Mexico, at the southern tip of the North American continent, might seem like an unlikely wine producing nation, but viniculture has been practiced here for longer than anywhere else in the Americas. The Parras Valley's Casa Madero winery, founded in 1597, prides itself on being la vinicola mas antigua de America ('the oldest winery in America'). However, in terms of consumption, production and exports, the country is renowned for its beer and tequila.
The beer industry is one of the most prevalent industries of the country with Mexico being the worlds' largest exporter of the beverage.
An area rich in beer-based history, there is evidence that ancient civilizations fermented corn to produce alcoholic beverages. Spaniards introduced introduced barely and wheat based beers in the 16th Century but it wasnt until the 19th Century that the beer production industry commenced. The arrival of German and Austrian immigrants brought brewing expertise to establish brewing as an enterprise. Diversification and improvement of the market continued to over 40 breweries operating across the country at the end of the Mexican revolution in 1917. Mexican beer industry went through a period of consolidation in the 1920s and today, two major international beer companies now the dominate the market.
The most popular and well-known brands of Mexican beer include Corona, Modelo, Sol, Pacifico and Dos Equis. Traditionally, Mexican beer is brewed with lager-like properties with a light body and mild flavor. It is ideally consumed very cold to create a crisp, refreshing bevergae. Michelada is a local beer-based cockatil, derived from the Mexican slang for beer 'chelada' translated to 'mi-chela-helada' meaning 'my cold beer'. It is a mixture of beer with lime juice and occasionally spicy sauces, usually picante, served in a glas with a salted rim. Contrary to neighbouring countries, serving beer on tap is not popular in Mexico with the beverage mainly consumed from returnable bottles, although recyclable cans and bottles are becoming increasingly popular.
Over the past decade, the craft beer industry has shown signs of strong growth driven by an entrepreneurial spirit of local brewers. Popular styles include Pale Ale, IPA and American Stout with adventurous brewers dappling in fusions and more obscure styles.
The most famous beverage to derive from Mexico, tequila consumption and production is well ingrained into the culture and economy. Mexican law states that the distilled liqour may only produced in the state of Jalisco, primarily in the area surrounding eponymous city of Tequila, 40 miles (65km) northwest of Guadalajara.
Tequila is made only from the "pi?a" or heart of the blue agave plant (Agave tequilana Weber azul) which looks similar to a pineapple with a blue-gray tinge. Mescal may be made with any agave plant, with or without blue agave therefor tequila is mescal, but mescal is never tequila. For more details, see tequila.
The Vitis vinifera vine and the concept of winemaking came to Mexico with the Spanish conquistadors in the 16th Century. Before the colony's own wine production could satisfy local demand, wine was imported from Spanish vineyards, maintaining a healthy flow of ships and trade between Spain and Nueva Espana ('New Spain', as Mexico was known at that time). So valued was this trade that the Spanish King, King Carlos II, outlawed commercial wine production so that it would continue.
Local wine production was sanctioned only for ceremonial purposes, but it was this legal exception that sustained a tiny Mexican wine industry until the early 19th Century, when Mexico gained its independence from Spain. The earliest Mexican vineyards were planted around the town of Parras de la Fuente which translates as 'vineyards of the spring', tucked away in the Sierra Madre Oriental mountains.
The wine regions of modern Mexico are now located in the slightly cooler, ocean-moderated climate of northwest Baja California, a long way west of the original vine-growing areas. Ninety percent of Mexican wine is now made at the northern edge of the long, thin, Baja California peninsula, in the valleys of Guadalupe, Calafia, Santo Tomas, San Vicente and San Antonio de las Minas. Vineyards are also found scattered throughout La Laguna and further south in Zacateca and Aguascalientes where table grape cultivation is more common.
Because of the hot, sunny climate here, irrigation is needed in almost all locations; most Mexican vineyards lie on a similar latitude to the deserts of Iraq and the northern Sahara. Rainfall is low, with the driest areas sometimes receiving only 200 millimeters (8in) annually. All but the northwester corner of Baja California is classified as Warm Arid Desert on the Koppen Climate Classification scale; viticulture is made possible by the presence of the Pacific Ocean to the west and the Gulf of California to the east.
There are no vinifera varieties indigenous to the Americas, so Mexican wine is made from the 'international' varieties of French, Spanish and Italian descent. Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot are grown here, as is Zinfandel, the icon grape of the USA. They are complemented by white wines made predominantly from Colombard, Chenin Blanc, Semillon and the ubiquitous Chardonnay.