Back in March, Don Day helped host the SMART Awards, an event that was mostly about discovering which restaurant was San Miguel de Allende’s favorite. It was also an opportunity to hold a little wine tasting, to uncork a few of Don Day’s favorite wines, and get more than a few opinions on which wines were the very best available in this town.

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There was only one rule. The wines had to be cheap. And Don Day’s definition of cheap is less than 170 pesos. That’s the most that Don Day can afford to spend and still be able to enjoy wine with almost every dinner.

What’s that line about it’s a dirty job but someone has to do it. The contest started back at Don Day’s house where, over the space of about two months, Don Day began to reduce 16 possible red wines down to the finalists for the SMART tasting. Night after exhausting night (imagine the mornings after mornings) Don Day toiled, before, during and after every dinner, and never once did a single drop of wine see a spittoon.

Finally, Don Day brought the finalists down to three, a Pinot Noir, a Malbec, and a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. The Pinot Noir and Malbec came from Argentina; the blend was the local hero from Mexico. Because Don Day thinks mostly in simple terms when it comes to wine…as in which wine tastes best…he kept it simple for the judges. At the SMARTs, each of the tasters were simply asked to rank them in first, second or third place. The scoring was just as simple. First place rankings were worth three points, second place two, and you can guess how many points third place received. The results? Here they are:

Montevina Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot (Mexico) 101

Soltano Malbec (Argentina) 93

Trapiche Roble Pinot Noir (Argentina) 76

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Yes, it was close and Don Day was happy who won. Not because the wine hailed from Mexico and was the local favorite but because it would have received another first place from Don Day if he’d had a vote. I’ve written about Montevina a few times, most recently this year, so, in my traditionally lazy way, I’ll just paste in what I wrote then.

The wine is the low end offering of Casa Madero winery. It’s made from grapes grown in the Valle de Parras about 200 miles west of Monterrey, in North/Central Mexico. There is documentation of wine being made at Casa Madero as early as the sixteenth century, making it the oldest winery in the Americas and many of the grapes grown today in California and Chile can be traced back to the Valle de Parras. Casa Madero is located just outside of Parras, a town that sometimes gets compared to San Miguel de Allende.

Montevina is 60% Cabernet Sauvignon and 40% Merlot. A Bordeaux style blend like this would normally spend some time in oak barrels. Montevina is, however, fermented exclusively in stainless steel tanks resulting in flavors that have little depth, fewer intricacies, less elegance. What this wine does have, however, is bushels of fruit. There are plums and raspberry on the nose as well as strawberry and blackberry on the tongue. Though refreshing is not a word I’d usually use for a red wine, I’m tempted to use it for this one. Already, the 2013 is on the shelves and Montevina should definitely be consumed while it’s still young.

For the first two weeks of April and our last two weeks in San Miguel de Allende for a while we made Montevina our house red again, the wine we almost always drink except for when a splurge accidentally falls into Don Day’s shopping cart.

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We weren’t the only place using Montevina as their red house wine. A few days before heading back to Toronto, Don Day made one more stop at one of his favorite San Miguel restaurants. Now Don Day had never had the house wine at this restaurant because Don Day and Don Day’s Wife seldom order wine by the glass as they know they’re always going to finish a bottle.

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As I passed the bar I noticed Alef, the bartender pouring a glass of red and recognized the label. I thought how ironic it was. The red wine that was selected at the SMART Awards as the best cheap choice in town was being served at La Posadita, the place that won the SMART Award as San Miguel’s favorite restaurant.

Montevina Tinto is available in San Miguel de Allende at La Europea, Canal #13 and at Cava Sautto, Hernandez Macias #59. It’s usually priced at 100 pesos or less. La Posadita is located at Cuna de Allende #13 in San Miguel.

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