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Querétaro

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.

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.

Photo highlights from Querétaro State

A post with the relevant details of our trip to Querétaro, Tequisquiapan, & the Freixenet Winery will be forthcoming, but for now the behind-in-her-readings MBA student can only be bothered to post a few of the random photo highlights of our 3 day trip to the state of Querétaro….

I love this picture-- beat up Ford truck, manly-man in a cowboy hat, and the damned girliest kick-dog this side of the Rio Grande perkily riding along in the truck bed.

I love this picture-- beat up Ford truck, manly-man in a cowboy hat, and the damned girliest kick-dog this side of the Rio Grande perkily riding along in the truck bed.

I was pleased to learn that the hilarity of writing "Wash Me" (lavame) on a filthy car is an act that transcends all cultures

I was pleased to learn that the hilarity of writing "Wash Me" (lavame) on a filthy car is an act that transcends all cultures. The pig art is a nice touch.

 

You may be expecting to see the typical ropes to ring the bells in this tower? Not here folks-- these bell ringers had better be some of the most agile kids in town. I reckon the business side of that bell could fling a child halfway across town .

You may be expecting to see the typical ropes to ring the bells in this tower? Not here folks-- these bell ringers had better be some of the most agile kids in town. I reckon the business side of that bell could fling a child halfway across town .

 

John's new thing is when I pressure him to pose for a jack-ass photo, I am forced to pose for one return. Here's me, trying to fly higher than an eagle.

John's new thing is when I pressure him to pose for a jack-ass photo, I am forced to pose for one return. Here's me, trying to fly higher than an eagle.

Looking back, I'm surprised I hadn't seen one of these stickers sooner in México. Roughly translated: "In this home, WE ARE CATHOLICS. We do not accept propaganda of other religions. God bless this home."  More roughly translated: "Back off, you dirty Lut'rns; we don't want you or your up-to-no-good pal Martin Luther hanging 'round these parts."

Looking back, I'm surprised I hadn't seen one of these stickers sooner in México. Roughly translated: "In this home, WE ARE CATHOLICS. We do not accept propaganda of other religions. God bless this home." More roughly translated: "Back off, you dirty Lut'rns; we don't want you or your up-to-no-good pal Martin Luther hanging 'round these parts."

We are one with Street Food Vendors of Querétaro

We felt obligated to take advantage of both of us having New Year’s Day 2009 off from work, and so parlayed it into a 2-night stay in Querétaro, a town of ~1.6 million people located two hours northwest of Mexico City. Our recent string of luck continued, as we happened upon yet another holiday festival– the town squares were bustling with folks celebrating the New Year with their families & street vendors doing a “land office business”, as we like to say back in the Midwest.

One of the most prevalent offerings appeared to be these sandwiches made with buns that were liberally fried in oil (in the center of that grill they are sitting on). I was initially tempted, until I saw one up close & realized that the red-ish coloring was the oil that permeated through almost the entire bun... Sounded like a recipe for a displeased tummy... :)

One of the most prevalent offerings appeared to be these sandwiches made with buns that were liberally fried in oil (in the center of that grill they are sitting on). I was initially tempted, until I saw one up close & realized that the red-ish coloring was the oil that permeated through almost the entire bun... Sounded like a surefire recipe for a displeased tummy... :)

I will admit, I have been a bit shy about partaking from street vendors during my stay in México thus far. The food always (well, almost always) looks amazing, but my stomach is not über-resiliant to new bacteria friends in general, and YMMV when it comes to hygiene practices at any given food cart. However, the delights being proffered in the aisles of vendors along the north & south sides of Jardin Zenea were attractive enough to inspire me to gamble.

To cut to the punchline, I ate at SIX fantastic street vendors in Queretaro and did not get remotely sick!! I was very excited about this accomplishment, which I interpreted both to mean that my stomach is becoming as strong as a team of Clydesdale horses, and that Queretan food stalls excel in cleanliness.

The only trick about dining at street vendors is that the bathroom options are fairly limited, so one must be careful to resist the siren call of these tasty drinks with Squirt & fresh-squeezed OJ too early in the evening. I held strong, despite the fact that you GET TO KEEP THE GLASS the drink is served in, and free glassware (or earthenware?) is my Achilles heel...

The only trick about dining at street vendors is that the bathroom options are fairly limited, so one must be careful to resist the siren call of these tasty drinks with Squirt & fresh-squeezed OJ too early in the evening. I held strong, despite the fact that you GET TO KEEP THE GLASS the drink is served in, and free glassware (or earthenware?) is my Achilles heel...

To highlight our fine dining selections between John & me:

  1. a tamale verde (tamale stuffed with green salsa & pork), probably the most flavorful tamale I’ve ever had. (Confession: as my first course of the evening, this is an admittedly wussy choice– tamales are known for being one of the “safest” options from street vendors, because they are made in advance, wrapped in their protective corn-husk jacket and steamed, thereby being the epitome of safe food handling practices. But hey, I was easing into things, ok?)
  2. elote (corn), cut off the cob, piled into a styrofoam cup, and covered in lime juice, mayo, chili powder, salt & shredded cheese
  3. pseudo-flan (aka, something that looked like flan & we thought was just plain-old flan but apparently we misunderstood when we asked the lady who was selling it, because though it had the consistency of flan, it had a nutty flavor. Still good though!)
  4. tacos al pastor , these are cooked on a spit similar to another favorite of mine, gyros. The pork is marinated with various spices & chili peppers, cooked vertically, then served with onions, cilantro, and whatever other toppings you desire!  I always get excited about adding guacamole salsa to them, which is sooo good but also sooo spicy (be forewarned)

    Our Tacos al Pastor vendor hard at work

    Our Tacos al Pastor vendor hard at work

  5. churros rellenos, basically Mexican donuts (with a straight line instead of circular shape) filled with whatever goo your heart desires– we opted for fresa (strawberry) and cajeta (carmel-y syrup)

    John excitedly waits for his fresh churro action

    John excitedly waits for his fresh churro action

  6. and finally, un esquimo, a milkshake-like drink made by blending ice, mystery liquid (likely evaporated milk/water), and flavoring (we recommend Rompope, an intriguing eggnog-flavored liquor).

    This esquimo stand was a 4-blender operation.

    This esquimo stand was a 4-blender operation.

The best part of the esquimo is that while we were standing in line to place our order, we observed that you could select either a cup or plastic bag as your serving vessel. John was undecided for a while, but after the two locals in line ahead of us BOTH opted for the plastic bag + straw, he determined that must be the auténtico way to go. This was another first for me (drinking from a baggie), and I think it totally helped us to blend in with the locals & offset my height…

In summary, our New Year’s Day dinner cost a total of about 80 pesos for two people (aka $5.78 USD), and each course was fantastic! My street vendor bravery continues to increase.  And don’t worry– when my luck runs out, I will try to spare you the details of any gastrointestinal repercussions.

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