Colorful, vibrant Mexico City (it's no wonder why Frida Kahlo lived here) is home to a lavish wine scene hidden beneath the exteriors of many of its hotels and restaurants. I recently pushed aside images of Mexico's capital as merely a good place for tequila and tacos and went in search of the best wine-sipping spots. I drank wine—including many Mexican wines, a treat considering so few are exported to the United States—alongside delicacies like huitlacoche, empanadas, mole, plantains, and ceviche.
Even with just a couple of days in Mexico's capital city, it's nearly impossible to not find Mexican wines on a wine list. So here are five perfecto spots to start sipping.
Federal District neighborhood
Open since May, Jean-Georges Vongerichten's restaurant is tucked into the three-year-old, 31-story St. Regis Mexico City. It sits on some choice real estate. Just outside the hotel entrance is Paseo de la Reforma, a tree-lined pedestrian-friendly boulevard that's home to the famous Diana fountain. Within J&G Grill the best seat in the house is on the terrace, which overlooks the fountain. For a sampling of Mexican wines, this is a good place to start. There are about 2,000 bottles of wine in the restaurant's cellar and many are from Mexico. Note that J&G Grill is open for dinner only and just like Vongerichten's other restaurants, the cuisine is avant-garde. In this case, many dishes are inspired my Mexican flavors, like the avocado pizza (topped with cilantro, lime, and jalapeno) and roasted Yucatan grouper (served with "aromatic" black beans and cilantro puree). Perfect for pairing with Mexican wines like Syrah and Sauvignon Blanc.
Not so touristy—although it's directly behind the second location of Museo Soumaya, housing much of financier Carlos Slim's art collection, and within Plaza Carso, a luxury shopping center and mixed-use complex that Slim spent $1.4 billion on—Carolo Carso is a hit with locals. It's part of a family-owned collection of restaurants and bakeries. Touting a bistro feel on the menu, the wine list (clocking in at around 250 selections) is designed to pair with a variety of flavors, spices, and herbs, much of which are organic and locally grown. Grab a table on the outdoor terrace and gaze out at the glittering Museo Soumaya's curvy shape. To pair with ceviche, duck tacos, and BBQ shrimp with black-bean puree and white rice, I chose a glass of Casa Madero Chardonnay (Mexico)
This has got to be the most colorful, vibrant eatery I've ever dined in, right on down to the details in the presentation—like a baby pink rose in the center of a frozen margarita, desserts displayed on a toy carousel with burning incense, turquoise rock salt rimming a plate, or a party favor poking out of empanadas. Dulce Patria—from chef Marta Ortiz of Mexico City's Aquila y Sol—is tucked into the two-year-old luxury boutique hotel Las Alcobas, the property resembling a cute and tidy white cube with just 35 rooms. The dining space is decked out in reds and pinks. Within a fishbowl of flowers at each table is a Mexican flag. Choosing a glass of 2011 Piedra de Sol Chardonnay (Ensenada, Baja, Mexico), it matched up nicely with "vampire ceviche," an elaborate dish consisting of mango chips, chile pepper, fish, and chopped fresh mango arranged in a martini glass with a tin "camping" spoon stuck in. On the wine list of close to 400 selections are many Mexican wines, as well as some from Israel, Uruguay, France, Spain, South Africa, Chile, Italy, Argentina, New Zealand, and California, reflecting the global nature of Dulce Patria's menu.
As charming as its surroundings in the Condesa neighborhood, Azul Condesa boasts a garden setting that's a buffer from the street noise, and a crisp palette of blues and whites, complete with embroidered napkins depicting the restaurant's logo and pretty blue pottery used for dishware. Food historian and chef Ricardo Munoz Zurita has crafted a menu (for both lunch and dinner) of plates that serve as a gastronomic map of Mexico, such as "green ceviche" and organic hibiscus-flower enchiladas. From the wine list, I chose Rincón del Barón Double Blanc, a Guadalajara, Mexico, white wine that's a blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Chenin Blanc. A whopping 13 desserts help close out the meal on a sweet note, folding in various Mexican takes on flan, cheese, cake and chocolate.
In an unassuming storefront along a very stylish street (Avenida Presidente Masaryk) in Polanco is Restaurant Izote, its dining room long and narrow, and the breadth of cuisine and wine very diverse. Chef Patricia Quintana, who has authored several cookbooks about regional cuisine, merges flavors inspired by many Mexican states (plus the Southwestern US) to come up with small plates like roasted-duck enchiladas topped with Oaxacan mole sauce or corn tortillas with lobster and pumpkin-seed sauce done Tuxpan style. The entire wine list, of about 40 selections, consists of Mexican wines. With a glass of Note de Cata Casa Madero Shiraz (Parras Valley, Coahuila, Mexico), its jammy, crushed-raspberry imprint on my palate, I attacked the menu by sharing small plates with my table as the night wore on.
Kristine Hansen is a freelance writer based in Milwaukee where she reports on food, wine, and travel topics around the globe for Fodors.com, along with new-hotel openings. She also writes for Wine Enthusiast, TIME, Whole Living and American Way. In 2006 she co-authored The Complete Idiot's Guide to Coffee and Tea (Alpha Books/Penguin). You can follow her on Twitter @kristineahansen or through her web site.
Photo credits: J&G Grill courtesy of J&G Grill; Carolo Carso courtesy of Carolo Carso; Dulce Patria courtesy of Dulce Patria; Azul Condesa courtesy of Azul Condesa; Restaurante Izote courtesy of Restaurante Izote