By: Keli Dailey
Minutes from the Ensenada coast, there’s a patch of peace and Mexican wine country called Valle de Guadalupe. Its wineries are spread out, camouflaged in a vine-studded, mountain-ringed valley. Restless food explorers like me (and Anthony Bourdain, and Andrew Zimmern) have trekked over red dirt roads to experience the Valle’s unhurried pace, to try its gourmet restaurants, and to report about the region’s unique mexicanidad — its Mexican character. For your own Baja California travelogue, consider these food-and-wine gems:
Corazón de Tierra
La Villa Del Valle hotel; 52-646-156-8030 or corazondetierra.com
Tipsy after tasting innovative wine blends at Las Nubes (52-646-176-8120) — one of about 50 wineries in the valley — I found a meal I’ve looked for my whole life. At Corazón de Tierra (Heart of the Land), chef Diego Hernández turns Mexican gastronomy into pure-tasting anthropology. Owned by Hernández and Phil and Eileen Gregory, the restaurant is eco-modern: The dining room is textured with reclaimed wood. Floor-to-ceiling windows look out on an artichoke-dense organic garden. And when I sat down to a $55 lunchtime tasting menu, all five courses cheered for the Mexican scene. From the delicate head cheese (a jellied pork terrine) to the oyster gratin with Swiss chard and bits of fried lamb, the ingredients came from the nearby ocean or surrounding land. Take that sumptuous salad with chicharrónes (deep-fried pork skin), turnip purée, sorrel, lardons and aged cheese from the valley’s Rancho Cortés: It glowed with civic pride. I’ll never forget the perfectly cooked yellowtail or its fine black crust of burnt garlic, onion and vegetable leaves turned into ash. “Ash is a very common preparation in Mexican gastronomy, especially in the Yucatán Peninsula,” Hernández explained. At Corazón, the plant cinders elevate the fish to something age-old yet surprising, like finding a family treasure undamaged after a fire.
Vena Cava winery
Upturned boats serve as rooftops at the stunning Vena Cava (Wine Cave) winery, found on the same property as the boutique La Villa Del Valle hotel (52-646-156-8007) and Corazón de Tierra. There, British expat Phil Gregory makes 15,000 bottles of artisanal wines each year. The Sauvignon Blanc shimmers like liquid silver and tastes mildly of peaches. (I’ve happily discovered it stateside at North Park’s El Take It Easy.) “My lot in life is to help people drink wine,” Gregory said. He learned winemaking nearby at Estación de Oficios del Porvenir (52-646-175-0000), the school started by Bordeaux-trained oenologist Hugo D’Acosta, who’s credited with turning Valle de Guadalupe into a global vino-contender.
Miguel Angel Guerrero leads the “Baja-Med” culinary movement in Tijuana (see the chef’s celebrated La Querencia). His weekends-only grill is set among an olive grove and has roasted duck pizza and smoked ahi tuna tostadas.
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