Category: Miscellaneous

Mexican Brandy, Its Relevance Throughout History

Mexico is a vibrant country where time spent around the table is always a celebration. As reported by the World Health Organization, 78% of Mexicans consume beer at least occasionally, 21% drink distilled spirits, and only 1% consume wine.

Beer might be the most popular alcoholic beverage in the country, but the spirits category is undoubtedly intriguing. Although new generations have adopted gin, vodka, rum, and whiskey as their drinks of choice, historically, two spirits have dominated the Mexican market — tequila and brandy. What’s the role of brandy in Mexican society? Let’s talk about the grape spirit and its intimate relationship with Mexico.

Casa Pedro Domecq, Brandy Vineyards, Valle de Guadalupe, Mexico

The Early Days

The Spanish conquerors arrived in what we know as Mexico in 1517, and by 1520, the territory had become New Spain. The Spanish colonists soon turned the new fertile land into a mirrored image of their European home. This included planting enough grapevines to satisfy their thirst for wine.

In 1524, Hernán Cortés, New Mexico’s governor, ordered every colonist to plant 1,000 vines for every hundred enslaved people on their estate. Of course, not all grapes were destined to become wine (Spain has always loved well-aged brandy).

In 1595, Philip II, King of Spain, forbade wine grape production in New Spain, as it was becoming a serious competition for Spanish winemakers. Importing Spanish wine and brandy became the norm, a trend still seen today!

Mexico’s War of Independence, Civil War, Revolutionary War, and the appearance of the phylloxera grapevine pest prevented Mexico’s grape production from thriving during the next few centuries, which takes us to the 20th century.

The Golden Years

“Unlike wine, brandy was soon adopted by Mexicans, especially when blended with another new arrival”

Mexico’s Revolutionary War ended in 1911, and a new era had begun. The enthusiastic new government, led by President Guadalupe Victoria, abolished slavery, founded a democratic government, and set its aim on restoring Mexico’s worn-down agricultural industry. Vineyards were planted all around the country; the future for wine lovers looked bright.

There was a problem: the Spanish were the wine drinkers in Mexico, and they were long gone; Mexico was left with no local market for wine. Mexicans are just starting to acquire a taste for fermented grape juice well into the 21st century. One hundred years ago, wine had no significance in people’s lives. What to do with grapes if not wine? Brandy, of course.

Unlike wine, brandy was soon adopted by Mexicans, especially when blended with another new arrival, Coca-Cola, which started producing its famous soft drink in Mexico in 1926.

Although Tequila has always been the most consumed spirit in Mexico, rum was a strong second during the 30s and 40s. The arrival of the Spanish brandy powerhouse, Casa Pedro Domecq, in 1947 changed brandy’s luck. The company put the country’s forgotten vineyards to work and began capitalizing on Mexico’s thirst for inexpensive spirits. The company launched Brandy Presidente in 1958.

Casa Pedro Domecq, Brandy Presidente

By the 1980s, Domecq produced Brandy Presidente in 10 distilleries around Mexico, and Brandy, not Tequila, became Mexico’s favorite drink after beer. Marketing played a role in brandy’s success — despite the spirit’s poor quality, brandy was marketed as an aspirational beverage, a drink with noble Spanish heritage that separated those who enjoyed it from the uneducated Tequila drinking crowds.

Mexico’s one percent, the people with high expendable income, also stayed clear of tequila, a “poor man’s spirit,” in favor of brandy. Those with the means, of course, drank authentic Spanish brandy rather than local knockoffs. Even today, prestigious Brandy de Jerez brands such as Torres, Cardenal de Mendoza, Gran Duque de Alba, and Terry are top-shelf in most bars and restaurants in Mexico.

Brandy Today, An Uncertain Future

“The market was immediately flooded with high-quality products from around the world”

The last few decades of the 20th century were the stage for significant changes in the Mexican spirit sector. Mexico opened its doors to the international market with the NAFTA agreement with the USA and Canada in 1992. A similar agreement with the European Union soon followed.

The market was immediately flooded with high-quality products from around the world, from M&Ms and Nike tennis shoes to Absolut Vodka. Only the strongest Mexican companies survived the transition, but the real winners were the consumers. Mexicans had access to various products for the first time, including the finest distilled spirits on the planet.

It’s no surprise that the generation that turned 18 (Mexico’s legal drinking age) around that time steered in the direction of Swedish Vodka, American Bourbon, Scotch and London Gin. Their parents became the only safe haven left for the old-fashioned and often mediocre national brandy industry. It comes without saying, the brandy drinking generation is now, on average, 70 years old.

Brandy in Mexico; The Future

Azteca de Oro, Mexican Brandy

A competitive market is favorable for every player, large or small, if they find their niche. Blended Scotch, gin, and other international spirits have gained a significant share of the Mexican market, and Agave spirits are not considered a lesser alternative anymore (in fact, they’re trendy). As for Brandy, although the finest Brandy de Jerez has a place up there with the best Cognac, it is not nearly as popular as it used to be (it’s still popularly mixed with Coca-Cola.)

The national Brandy production — that’s another story. Pedro Domecq’s once famous Bandy Presidente has become the last resort for college students with shallow pockets and those in desperate need of one more drink before calling it a night. A 31.6oz bottle of Presidente costs US14 at Walmart, although pocket-sized bottles are more common.

As reported in the New York Times on September 5, 1984, Domecq was selling “over 6 million cases (i.e., 72 million bottles) of its three brands of brandy a year. That represents a bottle for every man, woman, and child in Mexico” (1); representing 39 percent of the country’s spirit sales, followed by Tequila with 22 percent. So, what happened to Domecq?

In 1994, the British firm Allied Lyons acquired Domecq Mexico; the company was sold to Pernod Ricard in 2005 and returned to Spain in 2016 when it was acquired by the Sherry Brandy Company, Gonzáles Byass. It seems the last remnants of Spanish colonialism have finally left Mexican soil. And although Domecq is still a prominent company in Mexico, its brandy empire is long gone.

In 2022, Mexican Brandy is experiencing a full-blown revamp and makeover, and it is now looking for consumers elsewhere. With the slogan “From Mexico for Everyone,” González Byass-owned Domecq is looking to position Brandy Presidente in the foreign market. Presidente is the second-largest imported brandy in the U.S. (2). Will Americans take it if Mexico doesn’t want it?

 

Oray


Wine is a gourmet treasure, do not abuse alcohol!

None of this content has been sponsored

I did not receive any gifts or free samples that could be related to this article

My Top-3 Chocolate Makers in Paris

It is no secret that, outside of my love for wine, I am also a foodie. As such, I wanted to take you to some of my favorite places to find the finest foods in Paris. This time, I am sharing with you my 3 best places to enjoy the most exciting chocolates in the French capital city.

 

The Chosen One: Patrick Roger

Patrick Roger is, for me, the unbeatable Master of Chocolate in Paris. Why? Because he is French! Joke aside, his creations are just breath-taking both in terms of imagination and in terms of quality. He also won the title of “Meilleur Ouvrier de France Chocolatier” (Best French Chocolate Craftsman), which is one of the hardest national craftsman competitive exams there is. It is organized by the French Ministry of Labour and held every four years. It gathers the best of the best from each generation and people spend years (or even a lifetime) preparing for it. He won the title in 2000 and has opened eight shops in Paris and two in the Paris suburbs. That should just give you an idea of the level of his chocolate-making skills. His dark chocolates are so refined and so delicate that an uneducated palate could mistakenly consider them as a milk chocolate for a few seconds. As he is also a chocolate sculptor, each of his shops will welcome you with a wonderful and impressive original sculpture of his. They are so original and marvelously detailed that Patrick Roger has been invited to expose some of them to different prestigious art galleries together with other famous artists (painters, scuptors…). You can get a glimpse of some of his creations by visiting the dedicated part of his website right here.

My top choice among his creations: all of them, from dark to milk chocolates. I advise you to take a box that you can fill with your own selections.

The runner-up: Pierre Marcolini

Pierre Marcolini is an extremely talented Belgian chocolate maker quite famous in the French-speaking world as he is frequently invited to the best TV shows dedicated to fine foods (such as Top Chef in France). He won the title of World Pastry Champion in 1995 at the prestigious international competition held in Lyons (the city considered as the French capital of gastronomy) together with the Bocuse d’Or. He is also famous for being one of the rare chocolate makers that creates his own chocolate from the chocolate bean to the final product. What does it mean? It means that he decided years ago to roast the cocoa beans himself for all of his chocolate and not to rely on pre-made bases of chocolates by others or by industrial groups. That should give you the reason why he has opened over 40 shops worldwide so far. Noticeably, he created two versions of sugar-free chocolate bars (where sugar is substituted by Maltitol): one based on milk chocolate 45% (from Sao Tomé chocolate beans, Amelonado variety) and one on dark Chocolate 72% (from Cuban and Sao Tomé beans, Amelonado and Trinitario varieties). Both are adapted for people on a diabetes diet. From my point of view, they are probably the best tasting maltitol-based chocolate there is on the market today.

My top choice among his creations: the Pecan nut praline tablet. It is a bar of homemade dark chocolate encrusted with roasted and toasted pecan nuts and filled with pecan nut praline.

The unavoidable: Le Chocolat, Alain Ducasse

Wherever you may be located on planet earth, and even if you are not a foodie, there is a great chance that you have already heard about Alain Ducasse or one of his restaurants. He is considered one of the last living Popes of French cuisine. He became famous for having earned the extremely demanding Michelin 3-Stars distinction for 3 different prestigious restaurants successfully, namely: the Louis XV in Monte-Carlo (1990), the Plaza Athénée in Paris (1997), and the Dorchester in London (2010). Since then, he has created many restaurants worldwide, always with the same success and with the same attachment to excellence. Given his incredible success, he is now the head of the Groupe Alain Ducasse with over 1400 employees around the world, all selected among the best. “Le Chocolat Alain Ducasse” is one of the latest of his creations, applying his same degree of excellence to the chocolate making world. It has been a great success so far, with over 25 chocolate-specialized shops already opened in France (mostly in Paris). Notably, he developed a sugar-free version of his Perou 85% chocolate (in which sugar is replaced by Maltitol) that is suitable for most diabetes diets.

My top choice among his creations: the “Bloc de chocolat à casser”, a 1 kg chocolate block inside a wooden tray with a wooden mallet for you to break it down yourself and enjoy it. I really encourage you to try this fun experience with your kids as they will just love it.

Oray Wine


Wine is a gourmet treasure, do not abuse alcohol!

None of this content has been sponsored

I did not receive any gifts or free samples that could be related to this article

Place de Passy: The Charm of the 19th-century Atmosphere in Paris 16

It is no secret that Paris is a wonderful city with so much to offer. But, if you are visiting Paris or if you have just moved to Paris, let me take you to a tiny place surrounded by tiny streets full of small, traditional, and varied shops, called Place de Passy, located in Paris’s 16th arrondissement.

 

A place that you won’t notice at first

A few meters away from the large, well-known, and luxurious shopping street of “Rue de Passy” lies the little Place de Passy. It is a miniature place that you will probably not even notice when you walk by, except for its two cafés (coffee shop) and its fast food. However, I strongly advise you to start your walking tour in the surrounding streets at Place de Passy.

 

Why go there?

The Place de Passy was the location of the former Town Hall of Passy, a very small town independent from Paris, before it was dissolved in the capital city and became one of the components of the 16th district. However, despite the corner building, you will not notice any reminiscence of this administrative building. So, what is the point of going there?

The Covered Market of Passy

Well, the Place de Passy is the converging point of 2 interesting streets: Rue Duban and Rue de l’Annonciation. On the “Rue Duban” (Duban Street), you will find the Marché de Passy (Passy Covered Market), a small and old-fashioned market where inhabitants of the town of Passy used to go to buy fresh foods, fruits, and vegetables. On “Rue de l’Annonciation” (Annunciation Street), in a mixture of traditional storefronts and reminiscences of the vibrance of the 19th century, you will find a concentration of cafés, pastries, and many other small shops. So, if you would like to spend an afternoon shopping around while enjoying the charm of the “once upon a time, there was a little town near Paris with small streets full of shopkeepers”, this is definitely a place to go.

What will you find there?

Passy Covered Market Entrance

Let me take you there and give you a glimpse of the place. Let’s start with the Marché de Passy located on the Rue Duban (Duban Street).  Open every day from 8:00am to 1:00pm and from 4:00pm to 7:00pm (except on Sunday, only 8:00am to 1:00pm).

Le Marché aux Fleurs

The Flower Market of Passy by Stéphane BELLOT

Before entering it, located on the outside, you will find “Le Marché aux fleurs” (literally, “The Flower Market”), a small flower shop owned by the professional florist Stéphane Bellot who selects carefully every piece for sale.

Inside the Marché de Passy

Once you step inside, you will find a great fish shop, an oyster bar, a French cheesemonger, a Portuguese corner, and other food shops. The good news is that you will be able to either grab take-away foods or eat directly there as some shops provide eating tables.

Eating table

Annunciation Street

Let’s go back and retrace our steps to go to the “Rue de l’Annonciation” (Annunciation Street) and you will find below some of the most interesting shops you will find there.

Philippe CONTICINI, Paris

Philippe Conticini is a very famous French Pastry Chef. Not only is he undoubtedly one of the very best Pastry Chefs in the world, but he is also recognized as a Top 5 or even a Top 3 Pastry Chef in France. Many of the most famous Pastry chefs in France and around the world were either inspired by his creations or even trained by him.

Among the pastries that made him famous, there is one that probably stands out as a must-try: his interpretation of the “Paris-Brest”. The Paris-Brest is a very famous pastry made in the late 19th century, concomitantly to the creation of the Paris-Brest-Paris cycling race. This is why its form is said to remind of a bicycle wheel. It is mainly made of Choux pastry, almonds, and praline-flavored cream.

The mythic Paris-Brest by Philippe Conticini

Other pastries you should try? All of them! Below you will find another famous one: his Saint-Honoré Tart. It was created in the nineteenth century by a pastry chef named Fauvel CHIBOUST and is composed of caramelized Choux, caramel, and light pastry cream.

Saint Honore by Philippe Conticini

Adress:

42 Rue de l’Annonciation, 75016 Paris, France

Opening hours:

Monday      Closed

Tuesday to Saturday 08:00 – 19:00

Sunday 08:00 – 14:00

 

Le Chocolat by Alain Ducasse

Le Chocolat Alain Ducasse is a shop specialized in luxury and premium chocolates, has been created by the very famous Chef Alain Ducasse who owns many luxury restaurants worldwide. He is known around the world because of his excellence and his ability to obtain and hold the Michelin 3-star awards for many of the restaurants he manages or used to manage (the Louis XV in Monte-Carlo, the Plaza Athénée in Paris, the Dorchester in London).

Adress:

26 Rue De L’Annonciation, 75016 Paris

Opening hours:

Tuesday to Saturday from 11:00-14:00 / 15:00-19:00

Monday and Sunday – Closed

 

Aux Merveilleux de Fred

Just on the other side of the street from Le Chocolat by Alain Ducasse, you will find the Aux Merveilleux shop. This is a very famous version of the old “Merveilleux” pastry which was revisited by Frederic VAUCAMPS in the 80’s. He created his first dedicated (dedicated almost exclusively to this special pastry) shop in Lille. Nowadays, his version of the Meveilleux has become so successful in France that he expanded with other dedicated shops in France, in Paris, and around the world (Toronto, Tokyo, London…). What is so special about this “Merveilleux”? It is made of French meringue and it has been made so light that it melts almost instantaneously when you get it in your mouth. It offers standard versions available all year long (Dark Chocolate, White Chocolate, and Coffee) and some seasonal or temporary versions. You will find them in small individual sizes and larger sizes. My advice: just try one!

Adress:

29 Rue de l’Annonciation 75016

Opening hours:

Every day from 7:30am to 8:00pm

 

Do you like high-end fashion clothes and interior designers?

If the answer is yes, I really advise you to go a few blocks away from the Merveilleux and Le Chocolat shops to number 25 on Annunciation Street. Be careful, the entrance is not easy to find. You will just see the sign indicating “Maison Sarah Laavoine” on the front entrance of the building and you will have to enter inside a sort of inner courtyard. Once there, you will find high-end shops, namely: Maison Sarah Laavoine, Claris Vigot, and Pascale Monvoisin.

 

Oray Wine


Wine is a gourmet treasure, do not abuse alcohol!

None of this content has been sponsored

I did not receive any gifts or free samples that could be related to this article

Paris Through my Lens – Daytime Edition

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Paris Through my Lens – Black & White Edition

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