Midwesterner in Mexico Rotating Header Image

August, 2011:

Sparkling Wineries in Querétaro: Viva Freixenet!

Who can forget that first bottle of "champagne" you purchased from the local convenience store? ;)

I’ve shared before how I’m a sucker for well-branded tourism, so Querétaro’s efforts to promote their wine & cheese “route” certainly did not fall on deaf ears during my time in México. Even before we made our trip to Finca Vai for some cheese tasting, we drove from Mexico City to the same area in Querétaro to check out our nearby winery options.  (One has to prioritize, people.)  Cavas Freixenet was the first place to catch our eye, as I was quick to recognize the Freixenet brand name. “Aren’t they the people with that jet black bottle & trendy gold writing at a $10 price point?” I asked John.

We headed out near the town of Ezequiel Montes in Querétaro state, just north of Tequisquiapan, to visit the Mexican arm of Freixenet (the mother ship is headquartered in Spain).  I kept my expectations low, as I had observed that their website listed a number of special events happening at the winery… If I had learned nothing else from my time living in Virginia & touring its wineries, I had developed a hypothesis that there’s an inverse correlation between the quality of wines produced by a vineyard and the number of special events the vineyard has to host to sucker you into visiting & drinking its wine. :)

Once you see this sign, you have arrived in sparkling-wine-ville.

Cavas Freixenet offers free guided tours on the hour between 11AM & 4PM on the weekends, so John & I decided to check out the inner workings.

Their machinery seemed to be well-kept, in as much as I am familiar with winery equipment... (which is: not very)

Next, we descended into the bowels of the winery...

I was actually quite impressed with their cellars... massive arched brick tunnels...

...and wine stacked as high as the eye could see....

We also learned about the aging process, how they move the angle of the bottle to let the sediment collect in the neck & then be "disgorged."

After trotting around the cellars, then we headed back up to the courtyard for the real action: the tastings.  Most of their product line is available by the glass at very reasonable prices from carts in the courtyard, and then you can pop into the shop to buy any bottles you want starting at <$100 pesos.  In honor of my former days of drinking pink champagne with my roommates in Boston, I went with one of their rosé options.

This is how I was meant to live.

So how was the Freixenet wine?  Actually not half bad!  In another page from my Virginia winery experiences, I realized that enough sugar can hide a world of ills when it comes to wine…. but even their brut options were pretty drinkable.  We stocked up on several bottles of either the Petillant Brut or the Sala Vivé (my memory fails me) with an eye towards a mimosa-fueled brunch in our future, plus a few rosé for any upcoming girls’ nights out.  Definitely worth a visit if you have any sparkling wine-oriented parties coming up, as I think the bottles we bought were around $80-some pesos each.  On the way out, we verified that grapes are indeed grown here:

The vines of Freixenet in Querétaro state, Mexico

If you’re interested in a visit to Cavas Freixenet, there’s a good map on their website. But much like my prior cheese tourism post highlighted Finca Vai’s little shop in Tequisquiapan as an alternative to visiting the source, you can also experience the Freixenet wines at their shop in Tequisquiapan! During our next trip through Querétaro up towards Xilitla in February 2010, our schedule didn’t permit a winery visit, so we checked out the wine bar instead.

The Freixenet World's Wine Bar is tucked down a little side street off the main plaza in Tequis: Andador 20 de Noviembre

We enjoyed a lovely bottle of bubbly outside the bar...

Tell me where in the States you could polish off a bottle of brut + 2 orders of snacks for <$20 dollars? :)

Now in the interest of full disclosure, I will say that I don’t think all Queretaran vineyards are created equal…  We didn’t manage to visit La Redonda vineyard, but we were feeling bad about that so instead we ordered a bottle of their red wine at dinner in Tequis.  Let’s just say our group was not enthused:

The table offers a verdict on La Redonda's innovatively-named "vino tinto"

We were unimpressed and feeling like we got a bad deal, until we noticed the back of the bottle:

I think it's safe to say anyone who orders a bottle of wine whose labels aren't even applied in the right direction, shouldn't be hoping for much in the quality department.

The upside-down label perhaps should have been our first clue…

In summary, Cavas Freixenet can be an amusing day trip from DF, particularly when combined with cheese eating and photo opportunities with taxidermied birds in the entrance of a random Tequisquiapan hotel:

I always say, nothing tops off a evening of wine tasting like a stuffed ostrich.

Enjoy, and if you want to learn more about Mexican wines, check out my friend Lesley’s blog here or ask her about wine tasting tour options in Mexico City. And I would love to know– what other Mexican wine favorites have I been missing out on??

UPDATE– Check out even more wine & cheese tips from friend Alvin, who runs a B&B in Oaxaca!

Disclosure:  I am being compensated for my work in creating content as a Contributor for the México Today Program.  All stories, opinions and passion for all things México shared in my blog are completely my own.

Is the word “exposé” overly dramatic for a post about avocado prices in Arlington, VA?

Two of the highlights of life in Mexico City that we were the most sad to leave behind were 1) the amazing array of fresh fruits, vegetables and meat available to us at incredibly reasonable prices, and 2) the new world of fantastic Mexican food that we’d discovered (vastly unlike what we’d been exposed to at Chili’s in the Midwest). 😉  While the Washington DC metro area is not one of the biggest hubs of Mexican immigrants in the US, we were pleased to at least be returning to an area with lots of other Latino immigrants (i.e. from El Salvador, Bolivia, etc.).  This gave us hope that we might continue to get our bargain fresh fruit & veg fix at Latino-oriented markets to continue our Mexican cooking efforts, like my favorite smoked tomatillo salsa.  (#2, amazing Mexican food, continues to be a challenge… though our friends at District Taco have certainly done their part to keep us fat & sassy.)

Before we moved to Mexico City, we’d discovered a spot called Glebe Market less than a mile south of us in Arlington, VA.  Both the merchandise and the clientele had a Hispanic bent, and it quickly became our go-to grocery store for picking up ingredients for a nice salsa verde or some tostadas.  As John & I progressed in our Spanish lessons, we also used the check-out experience as an opportunity to nervously test out our Spanish with the staff.  We came to regard Glebe Market as a great source for cheap fruits, vegetables, and meat, but we still usually had to make an additional visit to the default yuppie grocery store (Harris Teeter) for our fancy-pants ingredients like brie, real maple syrup, raspberries, sourdough bread, sushi-grade tuna, etc.

Upon our return from Mexico, we started up this routine again– Glebe for produce, the Teet for spendy Kalamata olives & wine not sold in a jug.  But some of the luster was starting to fade– the dingy building housing Glebe Market was, well, still a little dingy.  Sure, it had a new sign, but it lacked the vibrant energy of the mercados of Mexico City (not to mention the availability of esquites around every corner).  And I was lazy– was it really worth driving to TWO DIFFERENT PLACES that are roughly FOUR WHOLE BLOCKS apart for our grocery run? (sarcasm intended)

What could possibly solve this dilemma, you might ask? Data!!! Since I am a dork with math teachers for parents, I took the receipt from our Glebe Market visit 2 weekends ago and brought it into the Teeter that same afternoon. I jotted down all the per pound or per unit prices of the fruit-n-veg like a total weirdo, and then came home and calculated what we would have paid if we’d bought the same stuff at Harris Teeter instead. (That’s right; I made a spreadsheet.  Analyzing the prices of avocados and more. Yep. Drop it.)

So any guesses what this array of items cost us at Glebe, and what we would have paid at Yuppie-landia?

Here's our fresh produce haul for your consideration. Count everything except the tofu, because I forgot to look its price up @ the Teeter. Nebraska friends-- please look away and pretend you never saw that tofu. It was the first time we bought it. I swear. Usually we just buy hulking sides of beef. Honest.

I know, I know– the suspense is killing you!!  Here’s a preview: avocados at Glebe– $1.59 each…  Avocados at the Teeter: $2.99 each….  What?!?!

Proof of my intense price-comparing efforts. When I go bat-shit crazy & start turning into one of those "extreme couponing" nutjobs, this photo will probably be held up as testimony for when people sensed I first started to go off the deep end.

Drumroll, please.  Glebe Market price: $27.  Harris Teeter price: $50

Teeter patrons are paying almost double, people!  Oh, the humanity!!

While my blog may currently exist on your mental list of “resources to look at when planning a trip to Mexico City,” please go ahead and now add it to your list of “blogs with their finger on the pulse of yuppie America that offer hard-hitting exposes of grocery prices in Arlington, Virginia with the intent of encouraging people to consider shopping at Hispanic-oriented markets that are way cheaper in part because they don’t have a big tray of provolone cheese samples lying out for you 24/7.”

Luckily, I suspect that 2nd list may have some open space on it.

Cheese Tourism in Mexico: a visit to Finca Vai

Cheese and dairy products in general are one of my favorite things to eat. So when I learned via Querétaro’s robust tourism board of a nearby farm that combined cheese-making with a barnyard animal petting zoo, it seemed like a no-brainer.  The fact that it was basically a simulated visit to the Midwest was just an added bonus. :)

Finca Vai is located about half an hour east of the city of Querétaro (just past the airport), or about 2 hours north of Mexico City. We were a little concerned as to whether it would be easy to find in the Queretaran countryside, but I should have had more faith:

The large Q-U-E-S-O lettering was a sure sign that we were on the right track!! (Dirty photo courtesy our windshield)

Welcome to the land of cheeeeeese, Gromit!

I love me some well-organized tourism, so I was pleased to see that tours were indeed run as regularly as promised: each hour between 11AM – 3PM on weekends, and by appointment during the week ($35 pesos/head). Their website even offers an agenda!  We started off learning about the cheese making process– this part was a little slow for us adults, but I think the kids in the group were entertained. The tour guide demonstrated the old-timey method, stirring a massive vat of murky-looking  “milk”. In a move that would make a semi-professional magician proud, the guide drew our attention to something on the opposite wall while her assistant popped out from behind a door and dumped a bunch of yellow sponges into the vat. Turn back around kids!! Cheese curds have already formed!!

Cheese-making barrel photo courtesy the Finca Vai website, as I was apparently too riveted to take out my camera during this portion of the tour.

After we learned about how wet yellow sponges instantaneously turned into plastic-wrapped cheese, we moved on to the cheese maturation zone!

Here's the cellar where cheese might have been stored to give it time to mature, in the days before better refrigeration options existed...

Finally it seemed that we had learned enough to be allowed to EAT THE CHEESE. They sat us down in a cute little roofed area with hay bales for chairs– a nice farm-y touch.

John prepares himself for a degustacion de quesos...

We got to sample 4 kinds of cheese on little branded Finca VAI plates:

I believe these were reblochon, ranchera, a panela with chipotle, and maybe a manchego?

I recall being a fan of the reblochon, as well as of the smoked provolone that they sold in the gift shop. After the tasting, we were off to discover the source of these cheeses: barnyard animals!!

First stop: the cattle! They were very willing to be petted.

Plenty of sheep were lurking around ready to offer their services.

The baby animals had their own little pens & were awaiting our arrival:

I was impressed that this girl was able to get a grip on the lamb.

John had no similar problems commandeering the same lamb.

This calf was in search of anything to suck on within a 10 foot radius.

I don't think this rabbit played an integral role in the cheese production process, but he was cute nonetheless.

And with that, our cheesery tour was over. We had the opportunity to spend more money in their store, so we snapped up some smoked provolone for the road:

All the cheese your little heart desires, available for purchase at the Finca VAI gift shop

Would I recommend the Finca VAI tour to others? If you have kiddos, I think this would be a great spot to bring the kids for an afternoon. The tour is very child-friendly, lots of opportunities to participate/answer questions/etc. (well, particularly if your child speaks Spanish).  And what kid doesn’t love petting farm animals!

For adults, the tour can be a little slow, but we were still entertained by the visit to the countryside + supporting a local business. That said, if you’re interested in sampling some cheese but aren’t a fan of sheep and cows, there’s a great alternative in nearby Tequisquiapan at the Museo del Queso y Vino. The word “museum” might be a slight overstatement, but it does deliver on Finca VAI cheeses!

The Museo del Queso y Vino offers lots of good photo opps with faux-cheese

As well as its own tasty treats!

Check out the Museo just off the square in downtown Tequisquiapan at Salvador Michaus 3 in the centro.

And as for Finca VAI, there’s a vague map on their website, but I’ve also tried to map its general location on Google + directions from Mexico City.  Enjoy your visit & México’s nascent cheese tourism industry thanks you for your patronage. 😉

Disclosure:  I am being compensated for my work in creating content as a Contributor for the México Today Program.  All stories, opinions and passion for all things México shared in my blog are completely my own.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...