When you think of wine-producing states, which states come to mind? California, Oregon, New York, Washington State? Do you ever think of New Mexico? Probably not, but our group of wine reviewers thinks you should.
Last year, as we drove across the country from the Midwest to Southern California, we impulsively stopped at a few wineries in Northern New Mexico, after spending a night in Taos. We were very pleasantly surprised at the quality and variety of the many excellent wines we tasted.
So this year we decided to introduce our Wine Council members in Southern California to some of these wines. Our Wine Council meets occasionally to pair food with wines that have been chosen for a variety of reasons. Perhaps they represent a specific varietal or maybe they are from a certain region of the country or from a certain winery. In this case, we focused on eight wines from Northern New Mexico—a region that is an easy, two-day drive from most Southern California locations.
We learned that New Mexico’s high desert climate is ideal for producing many varietals because of its hot days, cool nights and sandy soil. The wineries we visited were at an elevation of 5000 to 6000 feet. While grapes generally thrive at this altitude during the growing season, cold weather can be a serious threat.
Producing wine is not new to this region. In 1629, Franciscan monks planted the first grapevines in the area and by 1800 wine had become one of the top exports from New Mexico. However, the road to today’s outstanding wines was bumpy. Prohibition slowed down the wine industry during the 1920s. Then in 1943, the flooded Rio Grande destroyed almost all the vineyards in this region, which eventually recovered during the 1980s.
And the recovery was robust, as evidenced by the wonderful wines we tasted. Many of these wines can be ordered online or, better yet, why not plan a trip to Northern New Mexico to savor the wines in their own dramatic high desert settings? All the tasting rooms we visited were welcoming and reflective of the rich culture of New Mexico— and all an easy drive from either Santa Fe or Taos.
The participants in our Wine Council prepared a scrumptious variety of spicy and sweet dishes that paired very well with these wines. We found that the food and the wines almost always enhanced each other.
Our tasting featured four special wines from Vivác Winery, which we recalled as an inspiring, serene spot in the high desert. The friendly tasting room opens onto a small courtyard where you can sit at your leisure and savor both the picturesque views and the lovely wines. These are the Vivác wines we tasted:
Vivác Winery 2013 Riesling: This was a sweet (but not too sweet), fruit forward wine with nice mineral overtones, and luscious hints of cantaloupe and honey, both on the nose and on the palate. This wine’s freshness and acidity made its pairing with flavorful chorizo and chicken on polenta (called Sloppy Joses) perfect. ($18)
Vivác Winery Cabernet Sauvignon: This rich, deep red, somewhat fruity wine was made in the French Bordeaux style; so it was bolder than the California Cabs most of us usually drink. It tasted even better when sipped along with a spicy green chili corn chowder. ($21)
Vivác Winery 2009 Divino: Blends of Italian varietals, Divino and Diavolo were released at the same time. Divino (meaning “Heaven”) is the lighter of the two and was delicious with deep berry and sweet, spicy tastes that went well with cheesecake, chocolates and fruit. ($32)
Vivác Winery 2009 Diavolo: Divino’s counterpart, Diavolo (“Hell”), is rich and bold with intense fruit that really enriched the taste of peppery, beef shish kabobs. This wine would go well with almost any spicy food. ($41)
We also enjoyed a Guadalupe Vineyards' 2011 Gewurtztraminer ($30), which was surprisingly spicy with floral overtones. It matched very well with a green chili, spinach quiche made from one of Georgia O’Keefe’s original recipes. (Appropriate, of course, because O’Keefe lived in this region of New Mexico for more than 20 years.) One of the favorite wines of the evening was Casa Abril’s 2012 Malbec ($32), an intense, deep red with tastes of stone fruit and currants that matched very nicely with the artichoke and olive sausages we tasted. Again, this wine would undoubtedly do well with any spicy dishes.
Another favorite was La Chiripada Vintner’s 2010 Reserve Red ($24), a rich blend of Tempranillo and Ruby Cabernet that had been aged in Hungarian oak for about a year. The bouquet of this dry red was deep berry and we detected hints of clove and spice on the palate. This luscious wine seemed to enhance almost every tangy dish we tasted that night.
We concluded the evening with Black Mesa Winery’s popular Black Beauty, a rich dessert wine with infused chocolate flavors—a great buy at only $12.50. In Black Mesa’s tasting room, you can try it over vanilla ice cream, which is delicious, but we loved it with Merlot BellaVitano Cheese Bites on water crackers topped with fig jam, bits of chocolate, and a slice of crisp green apple. (By the way, Black Mesa's tasting room also includes a not-to-be-missed gift shop full of all sorts of unique wine-related items.)
Everyone in our group of Southern California wine reviewers agreed that these Northern New Mexico wines were a delightful surprise. I'm already planning a trip back to New Mexico to sample more wonderful wines from this versatile and fascinating state. There are over 40 wineries in New Mexico—so we won’t run out of tasting rooms to explore and delicious wines to sample.