll check out their web sites.

Yeah I wouldn’t underestimate the bumpiness of the roads either. Even in dry weather, a lot of the dirt roads that fork off of the main highway and lead to the various wineries can be pretty rough at times. I kept wishing I had a truck or a jeep – or at least four wheel drive. The main highway through the valley is very smooth though, it’s just once you turn off of it and start heading out into the smaller dirt roads that it can get bumpy.

But Finca is some of most over-rated food in Western press, and laughed at by local chefs as a fraud. What a total LOAD this place was. I get it, you have an outdoor grill and you’re related to a famous chef. That’s great. Deckman’s is open by an American who escaped from Cabo’s hurricanes. Fantastic place.

Ensenada’s famed Manzanilla was a complete shit-show as wel (cockROACH running by bench seating mid-meal, absolute crap service, and one of the grossest “pesto” to be paired with an overpriced crab claw)

I didn’t have a chance to try Corazon, but I’d highly suggest Laja’s prix fixe which was just eons above everything else in Ensenada/Guadalupe (including the various famous ceviche from Guerrense, etc) and it was very fairly priced for the level of execution.

Either way, besides the few $300/night joints (Encuentro, etc), this Valle is still a dump and not worth the return schlep, especially if you’re retuning thru Tijuana.

My meal at Manzanilla was mostly great, though more expensive, less consistent, and not as fun as Muelle 3 and Boules, which I believe were both started by former Manzanilla employees. The new-school restaurants in Ensenada have seafood so much better than I can easily find in the San Francisco area that the week we spent there reminded me of San Sebastian.

My meal at Laja a few years ago was lovely, though I felt almost like I hadn’t left Berkeley. Which if you don’t live in Berkeley probably wouldn’t be in any way disappointing.