In the north of Mexico in the largely arid state of Coahuila is Parras de La Fuente. Located in the Valle de Parras (or Parras Valley Mexico), the town is an oasis city. The wines in Parras de la Fuente are from some of the oldest wineries in the world, and now, people are starting to take notice.
A popular national tourist destination, the town swells on the weekends. Crowds of locals arriving by car, bus and motorbike fill the downtown. Street stalls and food carts triple in number lining the three plazas that surround the colorful central historic district. In anticipation of weekend crowds, festivals, fairs and markets regularly pop up in this local tourist hot spot.
The city lies in the Valle de Parras. For centuries the region has been a key player in the winemaking industry at a local level. Now Mexico’s tourism board has designated the city a Pueblo Mágico for its historical and cultural significance.
But just how good is the wine Parras de la Fuente has to offer? And how hard would it be for a couple of gringos to sniff it out?
We set out to see what we could discover about the wines Parras de la Fuente had to offer.
La Ruta de Vino y Dinos
Despite its peculiar name, the Route of Vino and Dinos is the major drawcard for the town and surrounding region. Perhaps it has a better ring with a Mexican accent, or perhaps we lacked the vision to see the appeal of combining the thrill of paleontological discovery with viniculture. But, for us, it was the vinos that we were most interested in.
Geographically reminiscent of Argentina’s premiere wine region, Mendoza, Parras occupies a valley in the middle of an arid plain. The region is bordered by rocky mountains that ensure some rain in the summer months. The region’s natural spring water allows local vineyards to sustain production through dry winters. Parras’ high altitude creates a micro-climate cool enough to produce wine in the middle of this otherwise hot desert region.
Without a huge amount of information online, we went into detective mode (read: visiting cafes and bars and ordering local wine). Between bars, information boards and tourism desks, we began compiling notes on the wines Parras de la Fuente had to offer from the local wineries and bodegas.
Parras is home to both large commercial wineries and smaller boutique operations. The most famous winery in the area is also the continent’s oldest. As the oldest winery in America, Casa Madero has been producing wine since the late 16th century beating out the oldest winery in the US by a good 200 years.
But outside of Casa Madero, there are also a number of old boutique wineries that have existed here for centuries. Alongside them are the new kids on the block angling to make a name for themselves.
There are a number of wineries exclusively focused on either the sweet or fortified wines that are historically significant to the area. These traditional Mexican style of wine is sweet and/or strong and not exactly our cup of tea. Despite this we accepted a few samples.
The Best Wines in Parras de la Fuente
1. Don Leo
Don Leo is listed as one of the official wineries on the ruta de vino (and dinos). Situated approximately 39km outside of Parras, Don Leo boasts panoramic views of vineyards backdropped by mountains. The view, however, comes at a cost with the cheapest tasting coming in at $330 MXP.
The package includes a tour of the vineyard and cellar as well as one glass of wine. The costs continue upwards in price with the most expensive costing $880 MXP for three reserve wines plus charcuterie. Wines range from Sauvignon Blanc to Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah. We sampled a glass of the Syrah, a balanced non-confronting wine that is well suited for an apéritief.
Update: In 2020, the 2013 Don Leo Gran Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon won gold in the International Cabernet competition (CIDC) which is an amazing achievement! Don Leo shocked the world by beating over 24 countries for the top prize. Read more above the wine in Newsweek’s publication.
2. Casa Madero
As the oldest winery in America, we expected something distinct from Casa Madero. Perhaps wines similar to those coming from Georgia in Eastern Europe said to be the originator of wine. Georgian wines are unique and quite an acquired taste as the production style has remained relatively unchanged.
Not so at the 400 year old Casa Madero. The process has kept pace with technology and the product is comparable to any modern wine. Stop by the winery on your way into Parras for a tour of the vineyard and a tasting. A tasting will set you back $300 MXP without a tour. Bottles can be purchased from anywhere between $265 – $695 MXP.
Parvada is a beautiful winery on the outskirts of town in the Parras Valley. A newly constructed vineyard complete with tasting room and restaurant. Parvada like much of the surrounding area specializes in red wines. These award winning wines are best enjoyed on their stunning veranduh overlooking the walnut grove.
Make sure to book in advance as these guys only take reservations!
4. Rivera Gonzales (Vineyard and Bodega)
Rivero Gonzales has both a vineyard and a store set up in Parras de la Fuente. Unlike other places closer to the city center, Rivero Gonzales specialty is not in sweet wines. Wines range from Cabernet to Syrah and Chardonnay. You must book tours and tastings in advance at the vineyard and tastings are not offered at the store. My suggestion is to call ahead as emails appear to go unanswered based on our experience.
5. Segovia Fuantos
Segovia Fuantos specializes in the sweet (dulce) wines specific to the area. While not our cup of tea, the winery is located in the center of town. Stop in and try one of their five varieties. A small sample is available even if you do not care to buy a whole bottle.
6. El Vesubio
Another city center winery, El Vesubio also specializes in sweet wines with three sweet (dulce) wines and one semi-sweet wine. Again visit the bodega just outside the historic district to sample and purchase these sweet and fortified wines.
What to Do In and Around Parras de la Fuente
There’s more here to discover than just the wineries and wines in Parras de la Fuente! The town and surrounding area have a range of attractions.
Explore the City
Parras de la Fuente is a touristic hotspot and a town well worth exploring. This is especially true during the weekends when the towns squares and street vendors go into overdrive. Wander the historic central zone, relax in the Alamedas and Plazas. Head up to the Church of the Santo Madero for a view of the lush green oasis town in the middle of arid Coahuila.
Las Dunas de Bilbao
If you are coming to Parras from the west, then make a pit stop at Las Dunas de Bilboa. The dunes in this desert region may not be as impressive as say the Wadi Rum. They are, however, a worthwhile place for a picnic and a great overlanding spot to camp for the evening at no additional charge. The entrance fee is $20 pesos per person. Facilities include tables, wood fire BBQs and toilets.
If you are more taken with the paleontology side of things, the Rincón Colorado is one and a half hours drive from Parras. Here you will find the first palaeontological site in the country adapted for public visits.
Sierra de Arteaga
Continue the hunt for Mexico’s best wine in nearby Sierra de Arteaga. The altitude and temperature of this mountain town is apparently producing some fantastic Pinot Noirs. Check it out and let us know what you find!
Where to Eat and Drink in Parras de la Fuente
Caught in a sudden rainstorm, we found refuge at Bodega. This restaurant was the only place where we saw an actual bar with bar stools. We ordered a glass of wine as we listened to the pitter patter of rain drops waiting for the sun came out. We did not try the food, but the wine was a hit (Don Leo wine).
Be careful though not to get scammed by the wait staff. We ordered a glass of wine off the menu but were apparently given, a higher quality wine (which comes at a higher price). Upon confronting the staff, they immediately withdrew the amount and allowed us to pay the amount shown on the menu. In summation, go for the wine not the service.
A new establishment right in the center of town, it is the only place we found open for a good cup of coffee (and later for a good cup of wine). Whether your craving a cup of joe or to sample the locally curated wines, Terragona is the place. The staff are accommodating, the coffee is hot, the wine is superb and the setting is modern. The WIFI is sufficient enough to check emails and browse the web.
Madero 87 is a cosy restaurant on the main town square, Plaza de Armas. Their niche is the attached, Hacienda del Marques winery which exclusively sells their wines through the restaurant. With four red varietals, the wines are touted as some of the best wine Parras de la Fuente has to offer. Stop in and pair a bottle of local wine with a charcuterie and cheese board or stay for dinner for a reprieve from tacos and gorditas. Either way you won’t be disappointed.
El Taco Huerfano: Alameda November 20
Having had our fair share of tacos throughout Northern Mexico at this point, this taco stand stands out as one of the better ones we’ve eaten at. The barbacoa so succulent and the salsa just spicy enough to give it the extra kick it needs. The carne asado gives the barbacoa a run for its money topped with fresh cilantro and onion.
At only $15 pesos per taco, a stop (or two) should definitely be on your list of things to do in Parras or your must eat. Plus the owner of the taco stand is as friendly and as welcoming as any vendor we have encountered. Find El Taco Huerfano outside the Alameda November 20 at the northern end of the zona de centro.
Where to Stay in Parras de la Fuente
Finding a place to sleep in your van is a little difficult in this town. There is no, obviously great place to park overnight (at least for free). We tried two spots in the town but found the traffic and loud locals that continued late into the night inconvenient.
Combines comfortable rooms, great staff and fantastic value.
La Estancia Hotel
A good midrange option with a great location, comfortable rooms and a host of extra facilities.
We enjoyed and highly recommend the town of Parras de la Fuente which has benefitted from a booming tourism industry thanks mostly to the wineries in the region.
If you’re here on holiday and not constrained by a budget, hiring a driver and exploring the wineries would surely make for a fun day. If you are just passing through and counting pennies (as we were), perhaps sample some wine at the local restaurants and save the winery experience for another day.
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Have you tried all the wines in Parras de la Fuente? What did you think? Let us know below!