Delighted Life Wine: Revolution and La Misión

Let’s call it the closest I have ever come to Prohibition, and let’s also call it bullshit, shenanigans and downright greedy.

If you’re related to me, you know something most of my friends don’t know, and that is, at my core, I am deeply committed to rule-following. It’s something I hate about myself but also something I have to work hard to escape. A lot of life is embracing yourself as you are, but in other cases, you realize there are things that just need to be changed. This is where it lands for me.

It started with arriving in tropical splendor (Isla Mujeres), and all of the problems that brings with it, i.e. you find yourself staying at this so-called rad hostel that presents you with a list of rules, #7 of 10 being that alcohol from outside of the hostel is PROHIBITED. Naturally my eyes caught the bold letters and I had to ask if they really meant that or if it were simply on the sheet in bold letters as a test of everyone’s good humor. Nope this was the real effing deal.

I felt defeated. Which was a state to which I had already been traveling following 7.5 hours on a Mexican second class bus (never again). Here I was in what was supposed to be paradise and I’m being told, “No juice”? No way. And I soon find it is just one of many injustices I will be made to endure during my four night stay here in “paradise.” All this fun comes at a price, you know. And if you aren’t paying for it in green, they’ll get you some other way. There really is no free lunch.

But just when I felt my little rule-following, straight-shooter, buttoned-up, second-grader self starting to cower a little, I found myself matched up with a real no-nonsense-F-that-S kind of broad that changed my tune. She was a flight attendant and let me tell you, those girls know all the tricks.

“You drinkin’ somethin’?” she asked (Southern accent and all).

“They don’t allow you to bring in wine,” I whined.

“What? That’s crap. I saw some other guys bringing their own beer to the beach.”

“I think you can bring it to the beach, just not to the hostel.”

“Yeah, well, um, do you have a backpack or a bag or something that can carry something else?”

“Yes.”

“So get out there and get yourself a bottle. Go. Now. You’ve had a long day and you deserve it.”

“I don’t have a corkscrew,” I mewed, ashamed that I had three shades of lipstick with me, none of which have I have ever thought to apply, but I left the house without my most important tool.

“I do,” she said. “Never leave home without it. I’ll set it out for you because I might go to bed.”

I loved this woman.

I went out walking, but by that late hour of 10:30pm everything on this one-horse island was shut down. But Sharon had strengthened my resolve. Why should I be pushed around by a hostel that simply wanted to put more money in their pockets by selling their own swill and not allowing the populace to democratically select their own adult beverage of choice? Nonsense! This is tyranny!

So the next day, I set off on a two or so mile walk to the island’s main grocery store, which I was delighted to find had a respectable selection of wines from all over the world. But in the spirit of revolution, I chose a Mexican wine—Misión 11. I bought that wine. I bought a wedge of cheese. And I bought a bottle of some interesting-looking, hippie-ish black tea drink.

Why the black tea drink? Well, because it was housed in glass (the only proper receptacle out of which wine should be drunk, though ceramic will pass in a very, very desperate and tight pinch) and because it is naturally dark in color, which seemed like it might make a good disguise for the vino, because at this time I am being whisked straight back to my early college days and still worried about being caught.

I hid both in my beach bag under my towel. Yes, it takes a little planning to be a rampant-badass-evil-doer-rule-breaker. I figure, what’s the worst they can do to me? Kick me off the island? At their baddest, they can make me leave the hostel without my $10 deposit. I’d be pissed about it, but it wouldn’t break me. And it would have been worth it because I had the choice opportunity to give the middle finger to the Establishment—hipster and wannabe-chill as it was.

I have to hand it to this crap hostel, however, there is live music every night and I think with each year of my life I am coming into a greater love and appreciation of such sweet and simple pleasures. Especially bands playing Buena Vista Social Club as this one is now. “Chan Chan” in the Caribbean with the winds blowing off the water? Really? And with a glass-drink-bottle of reasonably priced Mexican wine? Ah, yes, now we’re getting there. Now this is the business.

Let’s talk about this wine, because cheap and seemingly forgettable as it is, it’s actually worth a talk about. Santo Tomas, a Mexican producer in Baja California, produces it and it is, coincidentally, their least expensive label but, I dare say, one of their better. “Better” because I haven’t tried their high-end stuff, but surely superior to their mid-priced wines which went the way of the drain some weeks ago when I found it not just “not great,” but actually undrinkable, which before this trip was such a unicorn, but on this trip has been all too sadly common, causing me to entitle this current adventure “Two Months of Very Bad Wine.” One would have thought, by this time, I would have given up and pledged my loyalties to tequila.

It’s not perfect. Like the land from which it’s born, it’s a little wild west and twisted, each sip unpredictable and angular. There are rough edges, abrasion, and the sense that at any moment this is going to totally collapse; this wine is with you for the moment, but you suspect it’s soon on its way out. It will not make it 24 hours. It isn’t easy to drink, it isn’t even smooth, but it is not without it’s charms, and it’s charms go beyond the simple fact that it is wine and I am drinking it.

Not that anyone cares about tasting notes, but somewhere in there is oak, cardamom and pretty bitter chocolate with an acidity that gives it a pleasing levity. The wine has life, it’s just something of an animal we’re not used to–like a Gila monster. This is part of what I like about the Mexican wines, but also what makes buying them such a crap shoot. However, this wasn’t entirely a shot in the dark, I’d had this wine a few weeks ago, and at somewhere around $6 per bottle, it was worth a revisit.

It’s a Carignan-Tempranillo blend, which I think is generally wise. The wine is also low alcohol which, of course, is always wise, weighing in around 13%. Everyone wants the standards like Cab and Merlot, but these wines tend to get too big in Baja, and big, at least in my experience, often tends to mean salty (yes, really) and absolutely heinous. Undrinkable. I would take lighter, lower ABV and less saline, any day. Not that easy to come by if you are committed to a broad sampling of the Mexican fruit of the vine.

Misión 11 is not perfect—don’t think it is. It’s that dysfunctional friend that makes you a little uncomfortable, but that you don’t mind spending the evening with, especially when there is absolutely nothing better to do. And in the end, you find, you enjoyed it all very much.

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Delighted Life Wine: Amalaya, Tamales and Other Miracles

I’m not going to go into a lot of introduction here. I’m kicking up this blog again and writing about wine, because actually I have been for a long time, you just didn’t know about it. Read it if wine narrative interests you and you want to know what it means to be delighted.

Some combinations really aren’t the kind of thing you’d ever think of but they sooo work. Think French fries and chocolate ice cream (by which I really mean fries and Frosties from Wendy’s), avocados and Cinnamon Toast Crunch (got that off Buzzfeed, but seemed legit), Torrontés and Riesling. Are you kidding me? Why didn’t anyone think of this sooner? Why haven’t we been drinking this with everything forever? Totally versatile and overwhelmingly delightful? C’mon, that doesn’t come along every day.

Here’s what I like—it has that Torrontes (slightly masculine) strength and fullness that was designed to go with pretty much any food created south of the border, as well as the hint of Riesling acidity and sweetness, which means it just wants to come up and kiss those spicy chiles.

Need I say more? I rest my case.

Because here is the (unfortunate) thing about Mexican food, delicious as it is (and I have now had over a month to consider it on a thrice daily basis): it doesn’t often go hand-in-hand with the juice of the grape. Yes, they can have a sloppy makeout session from time to time, but this isn’t really solid chemistry. Here’s why: Mexican food tends to be either spicy, or acidic, or both, making it a far better match with a no-personality beer, such as Sol or Victoria, or everyone’s favorite neutral spirit, the mighty tequila. Anything with nixtamalized corn (i.e. tortillas, so everything), delicious as it is, brings acidity. So even if it’s filled with carne asada, a red wine makes you cringe a little.

To begin with, whites are better, and sorry, Chardonnay, not you. The wine I am talking about here is the Amalaya Torrontés Riesling blend. Think resinous, acidic, and floral with a ting on the end. It starts out like it’s going to be good old Torrontés, floral and thick, which reminds me a bit of Semillon because it has that same full, waxy quality with backbone to boot, but then you throw in the Riesling which is the sassy spring in the step that walks right up to that spice and says, “Do me.” And it does. It all just does.

The tagline reads: “Esperanza por un milagro” or, “Hope for a miracle.” In my opinion, however, they don’t have to hope too hard, because they’re already knocking it out of the park. Now when it comes to the food pairing, this was no accidental miracle. Sometimes it is—unchoreographed, unpremeditated wondrousness, but in this case, I confess, I planned it out. Because, quite honestly, with food and wine, sometimes I stumble upon random magic, but I’m more likely to hedge my bets with intentional spells. So since I am down here with time on my hands, I kind of put this together on purpose. I didn’t know what the wine would exactly taste like, but I had a good enough idea. And shit, they had it at Costco, so I had faith.

Last Saturday I was at a local farmer’s market, which means that the American expats have really taken over because now we’ve got flaxseed crackers and gluten free carrot cake in Mexico. But I’m not complaining as both were tasty enough. Ok, the rice flour carrot cake was a dream, but the flax seed crackers would probably need a pretty generous slice of brie to help usher them into the realm of “appealing.” Anyhow, there were some normal foods too, and after a really bizarre and unpleasant interaction with some aged American expats whom I now bear ill, I finally got close enough to the Tamale Man to try his generous samples. I sampled, I bought, I ate.

He invited me to the midweek health market in the Itzimná neighborhood, and by Wednesday I was thinking, yeah, I could do for some more of those bangin’ tamales. (Who couldn’t?) So why not walk all over tarnation in the midday heat trying to find some random casa in a city of streets that have no traditional, chronological, numerical order? Look, even though I thought of giving up a few times (or at the least hailing a cab), I was really keen to get some more of those tamales. I pressed on.

Now that first market was last Saturday and in between then and now (Wednesday, second market), I was thinking it was time to land upon some white wine because really, I don’t eat enough red meat for the quantity of Malbec they hurl at you down here. So I’m at Costco (yes, there is Mexican Costco!) and there’s this interesting number that would have been a touch pricey if we were getting ten pesos to the dollar like we used to, except we’re not. So I did the proper 14 to 1 calculation and found this tempting vino was an even better bargain than I thought. Best of all, it was going to go perfectly with every food ever produced in the nation of Mexico, namely the tamales I saw in my not so distant future.

First of all, guys, a) tamales are the everlasting shit, but b) this guy makes them with all sorts of gringo-phernalia such as spinach, goat cheese, mushrooms, bleu cheese, and some concoction of nuts which is a contender for awesomest tamale ever, but don’t tell my doña in the San Cristobal market because, as far as she knows, her chipilín mess of delishery is my favorite ever, especially if I can get some of that sweet coffee someone is selling from a basket off her head.

Now, said New Tamale Man is ever so slightly on the pricey side at 20 pesos per, but I forgive it because his tamales are actually filled with a respectable amount of fillings rather than the traditional slab of corn masa merely punctuated with the occasional exclamation point of chicken, beef or pork. These tamales are completely stacked and he does the local thing of providing the complimentary baggie o’ tomato sauce which makes no sense to me whatsoever, but when in Mérida…

I bought three, with which I plan to compose a trinity of successive dinners, but the first, which was the seminal pairing with the new wine, was a spicy pulled beef. Tamale Man was always really concerned to alert me to which were spicy, and I was like, yah, the gringa likes to blow her mouth off, don’t worry about it, this ain’t my first rodeo. So I got the spicy beef, the jalapeño, because again, I wanted to confront this wine with serious Scovilles, and that nut-bleu-cheese-thing which is just too much and I don’t care if it goes with this wine, except that it completely will.

I cracked the wine which was, conveniently, a screw cap so I didn’t have to go pandering after the front desk worker as I do every other night begging him for the corkscrew (wine lover tip: bring your own!). I did the ritual sniff and swirl from a glass tumbler (some hostels are better equipped than others), and thought, yeah, that’s the stuff. That is the Mexican business, (produced, however, in Argentina).

I sautéed some peppers and onions to crown the spicy beef tamale, and I ate and drank in nearly complete pleasantness with a really cool couple from Morelia. The situation could only have been improved by the absence of an irritating, fast-talking, Spain-lisping man sitting at our table who wouldn’t shut up, slow down or spontaneously decombust. Other than that, there was culinary ambrosia and I give Amalaya the two thumbs up.

Where do you get it? Great question…Costco in Mérida? I don’t know. My point is, a Torrontes Riesling blend is informed and insightful, and second, either grape is a righteous pair with Mexican cuisine. I hesitate to suggest it, but lacking a proper blend, should we try buying a bottle of each and doing a little home mixy mix?? In the spirit of adventure, I say, worth a try. Because science. Because wine.