Viñedos Malagón: When Life Gives You Lemons, Make Limoncello
The village of Francisco Zarco, the largest settlement in the Valle de Guadalupe, sits at the junction of Federal Highway 3 and the paved road leading to La Misión. It's a hive of activity at certain times of day; outdoor chicken grills line the main boulevard, and people drive up and down from shop to shop. The road is lined with topes (speed bumps as only Mexico can imagine them) to keep pedestrians safe; there's nearly always a minor traffic jam.
In the village, at the end of a dusty road leading north from the busy main boulevard, lies Viñedos Malagón, The tasting room is simple: a six-foot bar perched in front of the window of an adjunct room, light streaming through the outdoor dust. We called out to see if anyone was around in the late afternoon, and la señora Malagón came running in.
"You have a sunburn!" she cried, looking at me. "No, I'm just always red-faced," I replied. "Well, we're going to call you El Grenache from now on!" she cackled, pouring a dose from my newly eponymous bottle into my tasting glass.
The Malagón wines are a good example of Valle de Guadalupe wine: hot-weather grapes with a fruity start and an unusually alcoholic finish. The best wine besides the reserve is the Equua, a blend of mostly Grenache and just enough Petite Syrah to give it some body. We tasted everything, chatted amiably, snacked on knockoff Chex mix, and prepared to leave, but she forestalled us.
"You have to try the limoncello," she said. "It's from our own lemons." I groaned inwardly; limoncelli are always revoltingly sweet, like sucking on an alcoholic lemon candy, and I can never manage more than a few milliliters before I'm contemplating how to get rid of the rest of the bottle.
As a result, I've been making my own limoncello since I was old enough to pour a bottle of grain alcohol. I helped my grandmother and her next-door neighbor make it, and when I was old enough to buy my own materials, I started making my own. My own house limoncello is far fruitier and far less sweet than the commercial U.S. brands.
Malagón's limoncello is the closest facsimile I've ever had to my own; plenty of body and a beautiful bright yellow color, but dry enough that you can drink it without refrigerating the life out of it. It tasted purely of lemons, as the sugar and alcohol were balanced well; not Meyer lemons, like my revised recipe, but standard Eureka lemons, from the trees that dot the landscape from here to Punta Colonet.
Señora Malagón smiled knowingly as I took that first sip, then another, far more enthusiastic sip. Add limoncello to the list of truly amazing products that come out of the Valley of Miracles east of Ensenada. The best part is that it comes in 375 mL bottles, so you can bring limoncello back along with your bottle of wine and be within winking distance of the 1-liter import limit.
Viñedos Malagón, Calle Sexta #75, Francisco Zarco, Ensenada Municipality; 011-52 (646) 155-21-02; vinedosmalagon.com. From the junction in Francisco Zarco, turn west (past the Pemex station) and turn right at the liquor store--there's a faded sign on the wall where you should turn--then follow signs to the winery on the right.
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