As the sun set over the roof tops of the city, several dozen Playa del Carmen residents and visitors took in the magnificent ocean views, enjoyed the cool Caribbean breeze and were treated to an excellent series of wine and food pairings and commentary from sommelier Jorge Valdes and Ricardo Garcia Gaxiola from Off the Vine wine shop. In close coordination with Russell Granger, managing partner of Cielo Hotel and Chef Edouardo from the Cielo restaurant Carboncitos, a delightful event was orchestrated and guests were treated to wines from Italy, Argentina, Chile and the United States expertly matched with items from Carboncitos' traditional Mexican menu. The guest list included guests of the hotel, distinguished local business people and emissaries from Playa del Carmen's top regional interest websites, www.playamayanews.com, www.intheroo.com and www.playa.info all eager to put their palates to the test!

Wine Tasting in Playa del Carmen

Wine Tasting in Playa del Carmen
Sara Moen (PlayaMayaNews), Francis Gingras, Libby and John Bekas (In the Roo)

Wine Tasting in Playa del Carmen
Sandra Waller and Kylie Heck

Wine Tasting in Playa del Carmen
Ricardo Garcia Gaxiola

Wine Tasting in Playa del Carmen
Claudia Hurtado Valenzuela and Libby Bekas

Wine Tasting in Playa del Carmen

The rooftop of Cielo Hotel was positively transformed into a chic outdoor dining room with charming gourd lamps strung overhead and tables draped with pretty, technicolor Mexican blankets. The tables were set with good quality stemware and each place setting included a placemat printed with the wine selections for the tasting including the vintage and cost per bottle. No detail was overlooked in the prepations for this special evening.

As acting emcee for this evening's event as well as translator for sommelier Valdes, Ricardo welcomed the guests, introduced the staff and presenters for this event and regaled the crowd with a bit of the history of wine making and information about the process. An aperitif of chilled "La Pinta", a pomegranite infused tequila served in a cute cucumber shot glass, stimulated our tastebuds, preparing us for the night's offerings.

 Wine Tasting in Playa del Carmen

Wine Tasting in Playa del Carmen

Wine Tasting in Playa del Carmen

Wine Tasting in Playa del Carmen

This evening's wine selections and menu pairings were as follows:

Ravenswood Vintner's Blend Chardonnay 2006 from California paired with the Carboncito's famous salsa platter. Aged in oak barrels and stainless steel tanks, the faint nutty, buttery notes with hints of green apple and vanilla served to accent the pumkin salsa while the acid level held up well to the tomatoes and lime juice in the pica de gallo. The salsa aguacate was perhaps a bit overpowering for this particular white.

Carmen Carmenere 2007 from Chile paired with a Shrimp Alambre, shrimp sauteed with white onions, green bell peppers and bacon in a rich, mildly spiced cheese sauce. The up front dark fruit flavors with a hint of black pepper cut through the rich, buttery sauce and the fatty bacon without over powering the delicate shrimp and hints of chili peppers, proving that red wine can be successfully paired with seafood!

Umberto Cesare Refolo Spumante Brut from the Emilio-Romano region of Italy paired with chicken in a mole sauce. I would have never thought to pair a sparkling wine with mole but this light brut spumante lemony spumante was just right to contrast with the accents of chocolate and chili in the sauce.

Familia Zuccardi "Malamado" Malbec a Port Styled dessert wine from Argentina paired with a traditional dessert from Chiapas, a bunuelo with vanilla ice cream and drizzled with chocolate sauce. With bright ripe plum notes, this fortified wine spends 18 months in french oak making it complex and interesting despite its lighter body, yet not cloyingly sweet. It matched well and really brought out the dark chocolate and the cinnamon in the delicate dessert. This was a real crowd pleaser!

Wine Tasting in Playa del Carmen

Wine Tasting in Playa del Carmen

Wine Tasting in Playa del Carmen

Wine Tasting in Playa del Carmen

Wine Tasting in Playa del Carmen

Wine Tasting in Playa del Carmen

A highlight of the evening was the introduction of the "guest of honor", Ceneyda Guzman, celebrating four years of employment with Cielo Hotel, truly remarkable in this very transient city in an industry that is accustomed to regular and rapid staff turnover.

Wine Tasting in Playa del Carmen

Wine Tasting in Playa del Carmen

Wine Tasting in Playa del Carmen

It was clear from the enthusiastic response to the menu offerings and the accompanying vintages as well as to Ricardo and Jorge's expert commentary that the people of Playa del Carmen are very much interested in experimenting with and learning more about good food and good wine. There is more to Playa than just buckets of beer on the beach and frozen margaritas. Events like this will help put Playa del Carmen on the map for as a destination for foodies and enofiles from all over the world.

Wine Tasting in Playa del Carmen

The wines above and many more are all available for sale at Off the Vine Wine Shop and Deli located in the Royal Oasis Plaza on 1st Avenue and Calle 26 in the north end of Playa del Carmen, near Mamitas Beach. Ricardo also hosts wine and food pairings in his store location every Thursday evening from 7:00pm to 9:00pm. These events are open to the public and reservations can be made by calling Ricardo or Danielle at 984-803-5244 or via email to ricardogg_1999[at]yahoo.com.