Flavors of the Valley, Part II – Baja Wine Tours

Leo Torres pouring wine for Chef Mei and company on a chilly December day

Leo Torres pouring wine for Chef Mei and company on a chilly December day

Chef Mei was shivering. Her crimson shawl and slim white sweater were not enough to keep the Ensenada December chill off. Truly she had been a tad over-optimistic when she dressed for this blustery day. We are in Mexico where one expects sunshine and heat, wide-brimmed sombreros and spicy salsa. Yet it was cold and rainy and we were all chilled to the bone. Chef John Ash, Chef Mei Ibach, Liz Lynch and myself had embarked on a wine tasting tour of my beloved Valle de Guadalupe and were charmed by the rustic elegance of Tres Mujeres’ artisanal wines and the passionate innovations of Vinícola Torres Alegre. We’d braved some impressively rutted dirt roads, chattering and giggling all along, taking a few detours due to lack of signage and a lively dialogue that stole my attention.  It was time to refuel (our personal engines, not the car) so off we went to our next destination, Corazón de Tierra. It’s a bit of a treasure hunt looking for this jewel of a restaurant. But the prize is well worth the hunt.

Follow the brown and squiggly white signs!

Follow the brown and squiggly white signs!

Every time anyone asks me how to find the restaurant Corazón deTierra and/or its corresponding 5 star accommodations, La Villa del Valle, and/or the winery Vena Cava all owned and operated by Phil and Eileen Gregory, I tell them to follow those unassuming, slender brown signs with the squiggly white scrip that are hard to read till you’re right on top of them and altogether too easy to miss unless you really have your wits about you.

Phil and Eileen Gregory's place is a slice of heaven

Phil and Eileen Gregory’s place is a slice of heaven

We were hungry as wolves after drinking wine on fairly empty stomachs and burning up calories trying to stay warm. I wanted our guest chefs to have an authentic Guadalupe Valley gastronomical experience and also to get a feel for the terrain … 😉 Oh boy did we get a feel for the terrain. Truly they were astonished by the seemingly labyrinthine twists and turns on yet another unpaved, bouncy, bone-jarring country road!

Gorgeous afternoon light at Corazon de Tierra

Gorgeous afternoon light at Corazon de Tierra

Corazón deTierra has been getting tremendous press recently. Every time I turn around there seems to be news about this phenomenal destination tucked away in the oft compared Tuscany-like rolling hills between Highway 3 and the Tigre Road. Even on a bleary, overcast, rainy day, it is an enchanting site.

The promise of thrilling refreshments  in a spectacular locale ... what more can one ask for?

The promise of thrilling refreshments in a spectacular locale … what more can one ask for?

Providentially as we arrived, late afternoon sunlight began to stream through the restaurant’s floor-to-ceiling windows and we chose a table that basked in golden light overlooking their extensive gardens. Corazón de Tierra is a farm-to-garden restaurant but definitions stop there. Chef Diego Hernandez has an imagination and palate that manages to push the envelope of one’s expectations while keeping his food fresh, lively and unpretentious. Indeed, the man is as charismatic as his food.

Chef Diego stops by our table for a chat

Chef Diego stops by our table for a chat

For details on our phenomenal food experience and Chef Diego’s take on Baja identity and gastronomy, check out my brief interview with him a week or so after the fact:

chef diego

 

Refreshing, palate cleansing Chasselas

Refreshing, palate cleansing Chasselas

Chef’s John and Mei chose a bottle of Mogor Badan’s Chasselas to share with Liz, and I had a glass of Phil’s Tempranillo which is my favorite single varietal Tempranillo in the valley. A muscular, savory, deep crimson red and a great match for hearty dishes. As it turns out the Chasselas was a better food pairing wine for our whimsical garden-fresh, seafood and pork punctuated meal. Nevertheless I never regret a glass of Phil’s terrific Tempranillo :p

I'm in love with this bacon and pea and squash flower infused song of a salad. Heaven.

I’m in love with this bacon and pea and squash flower infused song of a salad. Heaven.

Our five course, fixed plate meal was a symphony of surprising textures and flavors which tickled the taste buds of our discerning guests. For me the highlight was the salad! Okay, I am a salad nut but this was an extra-sensory experience of colors, aromas, changing flavors and harmonious textures. I’m still lusting after that salad experience.

Chef Diego with one of his dessert creations

Chef Diego with one of his dessert creations

Chef Diego visited with us. His youth, confidence, down-to-earth yet animated mannerisms and his startling sea-green eyes all combine to reflect his approach to food and indeed one imbibes the passion in every one of his dishes. It is as though he is riding a wave of instinct and discovery supported by his strong understanding of regional identity and his utter fearlessness as he approaches every component of a dish. It’s nothing short of a thrill.

Eileen Gregory and Chef John Ash

Eileen Gregory and Chef John Ash

Phil and Eileen stopped by. Eileen was exquisitely bundled up for an evening party and Phil invited us to the cava for a post dinner wine tasting. Alas, this is the downside of touring our magical wine valley: it is impossible to fit everything into a day. I desperately wanted to share Vena Cava wines (and at least one other winery) with Chefs John and Mei but we had hit our limit for the day. They had a long trip back to Punta Banda on uneven roads with possible rain.

Tell us how you really feel, Chef Mei! Mmmm love that arugula sauce ...

Tell us how you really feel, Chef Mei! Mmmm love that arugula sauce …

There’s only so much you can do in a day therefore we must be philosophical and look forward to the next Guadalupe Valley wine and food adventure …

Chef Mei and her infectious smile ... we finally got her warmed up ;)

Chef Mei and her infectious smile … we finally got her warmed up 😉

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