New Mexico

What’s Wrong With Wine Labels

20 June 2015

On a recent trip to New Mexico, I made a point of returning to my favorite winery in the state, Casa Rondeña. I ordered a glass of Meritage in the tasting room, and a gentleman next to me asked how I liked it. “Very much,” I replied. “It’s well-balanced, and a fine example of what New Mexico is capable of in terms of wine.”

“I’m glad to hear that,” he responded, “Since I made it!” I went on to say how pleasantly surprised I was by New Mexico wines, the Cabernet Francs in particular, but I didn’t disclose that I was a wine blogger who had written about Casa Rondeña previously. I was off the clock. “Have you visited any other wineries?” he asked. “Which ones do you like?”

I listed off a few, including St. Clair, where I remembered liking the D.H. Lescombes line of wines. He didn’t agree with that selection. St. Clair, he noted, adds corn syrup or other sugars to many of its wines. I can see why — in New Mexico, the local palate skews heavily towards sweeter wines, so much so that most wineries will taste reds before whites, de-emphasizing the reds’ dryness.

While certainly not illegal, that practice of adding sugars isn’t necessarily the hallmark of great wines. “They really should have to disclose that on their label,” I protested. But they don’t. In fact, beyond noting that they contain sulfites, a completely unnecessary declaration, wines need not list any of their ingredients. Nor, for that matter, do spirits. Just what is in Blue Curaçao, anyway?

How is it that in 2015, in an era of ever-greater concern about the quality of the things we’re putting into our bodies, that wines and spirits can still get away without listing anything other than their alcohol content? Some studies promote a glass or two of red wine a day as a healthy  addition to one’s diet, but surely some red wines are more beneficial than others.

Red wines with added sugar, for example, don’t strike me as the healthiest choice. At the St. Clair Bistro, our waitress offered us free samples of Chenin Blanc. And indeed, it tasted rather flabby and too sweet. I ordered a $13 glass of D.H. Lescombes Cabernet Franc instead, thinking that this more expensive line of wines would surely adhere to higher standards of winemaking.

It tasted quite ripe and free from any vegetal, green-pepper notes which can sometimes plague Cabernet Franc. But vanilla notes overwhelmed the palate, and indeed, it tasted jammier than I expected. Was I imagining that it was overly sweet because of what the owner of Casa Rondeña told me? I took another sip. No — the too-strong vanilla notes were quite clear. I won’t presume to say whether the wine had added sugar or not, however, because I have no way of knowing for sure.

Of course I wouldn’t have to guess, if wines and spirits actually declared their ingredients! All non-alcoholic beverages in the supermarket have lists of ingredients. Even unflavored water lists “Water” as the sole substance in the bottle.

It’s time spirits and wines followed suit. As a consumer, I want to know if my wine contains “Grape juice” or “Grape juice, high-fructose corn syrup and red dye #32.” Price, as indicated by my rather expensive glass of Cabernet Franc, is not necessarily a guide.

Time to write my Congressman!

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A Tasting At Dos Viejos

23 October 2013

Dos ViejosSome people have the impression that wine is a fancy beverage mostly just for snobs. A tasting at Dos Viejos, hidden away in the countryside just outside Tularosa, New Mexico, will quickly dispel any such notions. Jim Dann, the owner and the staff member you’re likeliest to encounter in the unassuming tasting room, is as down to earth as they come. He didn’t initially plan on being a winemaker. He worked at a nearby winery for a decade, and all the grapes he grew himself he sold.

“Then I got screwed,” he explained. A grape deal went badly, and he realized he could make a more consistent income and have more control if he made wine himself. Unfortunately, the New Mexico state government “discourages” new wineries, according to Dann. Because of bureaucratic hurdles, it took two years to get the proper permit, and another two years just to get a septic tank (there was some confusion regarding which inspector had jurisdiction).

In any case, Dos Viejos is finally a reality, and Dann is crafting some tasty wines. Many of the current vintages in the tasting room are much older than you might expect — I tasted nothing less than four years old — perhaps because of the winery’s long slog through the New Mexican bureaucracy.

The tasting went from red to white, as is often the case in New Mexico tasting rooms. Since sweet wines are so popular, they serve them last, in order not to emphasize the dryness of the reds any more than necessary.

NV Dos Viejos Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot: “I don’t really care for this wine,” Dann disarmingly confided, “but lots of other people do.” I certainly didn’t mind it — it smelled of iron and red fruit, and tasted earthy and tannic, with plenty of cherries and broad acids.

2005 Dos Viejos Cabernet Sauvignon: Big, fruity and tannic, with aromas of old wood and earthy fruit.

2007 Dos Viejos Merlot: Another big and bold wine, but not tannic. The rich, dark fruit appeared both in the nose and on the palate, followed by fun, peppery spice.

Jim Dann at Dos Viejos

Jim Dann at Dos Viejos

NV Dos Viejos Pinot Noir: Before I sampled this wine, Dann made a rather distressing admission: “I don’t really know what Pinot Noir is supposed to taste like. I’ve haven’t found one that I’ve liked.” All things considered, I’d say this Pinot Noir turned out quite well! It had a beautifully fruity, almost jammy aroma, and a delightfully fruity and spicy character on the palate.

2006 Dos Viejos Sangiovese: Finally, a wine Dann could really get behind. “I drink this 99% of the time, and anywhere I go I bring it with me, because I feel safe,” he explained. Dann convinced some local air force men to try it, and they have been promoting the wine on a nearby base, making it Dos Viejos’s top seller. I can see why; the Sangiovese was fruity and earthy, but light on its feet and very well-balanced.

2007 Dos Viejos Tempranillo: Dann noted that his Tempranillo has a “wet hay” note, and indeed it did smell like earthy, wet hay and cherries. On the palate, this tannic wine started with creamy fruit, moved through some spice and finished on a non-trivial wet hay note. Probably not a wine for everyone, but fascinating nevertheless.

2005 Dos Viejos Rosé: I was very surprised to see the age of this rosé, a style of wine traditionally consumed as young as possible. A rosé of Grenache, this dusky orange-colored wine looked a little oxidized, but it retained some surprisingly sunny acids. The fruit had a Kool-Aid quality, but overall this was a dry rosé. Were I lounging by the side of a pool, I certainly wouldn’t turn down a glass.

2009 Dos Viejos “Cinco”: This wine blends Muscat Canelli, Gewürtztraminer, Symphony, Chardonnay and Colombard for an exceedingly unorthodox blend. It tasted of surprisingly spicy grapefruit and wood, with a rather smokey character as well. Very unusual and very intriguing.

2008 Dos Viejos Symphony: Dann claimed to be the first wine grower to grow the Symphony variety in New Mexico, but alas, he doesn’t like this wine either. In fact, he didn’t even intend to produce it; he ordered some other variety of grapes, but a shipment of Symphony arrived instead. With all that going against it, this aromatic wine turned out amazingly well, with dusky, green notes of honey and some distinct spice. It would surely pair well with many Chinese and Thai dishes.

NV Dos Viejos “Valiente”: This “port-like” wine is fortified with 192-proof brandy, bringing it to an 18% alcohol level. It indeed smelled like a late bottle vintage port, and I very much enjoyed its rich, jammy fruit and sharp spice.

NV Dos Viejos “Elegante”: Dann saved his best story for last. This “fake sherry” was a total accident. Dann originally intended to make Chardonnay, but one morning, he arrived at the winery to discover that the tank of wine had been improperly stored for the night. The lid hadn’t even been closed on the tank, and the Chardonnay had oxidized. He was going to simply throw it out, but a friend recommended turning it into sherry by fortifying it, and so we have the Elegante. It had an aroma of vanilla and oak, and a very pleasant smooth, round and woodsy character. I quite enjoyed it — no small compliment for a wine originally destined for the drain!

To learn more about the wines of New Mexico, check out my posts about my Favorite New Mexican Whites and Favorite New Mexican Reds.

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Favorite New Mexican Wines: The Reds

10 October 2013

Vineyards at Estrella del NorteIt’s weeks now after my visit to New Mexico, and I still can’t get over the quality of the wines that the state now produces. I recently wrote about how New Mexico could be an ideal home for Cabernet Franc here, but Cab Franc is hardly the only red variety which grows well in the state.

Many of the reds I tried had a brick-red color, perhaps due to the local soil composition, and many looked relatively transparent and light, like a typical Pinot Noir. But the color belied the ripe fruit flavors so often evident in New Mexican reds.

Here is a round-up of some of the best red wines I tasted while traveling through New Mexico (not including the Cabernet Francs). Most will be difficult to find outside of the state, making it all the more worthwhile to explore its extraordinarily beautiful landscapes yourself.

VIVÁC

A very 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 (see the tasting room webpage for specific hours). Although Vivác makes some fine whites, it is better-known for its red wines, which I found to be generally delicious. It didn’t hurt that the tasting room served them in Riedel crystal stemware. Any of the wines below would be a fine value for the money.

2011 Vivác Dolcetto: Very little of this early-ripening variety is planted outside Italy’s Piemonte (Piedmont) region, and I most often see it in Dolcetto d’Alba. But here it was in the Southwest, with ripe up-front fruit, measured spice, well-balanced acids and a dry finish. A positively delightful Dolcetto — rich in fruit but light on its feet.

2009 Vivác Nebbiolo V. Series: Later-ripening Nebbiolo also traditionally grows in Piemonte, where it forms the base of famed (and expensive) wines such as Barolo and Barbaresco. This more affordable Nebbiolo is aged 12 months in used oak barrels, and the fruit comes from a single vineyard (hence the “V” designation). Despite the contact with oak, the aroma remained light and fresh, and the flavor was obviously fruity. Yet it felt dry, again with elegantly balanced acids, and some intriguing dried herbs underneath. I have a feeling it would have been easy to over-oak this wine, but by employing used barrels, the oaky notes were kept under firm control.

2009 Vivác Refosco: Yet another Italian variety, from the far eastern border with Slovenia, where it sometimes appears as Teran. With a handful of exceptions, most Slovenian Terans I’ve tried were mouthfuls of metal due to the iron-rich soil. Here the wine was free of metallic notes, offering instead an aroma of red fruit and fresh hay. I very much enjoyed the creamy texture and dark strawberry fruit, and the green undertones would surely make this wine a fine pairing with lamb or venison.

2011 Vivác Tempranillo: Vivác doesn’t only make northern Italian varietals — Tempranillo (the base of Rioja) made a lovely wine with ripe and dusky fruit, something a little herbaceous and focused, restrained spice. Lively, with a lovely texture.

2010 Vivác Cabernet Sauvignon V. Series: This classic Bordeaux variety made for a surprisingly refreshing wine, with bright acids, darkly raisiny fruit and well-balanced tannins. Certainly a fine pairing with red meat of any kind.

2008 Vivác “Diavolo”: An unusual blend of 40% Syrah, 30% Tempranillo, 25% Cabernet Sauvignon and 5% Merlot, this wine exhibited an herbaceous red-fruit aroma, a luxuriously rich mouthfeel, ripe red fruit and very bright white-pepper spice. Zesty and delicious. Bring me a steak.

2009 Vivác “Amante”: I am a real sucker for a good port-style wine, and the Amante put a giant smile on my face. Made with Tempranillo and local Don Quixote brandy (port is a fortified wine), the Amante had a luscious raisiny aroma with overtones of violets. Rich, raisiny fruit gave way to an unusual (and not at all unpleasant) note of hay, with a delectable finish of mocha. The texture was almost syrupy, but the ample acids somehow managed to balance it out.

ESTRELLA DEL NORTE

Dene at Estrella del NorteThis 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.

2010 Estrella del Norte Barbera: Another northern Italian variety flourishing in New Mexico — I wouldn’t have guessed that northern Italian vineyards had so much in common with the American Southwest! This Barbera would be an ideal barbeque wine, with soft fruit and zippy black-pepper spice. Dené, who poured the wines, told me that this was the first Estrella del Norte wine she fell in love with.

NV Santa Fe Vineyards Tinto del Sol: This unorthodox blend of Ruby Cabernet (a cross of Carignan and Cabernet Sauvignon) and Zinfandel had a very jammy aroma, and it tasted fun, soft and a little sweet. I’ve been on the hunt for a red wine to go with spicy red meat-based dishes, and I suspect this one would do the trick nicely.

2008 Santa Fe Vineyards Zinfandel Port: With bold, spicy, raisiny fruit, this was one racy port. Big and attention-grabbing.

BLACK MESA

The Taos tasting room of Black MesaThis 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. I was disappointed neither by it nor the reds I later sampled.

2011 Black Mesa Syrah: What a beautiful aroma of jammy cherries and earth. This wine had a lovely texture, and it developed deeply and slowly. I loved the very sophisticated, tightly restrained black-pepper finish.

2010 Black Mesa Antelope: My notes tell me this is a 50/50 blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, but the Black Mesa website also lists Cabernet Franc. Whatever is in it, this wine is lovely, with a creamy dark-fruit aroma and big, bold flavors. The ripe fruit, zesty acids and hint of green would certainly make this Bordeaux-style blend an ideal match for lamb.

2009 Black Mesa Petite Sirah: This wine really seduced me with its sumptuous aroma of deep red fruit and tobacco. On the palate, the lush fruit moved into a burst of black pepper and a graceful finish of tobacco. Lovely.

CASA RONDEÑA

Cristin at Casa RondenaThis 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.

2010 Casa Rondeña Meritage: A lively blend of Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon, this wine had creamy fruit, bright acids and some pointy spice, with something meaty in the finish. “Could definitely have a few glasses of that,” I wrote in my notes.

2009 Casa Rondeña “1629”: This blend takes its name from the year the first vines were planted in the United States, not all that far from where Casa Rondeña stands today. A mix of Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon and Tempranillo, the 1629 had a heady, alcoholic aroma of dark fruit. It tasted rich, jammy and spicy, and I can see why it’s a favorite of Cristin, who was pouring. Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon and Tempranillo don’t often appear in the same bottle together, except in New Mexico it seems (see the Vivác “Diavolo” above). But hey, it works!

2006 Casa Rondeña Animante: I thoroughly enjoyed this Cabernet Sauvignon-based dessert wine, with its richly raisiny fruit, dry underbelly, brassy spice and tannic finish. It cut right through the richness of some chocolate fudge — an excellent pairing.

ST. CLAIR

The patio of St. Clair's wine bar and bistro in AlbuquerqueAbout 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.

2009 St. Claire Reserve Merlot: With a nose full of cherries, tart cherry fruit on the palate and a tannic finish, this was cherry pie in a glass. But oddly, it didn’t taste overly sweet.

2008 D.H. Lescombes Pinot Noir: This unusual Pinot Noir had a subtle nose of dusky fruit but little of the characteristic earth. It moved from tightly wound fruit to a bang of lemon/orange acids, finishing on a note of grape candy and white-pepper spice. For those who prefer their Pinots without a lot of earth, this is the one for you.

2008 D.H. Lescombes Cabernet Sauvignon: A pretty magenta, this Cab had an enticingly jammy aroma; big, full fruit; some well-balanced oak and a spicy finish.

2008 D.H. Lescombes Limited Release Petit Verdot: Originally a Bordeaux blending grape, Petit Verdot is seen more and more as a stand-alone varietal in various parts of the world (though not in Bordeaux). This expression had appealing notes of dusty raisins and black pepper, and an elegantly supple mouthfeel. This wine could hold its head high in any tasting of Petit Verdots.

See my round-up of favorite New Mexican whites here, and a review of a particularly delightful New Mexican Chardonnay here.

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Favorite New Mexican Wines: Sparkling, White & Rosé

18 September 2013
Casa Rondeña

Casa Rondeña

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.

CASA RONDEÑA

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.

ST. CLAIR

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.

BLACK MESA

Black Mesa Chardonnay at the Hacienda del Cerezo

Black Mesa Chardonnay at the Hacienda del Cerezo

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.

VIVÁC

Jana at Vivác

Jana at Vivác

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.

GRUET

Gruet Blanc de Noirs

Gruet Blanc de Noirs

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.

ESTRELLA DEL NORTE

Estrella del Norte

Estrella del Norte

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.

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A New Home For Cabernet Franc?

31 August 2013
Casa Rondeña

Casa Rondeña

The Bordeaux variety of Cabernet Franc, like Malbec, has long played second fiddle to its more glamorous blending partners of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. Malbec, of course, emerged from Bordeaux obscurity and came into its own in Argentina, where it produces ripe, powerful wines. Cabernet Franc is perhaps best-known as the major ingredient in the Loire Valley’s Chinon wines, but I think it may have found a very comfortable new home in the New World: New Mexico.

I only tasted a handful of New Mexican Cabernet Francs, but not for lack of trying. In one tasting room, when I asked about a Cabernet Franc, the winery representative replied, “Yes, we used to make one, and it was great, but you try to sell a Cab Franc in New Mexico.” I’m sure the marketing isn’t easy, but keep at it! The New Mexican Cabernet Francs I did manage to find were thoroughly delicious. The state needs a signature grape, and this could be it.

The Oxford Companion to Wine notes that “Cabernet Franc is particularly well-suited to cool, inland climates,” and though New Mexico is inland, I never regarded it as a particularly cool place. It’s right next to Arizona, Texas and Mexico, after all. But New Mexico has a startling array of microclimates, ranging from scrubby deserts to cool Alpine-like forests, often within just a few miles of each other. In much of the state, the elevation ensures that temperatures remain moderate and that there is wide diurnal variation. Cool nights mitigate the effects of warm, sunny days, and they ensure that the grapes ripen slowly and evenly. New Mexico has plenty of poor soil, plenty of hills, plenty of sun, and in many places, an ideal temperature range. Add a little irrigation, and you have some serious potential terroir.

Hardy Cabernet Franc can survive the sometimes harsh New Mexico winters, and with the long, sunny and warm growing season, the variety can routinely achieve a ripeness it sometimes lacks elsewhere. That was what really struck me about the Cabernet Francs of New Mexico — their luscious ripeness and general lack of vegetal qualities often associated with Cabernet Franc. These were wines I’d be proud to serve at any dinner party.

New Mexican Cabernet Francs aren’t available at every corner wine shop. But should you find yourself in New Mexico, or should you happen to find one elsewhere, don’t miss the opportunity to try it. Who knows? Maybe someday New Mexican Cabernet Franc will be as ubiquitous as Argentinean Malbec. Twenty years ago, that wine sounded perfectly ridiculous as well, don’t forget.

Here are three examples of New Mexican Cabernet Francs that I particularly enjoyed:

2008 D.H. Lescombes Cabernet Franc: This wine was crafted by viticulturalist Emmanuel Lescombes and winemakers Florent and Herve Lescombes under the umbrella of St. Clair Winery, New Mexico’s largest. The French Lescombes family has winemakers going back six generations. I sampled their Cabernet Franc in St. Clair’s Albuquerque tasting room and bistro, but the grapes were grown near Deming along the border with Mexico, at an elevation of about 4,500 feet. What a delight — it had an aroma of rich raspberry jam, and dark fruit balanced by bright, broad acids. The wine resolved into some tannins and focused spice on the finish, without a hint of anything vegetal. This wine has the richness and power to justify its rather steep $36 price tag.

2009 Casa Rondeña Cabernet Franc: Located about 15 minutes up the road from the St. Clair tasting room, this Albuquerque winery stands like an Andalusian pleasure palace amid an acre or so of vines. I tasted a number of well-crafted wines here, including this very elegant Cabernet Franc. I knew immediately from the aroma of creamy, drank fruit that I was going to really like this wine. It was dry, with restrained, almost tight fruit. Then a lift of spice, a note of violets and a tannic finish. Again, there was nary a hint of green pepper; the flavors of dark fruit, earth and flowers dominated.

2011 Estrella del Norte Cabernet Franc: This attractive winery and tasting room nestles near the southern end of the High Road to Taos. The vineyards on the property date back 18 to 20 years, and lay abandoned until the current owners of Estrella del Norte bought the land in 2007. I saw some photos of what the winery looked like when Estrella del Norte purchased it, and the vineyards were an overgrown mess. What a contrast to today’s tidy rows of grapes. This Cabernet Franc, a more recent vintage than the ones above, had a lovely jammy nose and a more fruit-forward flavor. A pop of black pepper took over after the initial hit of dark fruit, followed by a softly tannic finish. I detected an intriguing savory note underneath as well, which might become more pronounced as the wine ages. At this point though, it’s zippy and fun, and once again, not at all vegetal. For this quality, the price of $29 seems about right.

This is not just plonk for tourists — these ripe and well-balanced wines could compete favorably with any comparably priced Cabernet Franc on the market. It may be a few years yet, but I have a feeling this won’t be the last you’ll hear of New Mexican Cabernet Franc.

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