Tuesday evening I got kinda drunk on wine in a well-lit place!! I must confess that knocking back three glasses of wine before dinner isn't necessarily an uncommon event in my life. But this time was a little different. This time I was drinking for reasons unrelated to stress, lovesickness, or the pure pleasure of feeling the day's edge slowly melt away. This time I was drinking to determine the winner in a friendly but serious wine battle between the United States and Mexico, one of the many illuminating and I guess I have to say intoxicating events running through September as part of the MEXAM Northwest Festival.
Though the festival features tons of interesting filmic, sonic, gustatory, and artistic events, I highly recommend checking out the remaining Wine-Offs at Aluel Cellars, a charming spot with a nice little baby patio on Capitol Hill. Essentially, it's three glasses of good wine for $35, plus a free education in Mexican vintages from Valle de Guadalupe in Baja California, which are extremely difficult to find in Washington state for reasons I'll get into in a little bit.
The contest played out over the course of three rounds. Round 1 focused on whites. In the U.S. corner, Aluel's 2015 Chardonnay squared off against Lechuza Vineyard's 2016 Chardonnay. The Mexican wine tasted like a brief summary of a Buzzfeed listicle that I was surprisingly interested in, whereas the U.S. wine tasted like a pretty standard AP piece on trade relations. The wine descriptions called out the Mexican wine for its "creamy attack," but I found more assertive creaminess in the U.S. Chardonnay and tasted nothing but citrus in the Mexican counterpart. I like my white wines bright, so Round 1 went to Mexico.
Round 2 featured two syrah blends: 2015 Aluel Cellars Regalia and a 2016 Casta De Vinos Cardon. The people next to me said the Mexican wine tasted "like steak in a glass," and I didn't disagree. As for the U.S. wine, I felt like I was waiting too long for it to say something I liked but I didn't mind waiting. The longer it sat there not saying much, the longer I liked it. It was the alcoholic equivalent of the quiet sidekick in a Western. I wanted a second glass of Aluel's Regalia, so Round 2 went to the U.S. of A.
For the final round, Casta De Vinos brought out their 2014 Syrah to face off against Aluel Cellar's 2014 Syrah. Though the smokiness of the U.S. wine did pair well with some lingering smoke particulates in the air, I preferred the black cherry powers of the Mexican syrah. Total victory this year goes to our neighbors to the south.
Claudia Horta, head sommelier for Casta De Vinos (and, incidentally, a marathon runner who co-owns 28 sporting goods stores around Mexico), told me Mexico's Syrahs are one of the country's great gifts to the world. Limitations on trade and high tariffs keep a lot of Mexican wine off the retail market in Washington—Washington wants you to buy the wine we make here—but you can find some bottles in wine shops and in restaurants if you look hard enough.
For the next two weeks, at least, you don't have to look too hard. The next two wine-offs are scheduled for September 4 and 11 at Aluel Cellars. In the meantime, you can stop by Aluel and pick up a bottle of Mexican wine and Washington wine, and have your own little private wine battle, which would in no way be sad at all.