SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) — Ask anyone about Mexican food and most people will answer tacos, burritos, tequila and beer. But a restaurant in San Francisco is trying to change the perception of Mexican food and drink.
Cantina Los Mayas claims to be the first restaurant in the United States to exclusively serve Mexican wine.
That’s a big feat considering a lot of people don’t even know Mexico has vineyards.
“I had no idea there were Mexican wines. We drink a lot of Napa wines, but being able to experience Mexican wines has been great,” Crawford said.
Cantina Los Mayas is a dream come true for owner Juventino Carrillo.
He owned several taquerias in San Francisco. His newest is Taquería Los Mayas in Inner Richmond, which serves regional Yucatan Mexican cuisine.
Carrillo began introducing his customers to Mexican wine there.
“Hey, I have some Mexican wine. Want to try it?” he would tell his customers.
But Carrillo knew his customers weren’t going to spend $50 on a bottle of wine with fast food.
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So he teamed up with his brother and other associates to open Cantina Los Mayas a few blocks from the taqueria.
When he thought about the menu, he looked to the food he ate as a child for inspiration.
“I grew up in the mountains of Yucatan. We used to hunt and it’s very popular to eat duck,” Carrillo said.
One of the restaurant’s signature dishes includes braised ducks with pipian, a sauce made with roasted pumpkin seeds and chili peppers.
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The menu also includes a lamb shank seasoned with a smoked pepper sauce and a whole fish in a creamy mango and habanero sauce.
“The key to Mexican cooking is the sauce, so pairing it with wine is amazing. You can compare it with French reduced sauces or Italian tomato-based sauces. But here we use spice-based sauces “Carillo said.
The wine list has more than 60 wines. Most of them come from Valle de Guadalupe, an area near Ensenada, about a 90-minute drive south of the Mexican border with San Diego.
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It is the first wine region of Mexico.
“You get a lot of different soils and weather than here or Europe. Thus, the grapes react differently. Sometimes you’ll get a Nebbiolo that has a different flavor than you’d think of a traditional Italian Nebbiolo,” explained Morgan Anderson, co-owner of Cantina Los Mayas.
Cantina Los Mayas has expanded its offering to include wines from the states of Guanajuato, San Luis Potosí and Queretaro.
It also sells wine from Casa Madero, which was founded in 1597 and is the oldest winery on the continent.
But Valle de Guadalupe is a relatively new wine region. Most wineries are around 50 years old or younger.
Anderson says it gives them the freedom to be more experimental in their winemaking.
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“You get a remix of some of those grapes that you traditionally want, but you get a different version of them,” he said.
Kara Potthasd visited for the first time and was surprised by the varied taste of a grape she knows well.
“It’s 100% Mourvèdre. I usually come from France, so it’s interesting to try it in a completely different region. The wine is a hidden gem,” Potthasd said.
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So why aren’t Mexican wines better known in the United States? The answer comes down to supply.
Many wineries are relatively small and only produce 50-100 cases of a particular wine. They are therefore not exported.
Anderson suspects there’s also a bias against Mexican spirits that aren’t tequila, mezcal, or beer.
“Some people have stereotypes and expectations and I think our job is education,” Anderson said. “The quality is there. They have amazing wine that is just delicious. And people just need to accept it and try it without judging it beforehand,” Anderson said.
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