Sunday, March 19, 2006

New Mexico and Wine

The Trip

New Mexico might not be at the top of everyone’s wine vacation hot spots and I myself would think of Napa or Bordeaux before New Mexico would cross my mind and it’s true that New Mexico doesn’t exactly offer up the wine tourist vision of grand tasting rooms and tours found in California or the stately chateaux of France. However, what New Mexico does have to offer up is some nice wine; white, red, and sparkling; that makes you take notice.

Tahirih and I spent five days in mid-February visiting my cousin Debbie in Albuquerque and two days on our own in Santa Fe. Since I started exploring the world of wine three years ago, I’ve only encountered two New Mexican wines, Gruet’s sparkling white ( and Casa Rondena’s Cabernet Franc ( I took this trip as an opportunity to explore what else the state had to offer.

Rather than go through an itinerary of our trip, I’ll instead stick to the major wine experiences we had. Although by doing so, I’m knowingly overlooking some of the other fabulous culinary and cultural experiences we had. The Georgia O’Keefe Museum, arts and crafts shopping, and walking tours of Old Santa Fe are not to be missed should you ever visit. The town of Madrid which lies midway between Albuquerque and Santa Fe is a hippie town hold over full of artists and not unlike a Southwest version of Woodstock. Finally, the view from Albuquerque’s Sandia Peak at sunset is one of those natural sights that will stick in your mind forever.

Now to the wine…. The epicenter of our wine experience in New Mexico was at the Zinc Wine Bar & Bistro in Albuquerque ( It sits on Central Ave (old Route 66) and was within walking distance of my cousin’s house. The beauty of Zinc lies in two areas. One is great food which can be sampled as either a series of appetizers or as a full meal/restaurant experience. The second is that they have a fantastic wine list with premium pours available by the glass, ¼ carafe, ½ bottle, or bottle and all at basically retail price! It list covers wines from all over the world and is one of the best, affordable lists I’ve seen. Interestingly, Zinc only carried two wines from New Mexico, a red table wine and a Gruet sparkler. Was this a telling sign of what New Mexico wines were really like?

We went back to Zinc twice over the course of our stay, sampling a total of 10 wines of which three were Napa Valley based Cabernet Sauvignons, two west coast Pinot Noirs from California and Oregon, one Napa Chardonnay, one Spanish Port, one Ice Wine, and two New Mexicans. One a Gruet Rose Sparkling wine and another red table wine from Milagro (

On our first trip to Zinc was spent on the restaurant side tasting flights of wine. The best of all these was the 2001 Silver Oak which was one of the best wines I’ve had in the past year let alone on this trip. In addition, I thought the price was great. For $40 we could get a half-bottle and for $80 we could get the full bottle. A bit expensive in the grand scheme of things but for a top quality like this that would sell for about $150 on a standard wine list, why not! Our other two big discoveries here were the 2004 Roessler “Blue Jay” Pinot Noir and the 2002 Peju Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, both from Napa. The Roessler Pinot was Tahirih’s “wow” wine and was probably the biggest discovery of the trip. I don’t really know the whole story about the Peju but whereas with some digging you can find bottle of the Roessler, it seems the Peju is a new venture and might be limited more to West Coast restaurants according to our server. The two disappointment were the 2005 Willamette Valley “Whole Cluster” Pinot Noir from Oregon and a NV New Mexican red table wine from Milagro. The Pinot was basically too young and the 2005 vintage date made me think that this was from second rate grapes and was bottled to make a quick buck. I know that’s a harsh assessment but it’s what came to mind. The NV red from Milagro was basically what I would have expected from a NV table wine. Good but not worth thinking too much about. My thought at the time was “better than a most Long Island reds” which I haven’t been too impressed with.

Our second trip to Zinc was later in the week where we sat at the bar sampling a few half-glasses. The best of these were the 2004 Heinz Chardonnay and a 1997 LBV Port from Quinta Do Noval. I expected the Heinz Chardonnay to be a quality wine. What surprised me a little was that it felt litly oaked to me and more like a white burgundy than an over oaked California Chardonnay. We also sampled a Gruet Brut Rose from New Mexico. This was better than I thought it was going to be, only being a so-so fan of their standard sparkler.

Our favorite dinner of the entire trip was at The Old House in Santa Fe, part of The Eldorado Hotel ( Our dinner of Crab Cakes and Scallops was sublime. On note to wine lovers was a part of the wine list that I had never seen in a restaurant before. At the end of the list they had an “end of bin” section where the last bottles of previous selections could be had for close to retail. We tried the 2000 Belle Soeurs “Wild Thing” Pinot Noir for $68. At release, it had a suggested retail price of $47. The current release is selling for about $80. It was a solid pinot and while it probably wasn’t the best pairing with scallops, it was great to be able to taste the wine in a fantastic restaurant setting for that price. However, it was “end of bin” for a reason and you could tell it was just at the edge of its maturity as it took a little while to open up and was a little too acidic at first. We finished the night with a German ice wine from the Mosel region. Delicious and a great way to finish our meal.

Wine stores in New Mexico are not as abundant as they might be in the Northeast as we only came across two in Albuquerque during out travels. However, they both stocked most of the wines we tasted during our trip and also had a healthy selection of New Mexico wines. The best of these stores was Jubilation ( It was here that we picked up a couple New Mexico wines to take back and taste in New York. Prices are reasonable and they have a very helpful sales staff who steered us towards a couple representative area bottles, including a St. Claire Gewürztraminer which at $10 was a great buy.

All in all, we had a fantastic wine experience in New Mexico but we still didn’t get a clear view of the best of what the state has to offer the wine world. More research is needed so I guess we’ll go back!

The Wines

2001 Silver Oak Caberbet Sauvagnion (Napa) – This is a very lush sophisticated wine with hints of pine needles and vanilla on the nose. Very rich dark fruit and very long finish. One of the best Napa Cabs I’ve ever tasted in my short time with wine. Very distinctive.

2004 Roessler “Blue Jay” Pinot Noir (Napa) – Bright fruit intermingles with hints of cedar dominate the nose on this one. The fruit, lead by cheery, burst into your mouth. The tecture is velvety with a nice long finish. This was Tahirih’s “wow” wine.

2002 Peju Estate Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa) – Tar and cedar on the nose with dark fruit on a nice long finish. Lush, balanced, and very good. This is more in line with what I consider to be a traditional California cab.

2002 Ehlers Estaate Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa) – Dark red with cedar and black currant on the nose. Somewhat tannic with a long finish. A solid wine overall.

2005 Willamette Valley “Whole Cluster” Pinot Noir (Oregon) – A dry wine with mostly cedar. The cheery tries to fight through but doesn’t quite make it. Light red in color with a medium finish. It’s not a great wine but I might try again to give it another chance.

NV Milagro “Corrales Red” (New Mexico) – Nose has notes of blueberry and cedar but this doesn’t carry over to the taste. It has a medium-short finish and a light texture.

2004 Heinz Vineyards Chardonnay (Napa) – A nice balance of oak with hints of vanilla and apricot. Soft in texture with a nice finish. Very good.

1997 LBV Quinta Do Noval (Portugal) – Very dark and rich with notes of dates. Sticky with a nice long finish.

NV Gruet Brut Rose (New Mexico) - A yeasty nose and a bone dry texture. The fruit has to fight though a little but overall a decent wine.

2000 Belles Soeurs Pinot Noir “Wild Thing” Pinot Noir (Oregon) – Oak or cedar on the nose with red fruit breaking through, most of it cherry and red currant. It was ruby red in color with a medium long finish.

2002 Kinheimer Rosenberg Reisling Eiswein Mosel Saar Ruwer – Clean citrus flavor and not cloying. Dark yellow in color but just short of golden. Lingering finish. Very good.

2004 St. Claire Gewurztraminer (New Mexico) – Pale in color. Almost clear. Tropical fruit on the nose, including melon. A clean, only slightly sweet finish. Good wine but not as solid as some of my New York State favorites.

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