The Twelve Days of Christmas (In a Case) or The Twelve Wines of Christmas

Emeritus-Hallberg-Ranch-Pinot-Noir__15894.1422574729The 12 days of Christmas are rarely celebrated as such, but 12 is indeed, it just so happens, the usual number of bottles in a case of wine. With enough people on our holiday lists, and plenty of parties and family get-togethers to attend, why not put together that unusual case of wine…to have on hand, just in case? And the timing is perfect, as new labels, releases and categories of wines continue to make their way into New Mexico shops and cellars. This holiday dozen selection includes wines you’re not likely to find on the grocery store shelf, but you should be able to get them from your favorite local, independent retailer, and if they don’t carry it, they can get it by special order. So here we go. Whether you’re thinking Christmas or Hanukkah; New Years or mere Monday; “what’s new?” or what’s classic; house-gift or holiday; we’ve got just the Twelve Wines of Christmas for you.

Pinot Noir is gaining steadily in popularity as a special event and dinner wine. It can show joyous fruit or sophisticated restraint. The grape must grow in a cool climate to maintain its acidity and bright, cherry-like fruit and Green Valley is the coolest sub-region of the famed Russian River. Brand new to New Mexico is Emeritus Vineyards Hallberg Ranch Pinot Noir 2014. It’s estate bottled; the grapes are grown in a dry farmed vineyard on the famous Gold Ridge soil in Green Valley. Because the grapes are dry farmed, the berries mature earlier and the resulting alcohol content of the wine is lower. This wine has a crisp California appeal without being “over the top” and is a good choice for that friend looking for “what’s new?” Continue reading

Pro Party Tips – What the Caterers Know

LL-Blue Plate01If you’re anything like me, your holiday dance card is full of late-afternoon, early evening and dinner-time parties. Plus, the occasional brunch or all-day open house. And that doesn’t count the shindig you’re throwing yourself! ’Tis the season for grazing, drinking, gobbling and noshing.

How will it all get done, you ask? Professional caterers seem to keep their cool, even when practically every day arrives with a new menu to create, dishes to deliver, setup, serve and clean up. The pros must have secrets to pulling off a casual get-together or a swanky soiree with ease, grace and finesse. So I asked them how to avoid the overwhelm when putting on anything from an informal open-house to a fancy sit-down dinner yourself.

Mindie Huntington, Rebecca Montoya and Catherine Lind keep Blue Plate Catering humming along all year. Their calendar is booked with breakfast, lunch and dinner events ranging from elaborate dinners to low-key receptions.

“Appetizers, smaller foods and finger foods are definitely the trend this year,” Huntington says. “People can walk and mingle more.” Blue Plate’s finding variety is in demand, too: gluten-free and vegetarian options like stuffed mushrooms, tomato caprese on skewers with balsamic drizzle, and cranberry compote on flatbread with goat cheese. Bite-size is the watchword for desserts. They say they like to pass around little cookies, cheesecakes and mini brownies. Huntington says, “It’s a way for people to indulge but not feel like they’ve overindulged during the season.” Continue reading

The Cellar

Cellar18Angelica Robinson, responsible for every selection in the shop, is clearly unafraid. She claims it’s her sister’s fault. Before they ever opened, sibling Genevieve Oswald was sorting and sifting and finding winning wines and profoundly impacting the direction of the store. Angelica’s world of Old World wines uniformly shows high quality and many bold choices. Safety in the known does not seem to appeal to her palate. In the world of wine sales, wines that are delicious but obscure are a “hand sell.” Customers won’t find these gems by themselves. They need an informed sales person to sell it “by hand.” It’s a rewarding encounter for seller and buyer, but absolutely requires that the saleswoman know what she’s talking about. Angelica knows what she’s talking about. And her staff does, too. Now that’s service. 

Designed and built by all-local firms, the shop reflects the same care evident in the product selection. Angelica and her husband, Lee Backer, who describes his role as “support services,” both spoke of their wish to create a shop that was inviting, accessible and engaging. New Mexico liquor stores are notoriously depressing, and our supermarkets overrun with predictable, national-brand schlock. The Cellar’s purpose-built environment, with its high ceilings and high windows above handsomely arranged racks and stacks of well-chosen wine, is a relief. The long wall given over to the 10-door beer cooler offers a quiet shout-out to the beer geeks: you are welcome here, too. And in a final, defiant refusal, The Cellar declares its independence from New Mexico liquor store convention by refusing to stock minis. Instead, they have a well-curated liquor selection. No surprise.

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Flights of Fancy

ChiliLineBrewing-Beer_DSC3846Northern New Mexico has an astounding number of craft breweries, and more are opening all the time—far too many to discuss here. While the sheer volume of breweries can be overwhelming for consumers, competition can brew creativity. To stand out from the crowd, breweries here will often specialize in and excel at a specific style of beer, or a particular method of brewing.

Two new breweries in particular are carving out a niche for themselves in the diverse New Mexico brewing landscape: Alexander Pertusini’s Chili Line Brewing Co. in Santa Fe and Shyla Sheppard’s Bow & Arrow Brewing Co. in Albuquerque.

As the son of restaurateur Lino Pertusini, Alexander grew up in the restaurant industry. By contrast, Shyla is blazing a new path as the country’s only female Native American brewery owner. Chili Line is one of the smallest breweries in New Mexico, both in terms of brewing system and its classically compact Santa Fe building, while Bow and Arrow is housed in a spacious Wells Park warehouse in Albuquerque. At first glance it would seem these two breweries could not be more different, and they do each have a distinctive personality. But scratch the surface, and the similarities are striking. Both owners draw inspiration from the past, and their beers are deeply influenced by personal heritage and historical perspective. Continue reading

Santa Ana Vineyard

GRUET_119_klCommuters along I-25 may have noticed that acreage just north of Bernalillo has been more lush than usual the past few years as some 30 acres of grape vines take root in the high-desert foothills. The Pueblo of Santa Ana owns and manages the vineyard, making it one of only a handful of Native American tribes across the U.S. to grow grapes commercially. Tribes in California and Arizona have purchased existing vineyards, but Santa Ana is unique in growing grapes from the ground up. This year marks the second successful harvest and the release of the first wine made with the Pueblo-grown grapes—a still Rosé by New Mexico top-shelf vintner Gruet Winery.

Agriculture has been a staple of the Santa Ana people’s lifestyle for hundreds of years and their business enterprises since the 1980s. The Tamayame (the name of the Santa Ana people in their Keres language) have lived along the Rio Grande, 16 miles north of Albuquerque, since at least the 1500s. In this fertile valley, they’ve raised crops like blue corn—a treasured grain among Pueblo tribes—and their religious ceremonies are closely tied to agricultural seasons. In the 1980s, the people of Santa Ana began growing corn commercially and processing it in its own grain mill. Later, they expanded to grow plants native to the Rio Grande Valley, selling via both wholesale and retail operations.

Of course, the Pueblo’s ventures also include Santa Ana Golf Club, Santa Ana Casino and Hotel, and the Hyatt Regency Tamaya Resort and Spa. Joseph Bronk, the Pueblo of Santa Ana director of agriculture, places the vineyard under the umbrella of these public-facing enterprises. “Opinions on Indian gaming vary, but this has been a really complimentary facet of what the Pueblo is doing,” he says. Continue reading

Grgich Hills Estate

Mike Grgich

Mike Grgich

As this year’s Santa Fe Wine & Chile Fiesta Honorée of the Year, second-generation Napa Valley vintner Violet Grgich visits Santa Fe at the end of the month to celebrate the 40th anniversary of her family’s Grgich Hills Estate, while hosting wine-tasting events.

Violet is the daughter of Mike Grgich, a Vintners Hall of Fame inductee who famously won the historic 1976 Paris Tasting with his Chateau Montelena Chardonnay. Born Miljenko Grgić in 1923 into a winemaking family on Croatia’s coastal region of Dalmatia, Mike moved from Croatia to the Napa Valley with a single small suitcase. In Napa, he worked at Beaulieu Vineyard for nine years alongside the legendary Russian winemaker André Tchelistcheff. In 1968, Mike became the winemaker at Napa’s most innovative winery, the Robert Mondavi Winery, where he made his first Cabernet for Mondavi, introducing malolactic fermentation and other methods he had developed at Beaulieu. Continue reading