The power of our wine shares is that they allow us to share with you super-limited wines that otherwise are gobbled up for wine lists at a few of our favorite natural wine places, usually at on-premises pricing.
Mexico City has a burgeoning but tiny natural wine scene, which complements the amazing food to be had there. When we went to Mexico City last summer, we had a fantastic time. We were greeted with gracious hospitality virtually everywhere we went. Chef Jair Telluz, in particular, went out of his way to accommodate us (it helped that one of our customers went to high school with him).
The Téllez family moved to Baja from neighboring Sonora in the early 1970’s. Bichi means naked in the Sonoran dialect. Jair is one of Mexico’s most influential chefs. He opened his first restaurant, the pioneering farm-to-table Laja restaurant in the Guadalupe Valley, in 1999. In Mexico City he has two restaurants: MeroToro as well as the more casual Amaya (which has an all-natural wine list).
The family planted their Home vineyard at their ranch in Tecate in 2004. Their mom, Ana Montaño, currently oversees the farming and is responsible for converting their vineyard to biodynamics. Their soils are mainly sandy loam over granite, excellent for winegrowing, and some of their vineyards are at high elevations (2,500 feet). Having the Pacific Ocean nearby not only brings salinity to the wines but also moderates temperatures, and provides more moisture here than in other regions of Mexico.
Bichi’s first vintage was 2014. During his visits to Europe, Jair’s mind was blown by the natural wines he drank, and he started dreaming of Mexican natural wine. But he and his brother needed a partner in crime to make it happen. Like magic, Chilean natural wine trailblazer Louis-Antoine Luyt entered the picture. Originally from Burgundy, Louis-Antoine is known for his work with the under-appreciated Pais grape, which is known as the Misión grape in Tecate. The Téllez brothers saw the similarities between Louis-Antoine’s approach to wine and Jair’s approach to cooking, and, like a bolt of lightning, Bichi was born.
Noel has now left his career as an attorney in Tijuana to oversee running the winery. His role ranges from finding almost forgotten heritage vineyards, to day-to-day relationships with local farmers, to managing the fabrication of concrete tinajas.
PUTTING BICHI IN CONTEXT
Even before vines were planted in Chile and Argentina, in the 16th century Spanish conquistadors planted vines in Mexico. About 90% of Mexico’s wine is produced in Valle de Guadalupe, and many of its oldest vineyards are centered around Tecate (close to the US border), where Bichi is located.
Historically wine hasn’t been the drink of choice for most Mexicans. Generally Mexicans drink beer, mezcal, tequila, pulque, or aguas frescas to accompany their meals. Until recently, it was rich people who preferred wine, big, status-driven wines from Bordeaux, Rioja, etc. Even many of the servers who work at Jair’s restaurants never drank wine before they started working for him. Now, though, a natural wine revolution is percolating.
While wineries in Valle de Guadalupe largely have adopted a technological, modern approach, Bichi adheres to traditional methods and minimal intervention, farming the ten hectares of their own Tecate vineyards biodynamically, and collaborating with a growing family of organic farmers working vineyard land in Tecate and around Valle de Guadalupe. Unless mentioned below, Bichi adds a minuscule amount of ten parts per million of sulfur at bottling to preserve their wines for travel.
THE BICHI LABELS
How can we not speak about the labels? They’re uniquely Mexican, referencing Mexican wrestling, as well as representing the Téllez family’s whimsical sense of humor. The artist is Jair’s father-in-law, Daniel Pezzi, an Argentinean living in Dominican Republic, who’s an illustrator and a painter. The labels are a statement that the Telluz brothers make a different kind of Mexican wine, yet they also indicate that their wines are distinctly Mexican.
A pet-nat from a single, dry-farmed, own-rooted 69-year-old vineyard comprised of a mysterious grape variety that for some reason the Telluz brothers want to remain a secret. The vines are on sandy loam and granite planted close to the Pacific Ocean at 1,066 feet above sea level in San Antonio de las Minas. The grapes are hand-harvested, de-stemmed, and pressed after a few hours on the skins. Fermentation is with ambient yeasts, and then, in the pet-nat method, the wine is bottled before fermentation is finished. The result: a funky, fresh, vibrant sparkling rosado that’s great in warm weather but an excellent palate opener year-round. No filtration or added sulfites.
2016 NO SAPIENS
From a single, dry-farmed, 69-year-old vineyard comprised of the same mysterious grape variety found in Pet-Mex. The farmer says it could be Dolcetto, but Louis-Antonie thinks it might be Cariñena due to it’s sharp acidity. We surmise it’s Freisa (a relative of Nebbiolo). Does it really matter?
The grapes were harvested by hand towards the end of August, de-stemmed, and then fermented in locally-made concrete tinajas. The wine was raised for 3 months in equal parts steel vat and older oak and bottled without fining or filtration. The most linear of the Bichi wines, with crunchy dark fruit, ample vibrancy and structure, it’s a wine that will get better with time in the bottle. Decant before serving.
From own-rooted Rosa del Peru (Moscatel Negro) 100-plus-year-old vines, grown at 2,400 foot elevation, planted on sandy loam and granite soils in Tecate. The grapes were hand-harvested, de-stemmed, and fermented without temperature control in 450 liter locally-made concrete tinajas with 45 days of maceration. The wine was then raised for 3 months in ½ stainless steel vats and ½ older barrels. A lively vin de soif light red that’s almost rosé-colored in the glass, delicately floral, with red and dark fruits and juicy acidity. Serve chilled with cheese and charcuterie.
From 100-year-old pie franco (own-rooted) Misión (Listan Prieto) vines grown at 2,400 feet on sandy loam and granite soils in the mountains of Tecate, Mexico, right on the California border. Because the grapes are dry-farmed, yields are very low here. The grapes are de-stemmed and fermented without temperature control in 450 liter concrete tinajas. After fermentation, ½ of the cuvee goes to stainless steel vats, and the other goes to half to used barrels for 3 months. The wine is bottled without fining or filtration. Light ruby in the glass, 12.5% alcohol, let this open a bit or decant so that it can fully express its supreme drinkability. It has notes of floral, peppery red fruits, and refreshing briny acidity. Especially shines with dishes rich in umami.