Cabo San Lucas Wine Corner
Antonio Palacios, the man in charge of all wines, distillates, and infusions at Pueblo Bonito Resorts, takes the pleasure of his guests very seriously.
Born in Spain, Antonio moved to Guadalajara, Mexico when he was 10 and claims dual nationality. For his current position–overseeing the wine lists and spirits collections at five resort hotels–his background is impeccable. He studied at the University of Bordeaux, is certified by the Court of Master Sommeliers, and has nearly 20 years of experience serving guests. A butler certified by The International Butler Academy (TIBA), he worked for three years in the diplomatic corps of the British Embassies, including stints in Cairo and Rome.
After consulting as a wine specialist for various companies in Los Cabos, Antonio joined Pueblo Bonito Resorts in 2014, right around the time the mixology craze was building to a peak in the U.S.
It helped tremendously that Antonio is a master of tequila and mezcal, two of the world’s most in-demand spirits. He lived in Jalisco near the state’s tequila-producing region to learn how blue Weber agave (the only kind of agave used to make tequila) is cultivated, harvested, and distilled.
Antonio can also wax rhapsodic about mezcal, which can be made from 26 different varieties of agave. It’s the drink du jour among millennials and connoisseurs who favor its complex, smoky aroma. Flights of tequila and mezcal, selected by Antonio or one of his well-trained bartenders, are available in the handsome Lobby Bar at Pueblo Bonito Sunset Beach.
In a nation known for its tequila and cerveza, Antonio is a strong proponent of Mexican wines. “Jesuit missionaries started using wild grapes and the fruit of European vines to make wine in 1597,” he says, noting that 35 different grapes are now cultivated throughout Mexico, notably in the Valle de Guadalupe in Baja California, a region he calls “the Napa and Sonoma of Mexico.” The valley’s terroir—chalk, red sand and gravel—coupled with cool sea breezes and 300-meter elevation, simulate a mild Mediterranean climate.
CaboViVO recently talked with Pueblo Bonito’s head sommelier about the rise of Baja wines, pairing tips for Los Cabos’ fresh and abundant seafood, and his own personal wine journey.
What was your first wine experience like?
Wine has always been an integral part of my family’s life, since my grandfather was Spanish and my father was also of that nationality. They used to drink wine with their meals, so I learned from a very young age to eat my food with a little wine.
What made you want to become a sommelier?
At first I wanted to know what makes a wine different from another. I liked it and wanted to discover the product itself. In the end I learned to develop this beautiful profession of Sommelier, to convey what I was discovering, after tasting many wines and visiting many wineries. I have also learned that everything is based on the experience of the years. I’ve obtained a good practical base in order to provide unforgettable experiences to our guests.
There is a long history with wine, dating back to the first mission grapes planted by Jesuit Father Juan de Ugarte in the early 18th century. But it’s only recently-in the last ten years or so-that Valley of Guadalupe in Baja California Norte has become a recognized major wine region, celebrated for its wine quality and world-class restaurants.
How has the tremendous success of Baja’s northern wine country changed the way Mexican wines are presented in Los Cabos?
Indeed, the outlook towards Mexican wine has been growing, due to the good quality and typicity that these wines have shown. The wines from Baja California and its different valleys are already increasingly well-known and customers are asking more and more for these wines. I always take the opportunity to describe the characteristics of these excellent wines, which go well with international food and local food.
What percentage of your restaurant wine lists, for example, are dedicated to Mexican wines?
The company in Los Cabos has 26 restaurants, and 25% of its wines are of Mexican origin. Pueblo Bonito’s four Los Cabos-based resorts are known for providing luxurious accommodations and incredible lifestyle experiences.
How does wine play into the lifestyle aspect? What are the signature wine-related experiences?
Traditionally, in most cultures, wine is considered a refined option, a vision that is consistent with moderate consumption and is used mostly to achieve unique gastronomic experiences. That is why in the Pueblo Bonito group we have focused on different special events that achieve this goal.
Do you have any general rules you follow when pairing food with wine?
The traditional pairing is the one that fuses wine and food through its similarities, that is, if in the dish the spice flavor predominates, the wine that best harmonizes is that which also contains them, thus highlighting the flavors that already exist. On the other hand, there is the contemporary pairing that gives opportunity for experimentation. This pairing invites us to dare to combine dishes and wines by contrast, that is, the union of two different flavors that in turn harmonize. A simple example would be if I want to accompany salty cheese, a sweet wine will be a perfect choice, creating a completely new and different flavor.
Do you have any favorite pairings with some of the signature dishes or menu items at various Pueblo Bonito restaurants? If so, what makes these pairings so special?
The pairings that we present with the different Tastings Menus of the restaurants are amazing, however, our Sommeliers are extremely well trained to properly guide diners to select wines that harmonize with the different menus of restaurants we have in operation.
What is your approach to wine pairings with Baja’s fresh and delicious seafood?
I like to pair these culinary delicacies of the sea with fresh and vibrant wines, with citrus notes and with a marked fruitiness, which creates a contrast of very interesting flavors.
Does the distinctive terroir of Valle de Guadalupe, with its somewhat higher salinity, affect your pairing decisions at all?
This peculiarity is the typicality of the wines of the Valley and positively influences the pairings of these wines with many dishes.
What kind of training is provided to Pueblo Bonito restaurant staff in terms of wine and beverage service?
Pueblo Bonito is well-known for the thorough training of all our staff. For the wine and beverage service, we train and prepare our staff members for the diverse tasks that enable them to know the wine, the drinks and the gastronomy. It’s a continuous development. The other part of our training is directly focused on service and guest satisfaction, making sure that every staff member goes out of his or her way to make every guest experience extraordinary.
What are the goals of Pueblo Bonito’s wine program?
Our goal is to consolidate ourselves in Los Cabos as the number one promoter of Mexican wines, sustainable and diverse, promoting and positioning the singularity of origin and contributing to the development of the wine sector as a whole.
Do any of the Los Cabos-based Pueblo Bonito resorts host regular wine tastings or tequila and mezcal related events? If so, are they restricted to resort guests, or open to the general public? How can people find out more about them?
We do offer regular wine tastings and mixology sessions at the resorts for our guests. We promote these mostly through the Pueblo Bonito app and our Facebook page. We receive a lot of interest in learning experiences like these, which really offer our guests a way to connect and to learn more about the area and the country they are visiting.
What is the most enjoyable part of your job?
The sommelier is a person who creates unique experiences. We have to understand the trends of the market, the wine world and gastronomy and how to interpret them all, in order to transmit them for the enjoyment of our clients. That is the most pleasant part of my profession.
What’s next on the wine front at Pueblo Bonito?
Our growth strategy is based on three fundamental bases: Diversity, Quality and Image. To select a variety of wines of high quality, in terms of strains and styles, of geographical diversity, of climates and soils united to innovation. We believe that these attributes represent the most crucial elements to obtaining competitive advantage.
Saludos from Co-Founders…
Chris Sands – Writer and Michael Mattos