Since I suspect some have yet to be convinced of the potential of New Mexican wines, I wanted to highlight some of my favorites from my recent trip. Every wine I sampled was at least drinkable, and most were quite tasty (I tended to avoid the off-dry and sweeter styles, ports excepted). In fact, the one truly unpleasant wine of the journey was an almost unbearably tart 2012 Domaine du Salvard “Cheverny” from the Loire Valley.
Here are some of the best sparklers, whites and rosés that I tasted while in New Mexico. Reds and fortified wines will be in a subsequent post.
This winery on the outskirts of Albuquerque wouldn’t look out of place in Andalusia (the owner/vintner studied flamenco in southern Spain). The tasting room also serves as a bar, where guests can purchase full glasses of favorite wines to enjoy in the grand lounges or fountained gardens.
2012 Casa Rondeña Viognier: It was no surprise to see guest after guest of the winery request glasses of this to drink in the garden. I loved the perfumed floral aroma laced with green peppercorn spice. Though this Viognier has no residual sugar, it felt lush and supple, with ripe appley fruit and a dry finish. A very fun wine, ideal for sipping by the pool.
2011 Casa Rondeña Rosé: Made from 100% Cabernet Franc (one of New Mexico’s best varieties), this rosé had a green, herbaceous aroma, characteristics I often associate with the variety. It started sweet, with strawberry fruit, orangey acids and some warm spice.
About 10 minutes south from Casa Rondeña, on the edge of Old Town, the Albuquerque branch of this winery is more of a wine bar and bistro. The patio looked like a wonderfully relaxing place for lunch. I stuck to drinking, however, and discovered all sorts of delights. But I only sampled one white:
2010 DH Lescombes Chardonnay: The viticulturalist and vintner both come from the French Lescombes family, which has a winemaking history going back generations. It shows in this Chardonnay, which had a rich aroma which veered almost into peanut butter territory. The wine tasted nutty and buttery as well, but it admirably managed to maintain balance with a zing of lemony acids and a hint of spice.
This winery is located in Velarde, about 30 miles southwest of Taos (Taos itself is too cold to grow grapes). Its tasting room in Taos is right between the Harwood Museum and the Blumenschein House, making it an ideal place for refreshment in the middle of an art-focused afternoon. The Hacienda del Cerezo recommended that I try the Black Mesa Chardonnay with dinner one night, and I was not disappointed.
2010 Black Mesa Chardonnay: With a green, sweet aroma, this wine had a lush texture, some zesty spice and well-balanced acids. It didn’t taste at all oaky or buttery, flavors which some people abhor in Chardonnay. Paired with a salad of baby arugula in a parmesan shell, the wine became especially spicy and lively.
2012 Black Mesa Vermentino: A limited-release wine, the Vermentino didn’t even make it onto Black Mesa’s website. Nevertheless, if you can get your hands on a bottle, by all means do so. It had a very fragrant nose of apples and white flowers, and a delightfully bright flavor profile. It started sweet, became very spicy and ended with some minerals. Delicious.
Another fine winery located southwest of Taos, Vivác also has a cheerful tasting room in Santa Fe at the Railroad District’s twice-weekly farmers market , held Tuesdays and Saturdays. Although Vivác is better-known for its red wines, the white and rosé I tasted were no slouches either. It didn’t hurt that the tasting room served them in Riedel crystal stemware.
2011 Vivác Sauvignon Blanc: An excellent example of the variety. The aroma was properly fresh, fruity and green, and the wine proved very lively on the palate, with bright fruit, pointy acids and an underlying savory note. On this pleasantly warm autumn afternoon, a glass of this would be just the thing.
2010 Vivác Rosé: Although I must say a glass of this bracing rosé made from Dolcetto wouldn’t hurt either. A salmon-orange color, it had a spicy, minerally aroma and a very dry flavor profile. No sickly-sweet White Zinfandel, this. Strawberry fruit, a pop of white-pepper spice and then a dry, dry finish.
Of all the wineries in New Mexico, Gruet is the most famous, especially for its well-crafted sparkling wines. You have a sporting chance of finding Gruet bubbly in your local wine shop, and I regularly see it on Chicago shelves. You’re much less likely to see examples of Gruet’s still wines, however, which is a shame, because they’re also quite tasty.
NV Gruet Blanc de Noirs: This elegant sparkler made from Pinot Noir had a pleasantly yeasty aroma, orangey acids and a dry finish, all complemented by small, sharp bubbles.
2009 Gruet Chardonnay: I had a glass of this most pleasant Chardonnay at the Santa Fe School of Cooking, and I would recommend seeking it out, but alas, Gruet no longer makes it. A winery representative told me that all of Gruet’s Chardonnay is now being diverted into sparkling wines. For posterity: The Gruet Chardonnay had an unexpected aroma of ripe, fresh pears. The appley fruit flavors were just balanced by some gingery spice, and paired with a watercress-based salad, it became memorably big and zesty. After tasting this unusual Chardonnay, I’ll be on the lookout for Gruet’s Chenin Blanc.
This winery lay derelict at the base of the High Road to Taos for years, its vineyards neglected and overgrown. The present owners did a magnificent job restoring the property, which now has a tasting room and a romantic outdoor event venue. The wines lived up to the idyllic setting.
2011 Estrella del Norte Chenin Blanc: Speaking of Chenin Blanc, a grape which has an unjustly low reputation, Estrella del Norte’s expression was fascinating. It had a dusky green aroma with a bit of rather exciting funk to it. Voluptuous on the tongue, the wine had an almost caramel quality to its fruit, with lemony acids giving it a lift on the finish.
NV Estrella del Norte Rio Nambe: A blend of Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc, this wine smelled of tart, white fruit and proved to be very well-balanced. The rich texture was again leavened by a boost of spice on the finish, and the savory note underneath was most intriguing.
2011 Estrella del Norte Symphony: This grape variety, a crossing of Grenache Gris and Muscat of Alexandria, originated at the U.C. Davis quite recently — it was introduced commercially in 1981. Despite this perhaps dubious pedigree, Symphony can make perfectly lovely wines, as this example illustrates. This version had a perfumed, floral aroma and a very dry character despite its floral flavors. Gingery spice and a finish of chalk kept this austere wine interesting and balanced.
Up Next: The reds.