Sunday, 10 January 2010

Hugo D'Acosta: the Mexican Mondavi

Another year, another tasting. Last Wednesday, while most people left their desks before dark, I braved the snow and pigeon-stepped my way to Wahaca in Westfield.

Bibendum were hosting a Mexican food and wine dinner to showcase the wines of Hugo D'Acosta, the Robert Mondavi of Mexico.

Mexico City born D'Acosta, who trained in Bordeaux, owns four wineries in the Guadalupe Valley and consults for a number of others in the region. Widely considered the best winemaker in the country, his influence is almost Kurtz-like.

His first venture was Casa de Piedra, a boutique winery in Baja California, 90km from the US border. Releasing his first vintage in 1997, D'Acosta's focus was on small production and low yields that would allow for concentration of fruit. Today his wines are known for their clean, terroir-driven style, and have achieved cult status, commanding up to £100 a bottle in top Mexico City restaurants.

Masterchef winner Thomasina Miers was on hand at Wahaca, conjuring up a stunning six course menu of Mexican market food, including scallop ceviche, mole tacos and chorizo quesadillas. Each dish was paired with a different D'Acosta wine.

Around the table were Steven Spurrier (fresh from Spain), Peter McCombie MW, Waitrose Food Illustrated Editor William Sitwell, who regaled us with Gordon Ramsay anecdotes (none of them repeatable), Mark Selby (who co-owns Wahaca with Miers) dressed in a fetching green velvet jacket, and a sprinkling of long-standing Bibendum staff. 

Seated next to Spurrier was the silver fox, D'Acosta, dressed sensibly for the snow if a knitted gray sweater. He proved so modest and unassuming, he had to be asked to stand up and introduce the wines. I got the impression he was happy for them to speak for themselves, which they did, loudly.

At the end of the evening, while the chocolate con churros was doing the rounds, I managed to corner D'Acosta, keen to find out about the man behind the brand. Here's what he had to say:

"I like to keep growing my company because you should never stagnate. Inertia is my worst enemy. It's an exciting time for Mexican wine at the moment, there's a lot happening in a small region, both good and bad. It's still very fresh and experimental - there are things happening you'll never find again, and blends you like that you'll never get to see again."

On his Mondavi-like status in Mexico:

"Someone needs to be a leader and open the door. I'm very proud to have the key but it's a lot of responsibility and a big risk. If I have too much influence the region could become uniform, and all the wines might end up tasting the same. But it might get to the point where they don't need me anymore."

Has he considered expanding beyond Mexico?

"We don't have the vision to expand. We're not looking to export and perhaps that's a mistake. Perhaps we're too insular. We need to be part of the wine world to keep the project running. My aim is to show the world that Mexico is a serious winemaking country. My intentions are simple; I'm passionate about getting more people into making wine."

It's a mistake for D'Acosta to keep his wines within the Mexican borders. From their elegance to their concentration, there is so much to love about these wines, he should be sharing them with the rest of the world. I urged him to enter his wines into the 2010 Decanter World Wine Awards, a platform which will hopefully put Mexico firmly on the wine map; a place it very much deserves to be.

Tasting notes

Casa de Piedra, Emblema, 2008

Made in the Gaudalupe Valley from 100% Sauvignon Blanc, the nose was bright and fresh with lovely citrus fruits - lemons and juicy limes. Lively and elegant on the palate with a rich mouthfeel and lip-smacking acidity, it was seriously impressive. The best Sauvignon Blanc I've had in months.

Adobe de Guadalupe, Kerubiel, 2007

The winery's five wines are named after archangels. Kerubiel, a blend of Cinsault, Syrah, Mourvedre, Grenache and Viognier, is aged for nine months in new French oak barrels. It showed red fruit on the nose, with a smokey, almost charred character. Smooth and velvety on the palate, the French oak lent it an attractive spiciness. Steven Spurrier's favourite.

Union de Productores, Estapor Venir, 2007

The only wine of the spread available in the UK (£10.99; Bibendum), it's an adventurous blend of 40% Petite Syrah, 20 % Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Barbera and 20% Zinfandel. Grown on limestone and sandy soils and aged for eight months in French-American oak, the wine is a fascinating mix of sweet and savoury. On first sniff I got lovely savoury vegetal notes, but behind them were rich red fruits - cherries, strawberries and raspberries. Elegant, refined and smooth on the palate, it had a lovely long licorice finish.

Casa de Piedra, Ensamble Arenal, 2007

A similar blend to Estapor Venir, combining Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Syrah, Zinfandel and Barbera grown on sandy soils. The most expensive wine in D'Acosta's range (£22.50), it was a deep ruby with opulent red and black fruit on the nose. It had a lovely rich, velvety mouthfeel with an almost perfumed quality and a lingering spicy finish. Elegant and voluptuous, the French and Italian influence comes through wonderfully - sensational!

Tres Valles, Maat, 2007

Made from 100% Grenache grown on limestone soils and aged for a year in new oak, the wine showed hot red fruit on the nose - juicy morello cherries and ripe strawberries. Smooth and round on the palate, it was tasted very much in the shadow of the outstanding Ensamble Arenal; a tough act to follow.

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