New Mexico Wine Country

(Story by Chris Goblet/Photographs by Paige Allsup and Chelsea Canon)

On a recent trip to the West Coast, I asked a sommelier at dinner if he could name New Mexico’s three American Viticultural Areas (commonly referred to as AVAs). His response was in the form of another question, “New Mexico has three AVAs?” Indeed, this little known wine fact would likely stump most Masters of Wine, but it makes for an excellent foundation for our wine tours and empowers you with a bit of wine trivia to impress your friends with.

AVA is the stateside equivalent of the European Appellation of Origin—both define a grape-growing region by geography, climate, soil conditions, history and other characteristics. Only those wines that are grown, produced and bottled inside the defined AVA boundaries are allowed to use this designation on their bottles—it’s sort of like bragging rights that a wine is guaranteed local in origin.

In last month’s issue, we began our tour of New Mexico’s wine regions by focusing on the Mesilla Valley AVA which was established in 1985 and covers 280,000 acres from El Paso to Las Cruces. This month, we focus on the Mimbres Valley AVA, the largest in size at 686,000 acres, centered around Deming and Silver City. The largest and oldest vineyards are located in this region, and grapes grown in the Mimbres Valley are used by wineries throughout the state.

Ask any resident of Lordsburg where you can find the local vineyard and you’ll likely get a quizzical look. It’s not visible from town or Interstate 10, but New Mexico’s largest vineyard, at more than 200 acres, is planted on the border of Hidalgo and Luna counties under the watchful eye of Hervé Lescombes and his two sons, Florent and Emmanuel. The vineyard is composed of two dozen varietals including those used in their limited-release Chardonnay, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot and Mourvedre, all are worth seeking out and enjoying this summer.

The best way to experience the Lordsburg vineyard, and likely meet its founder, Hervé Lescombe, is by signing up for their vineyard tour from the D.H. Lescombes Winery & Bistro in Las Cruces. A personalized tour ranges can last several hours and includes a visit to the vineyard in Lordsburg, the St. Clair Winery in Deming and a tasting with staff back in Las Cruces. If you’re lucky, Hervé will invite you inside his idiosyncratic hand-built home and make lunch for you and the other guests as he tells old stories of his winery in Burgundy or his home country of Algeria.

The next largest vineyard in New Mexico is owned and operated by Paolo D’Andrea and his family. Paolo arrived in New Mexico in the early ’80s to help plant the original Gruet Winery vineyard near Truth or Consequences. In the 1990s, Paolo oversaw the planting of more than 300 acres of noble grapes that include Chardonnay, Cabernet, Merlot and Malbec. But the real treat at Luna Rossa Winery is the spectacular array of Italian vinifera grown in their vineyard. There are so many different grape varieties, some you may be familiar with and others you may not know how to pronounce, like Ribolla Gialla and Aglianico (Ree-BOHL-lah JAHL-lah and ah-L’YEE’AH-nee-koh, respectively).

One of my favorite bottles in New Mexico is called Nini, after Paolo’s grandmother, which features Dolcetto, Nebbiolo, Barbara, Sangiovese, Refosco, Montepulciano and Aglianico, and is aged 58 months in oak. For a mere $23, it’s one of the most affordable barrel-aged wines around. Another award-winning wine from Luna Rossa is their Negro Amaro, which is a grape almost exclusively grown in Apulia, the boot heel of Italy, but which also thrives in the warm Deming climate.

Paolo has started to turn over some of the winemaking responsibilities to his son Marco, who recently returned from wine academy in the Friuli area of Italy. Marco is in the process of producing a new sparkling wine made in the Prosecco style from Ribolla Gialla, a rare white grape from the Friuli region. Once released this summer, it will be the only Ribolla Gialla sparkling in America, another premier for the U.S. wine industry that New Mexico can brag about.

When planning your road trip through the Mimbres Valley AVA, the best place to overnight and grab a delicious meal will be the artsy-funky mountain town of Silver City. Historic hotels, like the Murray Hotel and Palace Hotel, offer excellent access to the main-street district, which is filled with restaurants, old theatres and galleries. When it’s time to sit down for a meal, I recommend the lively farm-to-fork restaurant Revel, or for more traditional eats, visit Diane’s Restaurant up the street. And I always make a point of visiting the Little Toad Creek Brewery & Distillery to wrap up the evening and catch up with owners Teresa Dahl-Bredine and David Crosley.

New Mexico is blessed with so many beautiful peaks and valleys, it’s hard to pick a favorite or visit them all, but I highly recommend making the trip to the bucolic Mimbres Valley and stopping by La Esperanza Vineyard and Winery to meet proprietors David and Esperanza Gurule. The vineyard is tucked into rolling golden hills on their 600-acre ranch, which has been in the family since 1906. The winery is open every weekend, or mid-week by appointment, and no matter when you visit, be sure to spend some time sitting on the porch admiring Esperanza’s gardens or listening to one of David’s stories. And bringing your own picnic from town is not out of the question.

If you’re looking for a reason to make your own southern New Mexico road trip come to reality this month, you’re in luck. The second annual Silver City Wine Festival takes place July 13-14 at Gough Park, one of Silver City’s many community parks. A dozen wineries from around the state, including all three mentioned in this article, will pour their wines as they enjoy live music from the gazebo. Festival tickets are $15 in advance, $25 at the gate, and can be purchased by visiting This annual event is low-key, never over-crowded, and there’s plenty of space to lay out a blanket in the grass and enjoy the refreshing mountain air with a glass of Gruet bubbles or one of the many reds and whites on hand.

And if you can’t make it out of town this month, but still want to try all the wines listed in this article, you can join us here in Santa Fe at El Rancho de las Golondrinas, July 6-7, for the Santa Fe Wine Festival.


Uncork New Mexico Wine Country

(Story by Chris Goblet/Photos courtesy of New Mexico Wines)

Living in the desert, I have come to appreciate anything that provides moisture. My thirst for knowledge is frequently outpaced by my thirst for a refreshing beverage, if I‘m being perfectly honest. When I travel, I constantly seek out the new winery, cidery, brewery, distillery or coffee shop that has captured a recent headline or stands apart from the rest. And much like a foodie who collects “top chef” meals from the latest cult restaurant, I find pleasure in savoring the libations that, in my opinion, can truly define a region. Over the decades in New Mexico, a unique wine industry has evolved into a diverse liquid landscape. Tucked in tiny hamlets, off scenic byways, there are many boutique wineries that give one plenty of reason to slow down and savor the vintages New Mexico has to offer. On these pages and those that follow over the next couple months, I offer you, my fellow liquid tourist, a handy guide with some of the best ways to traverse our state’s eclectic modern-day wine country.

We begin our journey in Southwest New Mexico, because this is where the bulk of our local grapes are grown. Without quality grapes, the winemaking process is hardly worth the time and effort. Thankfully, there are over 400 acres of heritage grapes planted in Deming and Lordsburg at Luna Rossa Winery and D.H. Lescombes that rival any vine growing in California or France. These massive vineyards—planted over 30 years ago—are the backbone of the New Mexico wine industry and their Italian and French roots drive the industry today.

It may come as a surprise that the grape harvest in New Mexico begins every year around July 22, and will not be finished until the end of October, when the final grapes are picked in the north. The harvest moves from the lower elevation vineyards in the south up along the Rio Grande and ends with the picking of late-maturing red grapes in the north, where the highest elevation vineyards peak at 6,000-plus feet. That means every Liquid Tourist can experience the harvest from mid-summer to late fall. Buckle up as we take our first deep dive into the wines and vines of Southwestern New Mexico.

Southwestern New Mexico Wine Tour

La Viña Winery, located in Anthony, is one of the oldest wineries in the state and a fitting start for any New Mexico wine journey. Perched barely on our side of the Texas border, La Viña was founded in the summer of 1977, just up the road from its present-day location. Today, the winery is operated by Winemaker Guillermo Contador and Business Manager Luz Bustamante, a Chilean couple who welcome visitors with genuine hospitality and some of the most delicate and delicious white wines produced in the state. Every spring and fall, the winery puts on a festival that offers an excellent way to sample the variety of estate-grown wines and take a few bottles home for summer sipping.

La Viña is located on N.M. 28, which is arguably New Mexico’s best wine route. The road slowly winds north from Anthony to Old Mesilla and is a leisurely cruise of 25 miles through agricultural land filled with pecan trees, lush vineyards and sleepy towns that transport you far from the surrounding desert. This route, which parallels the Rio Grande, has been transformed into a highly productive agricultural landscape unlike anywhere else in the state—and it makes for a lovely drive in close proximity to Las Cruces.

Less than five miles up the road from La Viña Winery is Sombra Antigua Winery, which translates to Our Own Shade. As the name suggests, you likely will want to kick back on the outdoor patio and enjoy the view of the vineyard while sampling their amazing Albarino or a glass of the estate Malbec, both are dry and delicious. This winery takes inspiration from the time owners David and Theresa Fisher spent in South America. The vibe is refined but relaxed.

No trip along N.M. 28 would be complete without stopping at the world-famous Chope’s Bar & Cafe for lunch, early dinner or a 32-ounce cerveza. Careful—the salsa is hot, the chile is hotter and the bikers at the bar can be full of colorful words, but I challenge the reader to find a more fascinating venue or a better chile relleno.

Rio Grande Vineyard and Winery, just south of Old Mesilla, offers some of the best views of the Organ Mountains from the tasting room patio. Owner Gordon Steel makes nearly two dozen varietals including his version of the newly cult orange wines. For those unfamiliar with the style, orange wine is basically a white wine that was left on the skins for longer contact with the colors and compounds that are typically discarded at the time of press. Gordon’s orange wine is bright, acidic and has a distinct flavor, but it lives up to this unique style and it will certainly impress your sommelier friends back home.

The Highway 28 wine route culminates in Old Mesilla, which makes an excellent stop for shopping, strolling and grabbing a bite to eat. For light and lofty French cuisine, drop into the D.H. Lescombes Winery & Bistro or, across the street, enjoy Italian pizza, pasta and gelato at Luna Rossa Winery & Pizzeria. Both offer excellent patio dining that comes alive once the sun sets.

If walking the historic plaza and side streets of Old Mesilla isn’t transportive enough, duck into the postage-stamp tasting room at NM Vintage Wines in an old adobe building. Their selection of craft beer and wine is sourced from around the state, and on weekends you’ll find live music on their tiny patio, which you’ll swear feels like you’ve stepped back in time.

What I truly love about New Mexico wineries is that every person listed above actually works at the winery. They pick the grapes, press the juice and are hands-on in every step of the winemaking process, and there’s a high likelihood you’ll run into them when you visit. It’s the ultimate joy to meet the winemaker and raise a glass in celebration of the fruits of their labor. And when you raise that glass of New Mexico wine, we say, Salud and Viva Vino!

For more on the wines of New Mexico go to

Voilà! Hervé Wine Bar

(Story by James Selby / Photographs by Ramsay de Give)

You know that excitement when you discover a rather wonderful place heretofore unseen, unknown, bypassed on the corner, down a narrow side street, up a flight of stairs? One day, there it is; there you are. Serendipity is what it is.

Voilà! Hervé Wine Bar is one of those happy finds residing a block west of Santa Fe’s heart, The Plaza. Set back from San Francisco Street, through open gates of filigreed wrought iron, at the end of a long bricked walkway lined with wine barrels, it’s quite unlike anything else in Santa Fe.

Hervé Lescombes, a scion of a French multi-generational family of winemakers from Burgundy and Algiers, made his way to southern New Mexico and put down roots—and vines—in 1981. Three years later, the first vintage was bottled. Today, the St. Clair Winery in Deming has 180 acres of vineyards in the Mimbres Valley, one of only three officially designated American Viticultural Areas in New Mexico. At 4,500 feet, the high-elevation vineyards have a significant impact on the ripening process. It’s called diurnal variation. The heat of the day promotes sugar accumulation in grapes, while the cooler nighttime temperatures preserve desirable acidity, producing wines of balance and complexity. While the family produces multiple labels, their best grapes are used for D.H. Lescombes wines.

The Santa Fe project is unique for the family. Rather than using the St. Clair Winery name as do the other bistros and retail stores in Albuquerque, Las Cruces and Farmington, this had to be special. It was to honor their father, Hervé, 75, and celebrate a legacy. The Lescombes group remodeled the fallow space of what had been, over the last few years, incarnations of late night bar and music venues Milagro and Skylight, reopening with little fanfare as Hervé Wine Bar in May of 2018. Through the large carved doors, you’ll find a wood and stone tasting room as handsome as any along Napa Valley’s Silverado Trail. Stand and sample the long suit of still, sparkling and fortified wines at the copper-covered tasting bar and browse myriad retail offerings of New Mexican artisan specialty food items.

Move into the adjacent atrium “Garden Room.” Tall windowed walls define the restaurant from a warren of offices and galleries. Amid a profusion of plants, settle into leather sofas for a flight of wine, perch at a highboy for live music on a weekend, take a stool at the bar for local ales, or have a leisurely meal at a table, with a bottle of wine. A second story balcony lined with café tables overlooking the dining area is available for private events.  Look up through the lofty two-story glass and iron skylight into blue sky or moonlight and imagine yourself in the train station of a small European city, awaiting departure, a rendezvous or a stolen moment of anonymity.

While the Lescombes family isn’t defined by job titles, Hervé, who still spends time in the vineyard, has turned the day-to-day business over to his two sons. Emmanuel, 51, is the viticulturist whose watch is the cultivation of the vineyards and the harvest of grapes, while his younger brother, Florent, manages the winery operations. At a recent event in Santa Fe to launch their 2014 D.H. Lescombes Limited Release Petite Sirah and raise money for The Food Depot, Florent, 48, tall and lean, spoke with­­—what else?—a charming French accent. “My father wanted to be an artist in Paris, but with a young family, you know, he began to work in the wine business in Burgundy,” Florent said. “Still, he had the desire to create something unique. But, in Burgundy, you are restricted by rules and history so he explored. Deming and Lordsburg were along the way.”

In a banquet room off the balcony where guests sipped the Petite Sirah, inky and structured, and nibbled fine cheeses, Florent nodded toward the atrium. “It’s special when we produce something like this,” he said.  “We opened here because we aren’t known in Santa Fe. We want people to experience who we are. This isn’t just a wine bar. People don’t have to come here to drink. They may come for a coffee, meet friends before going next door to The Lensic, or just relax from shopping.”

Part of the experience—the serendipity—of Hervé Wine Bar is due to Marilyn Litton, general manager. Born and raised in Shreveport, LA, she’s a charismatic, natural host with her own version of a charming Southern accent. Marilyn brings courtesy, hospitality and humor, as well as considerable culinary and business savvy to the job. Florent describes it as, “Her touch.”

“After I graduated from high school,” Marilyn says, “I worked in a small café to get the feel and learned to make the perfect cheesecake.  Let me tell you, that ain’t easy! I got the wander bug and moved to California, until a friend offered me work in New York City. I packed my stuff and took off. That’s what you do when you’re young.” When her father became ill, she returned to Louisiana to look after him. As life allowed a few years later, she enrolled at Scottsdale Culinary Institute in Arizona. “It was a wonderful school, with excellent teachers who put the fear of God in you. I did my due diligence,” she says, “and after graduating, I was hired as an instructor.

“But I always traveled to Santa Fe whenever possible. To me, it was California meets the Wild West, laid back, great art scene and so beautiful. When a headhunter suggested a job at a hotel here, I jumped,” Marilyn says. Happy years were spent at the Inn and Spa at Loretto, followed by a successful stint with the Sanctuary Camelback Mountain Resort in Phoenix, Ariz.  Recently, having returned to Santa Fe, she spied an ad for a general manager at a new wine bar, met with the director of bistro operations for St. Clair, and was offered the job. “The family and staff were so thoughtful,” she says—and after a pause, adds, “Not something you find with corporations.”

As the remodeling began, sleeves were rolled, and myriad decisions were made collectively. “We all did tastings, thorough pairings with wine and food to get it right. When you’re new, you have no luxury to make mistakes,” she says. “We don’t serve New Mexican food, but we honor New Mexico in our own way.”  Marilyn explains, “I started researching the little guys; purveyors who needed a voice. There’s many chocolatiers, but finding one that also wholesaled was challenging. The Art of Chocolate here in Santa Fe speaks to what we do. I don’t want stuff everyone has.”  Marilyn sourced gelato from The Chocolate Cartel and bread from M’Tucci’s, both in Albuquerque. Her goat cheese comes from The Old Windmill Dairy in Estancia. “There are Southwestern influences, but our food is Mediterranean-influenced. It’s food to pair with wines,” she says.

You’ll find well-priced small plates of olives, hummus, Serrano ham, bacon wrapped dates, an array of bruschettas, soup, full-sized salads such as Niçoise and Cobb, and a selection of focaccia panini. Individually, these dishes serve as a light repast for one or to share, but in combination, any two make a filling meal. Marilyn’s culinary training comes out when she speaks of cooking with wine. “Wine doesn’t always impart flavor” she says, “but I use our Chenin Blanc in the shrimp and chorizo, and its essence jumps into that dish.” The simple pan sauce of wine, butter and parsley, along with large, sweet shrimp and piquant sausage is a pretty pair with the honeysuckle, orange zest and nutmeg notes of D.H. Lescombes Chenin Blanc. Flights are available in sets of three or four wines. Taste side by side a rosé of Syrah, redolent of fresh strawberries, a dry, citrusy Sémillon and a sassy Prosecco-styled sparkling. Pair the flight with a lime-scented Ahi tuna tartare and avocado, and vote for a winner.

Florent is correct to say their wines are not well known in certain circles. It’s a shame, and hopefully this will change now that we know what’s down the brick passageway off of San Francisco Street. You’re invited. Hervé and family await your respondez sil vous plaît.

Hervé Wine Bar is located at 139 W. San Francisco St. in Santa Fe, 505.795.7075,

Shabu Shabu

Story by Melyssa Holik/Photographs by Douglas Merriam

This winter—after two years and almost a dozen test runs—Ten Thousand Waves President Duke Klauck and Chef Kiko Rodriguez debuted shabu shabu at Izanami restaurant. Duke has immersed himself in Japanese culture for decades and has longed to bring shabu shabu to New Mexico. “It’s something I’ve experienced all over Japan and I just love it. I love cooking things myself,” Duke says. In their journey to bring this dream to fruition, Duke and Chef Kiko encountered numerous challenges, from cookware difficulty to space considerations. But their perseverance and hard work have finally paid off, and shabu shabu at Izanami has quickly become a Santa Fe sensation.

So what exactly, is shabu shabu? Simply put, it’s a Japanese hot pot meal that you cook for yourself at your table. It’s a marvelous dish to share because it can be personalized for each diner. You can feast on meats and wheat noodles, while vegan or gluten-free friends can enjoy their fill of vegetables and rice noodles. Shabu shabu has multiple steps to it; it’s meant to be savored in unhurried relaxation. Again, this makes it an ideal communal meal. 

The ritual begins by heating two types of broth on a hot plate right at your table. A two-compartment bowl holds soy dashi broth in one side and kombu (seaweed) broth on the other. These broths will be used to cook the meal in a little bit. In the meantime, an impressive array of utensils, toppings and sauces are placed before you in preparation for things to come.

Each diner is given two dipping sauces to season their portion to their individual taste: a yuzu ponzu sauce with daikon and scallions, and a creamy sesame ginger dipping sauce, as well as a bowl of sesame seeds which arrives in a mortar and pestle. As you wait for your broths to simmer, you grind the seeds into a paste, adding salt and/or togarashi spice mix to your liking.

There’s an option to add extras like Angus beef or chicken tsukune, which are seasoned chicken meatballs similar to a gyoza filling. Tsukune is a popular choice in shabu restaurants in Japan, where it’s frequently grilled over charcoal. Although Izamani marks Chef Kiko’s first foray into Japanese cuisine, he has accepted the challenge and has proven himself adept at it. Duke attributes Chef’s success to his experience creating small plates at La Boca, explaining, “Izakaya is to Japan as tapas is to Spain.” As a result, Duke beams, “Kiko’s tsukune is as good as any I’ve had in Japan.” The tsukune arrives raw in a bamboo tube, so your server will scoop out little dollops of the meat and place them gently in the broth to cook.

After a few minutes, the broths begin to simmer, and your patience is rewarded! Bowls arrive stacked with napa cabbage, enoki mushrooms, carrots, bok choy, shitake, tofu and shungiku—Japanese chrysanthemum leaves. Each of these vegetables is locally sourced from farmers here in New Mexico, including Romero Farms, Freshies and Izanami’s own on-site garden located across the street from the restaurant.

If you’ve elected to add it, gorgeously red, delicately sliced Angus beef appears arranged on its own serving plate. Though it’s thoroughly enjoyable for non-meat eaters, the beef is an essential component of shabu shabu. After all, the very name shabu shabu references the sound of the beef cooking. It’s an onomatopoeia; the Japanese equivalent of “swish, swish” and it refers to the sound of a diner swishing the beef around in the broth to cook it. Still, shabu shabu is thoroughly enjoyable for non-meat eaters, too. (Though I’m a carnivore, I found myself particularly delighted by the chrysanthemum leaves, which are at once familiar and exotic.)

With all the components in place, at last, it’s time to get cooking. Each diner takes their chosen meat or vegetables and adds it to the pot to cook. Tsukune takes the longest, while the beef and the more delicate vegetables cook quickly. If all of this sounds overwhelming, don’t worry. There’s no need to be intimidated by any of it, the knowledgeable and patient staff will explain everything. They’ll have you swishing and dipping like an expert in no time.

Finally, when your vegetable bowls and meat plates are empty, the meal’s still not over. The final step is the addition of rice and/or wheat ramen noodles (once more, it’s your choice to get either one, or both) which you let simmer, and once cooked, enjoy a noodle soup that’s been flavored along the way with the unique combination of ingredients you and your companions have been leisurely adding throughout the course of its creation.

Shabu shabu provides sustenance for the body, but if you allow it, it can also nourish your spirit. In some ways, it’s an extension of the spa treatments at Ten Thousand Waves. As Duke says, “It’s the perfect spa food because it’s satisfying yet doesn’t feel heavy or weigh you down.” It’s best to enjoy the slow pace, much like you would a soak or any spa experience. So don’t rush through it—luxuriate in the subtle flavors, the many choices in front of you, where you are and the people you’re with.


Izanami is well-known for their extensive selection of sake, including sake flights, which make a fabulous addition to a shabu shabu lunch. At any given time, Izanami offers about 50 varieties of sake. During the months of January-February, Izanami celebrates its birthday with a weekly series of special sake flights that visitors can record in a sake passport, and earn rewards for collecting stamps. As you’d expect, the Izanami staff can tell you all about what you’re consuming, with an incredible amount of detail. Whether you’re interested in the history, botany, brewing process or geography of a particular sake, they can fill you in on the specifics of which rice varieties were used, the historic brewing techniques, even how the location of a particular brewery might influence the flavor. Sake is a rich subject with as much depth and complexity as grape wine, and Izanami makes exploring it both fascinating and accessible.

Cognac or Armagnac

Armagnacvsop-slide-2-min(Story by Phillip de Give)

Whether or not “the weather outside is frightful”—since after all, this the Land of Enchantment with hundreds upon hundreds of sunny days each year—“the fire is so delightful” nonetheless, and December is indeed cold. And cold days inspire warm food, hearty drink and good company, preferably in the glow of a crackling fire. When it comes to winter drinks, dark beer, smoky whiskey and creamy egg-nog are all fine and good, but what about a drink for the wine lover looking for some fire in a glass? The answer is Brandy, of course. And in fact, the very name Brandy is derived from the Dutch word for “burned” or “branded,” which is to say, distilled. If you heat wine (or “burn” it), the wine releases alcohol vapors that can be captured in a still. This occurs before most of the diluting water vapors are released and is the essence of distillation. The resulting liquid is technically a neutral grape spirit, or eau de vie (“water of life”), but if it comes from a special place and is treated a special way, it can become Cognac or Armagnac, two of the world’s most valued brandies. And then we’re talking some serious, fine fire in the glass and the belly—the perfect compliment to those delightful fireside moments.

Let’s start with Cognac. Every old-school sommelier has heard the mantra: “All Cognac is Brandy, but not all Brandy is Cognac.” French Government agencies control the designation, the Appellation d’Origine Controlée, for special wines, spirits and many agricultural products. You’re breaking the law if you label a Brandy as Cognac or Armagnac without following specific regulations regarding provenance, geography, grape varietals, quantity, quality and more. If your product is eligible for that designation, it can command a premium price in the market. Cognac is made in the Charente region from grapes, predominantly Ugni Blanc, that make terrible wine: thin, acidic and low in alcohol. But when the wine is distilled, aged and matured for years in special casks made of Limousin or Tronçais oak, a magic transformation takes place. The process tames that acidity and adds richness, color and amazing flavor to the profile of the eau-de-vie.

The same process applies to Armagnac, but with different regulations. It can be made from 10 different grapes in Gascony, famous for duck confit and foie gras, in southwestern France near the Pyrenees. Cognac goes through a double distillation process, Armagnac only one. Where Cognac aims for elegance, Armagnac is often described as rich, full and flavorful. If you’re searching for the artisanal and more rustic brandy, Armagnac is your choice.

To summarize the differences:
Cognac is distilled twice in a pot still; Armagnac once in an alembic column still.
Cognac is mostly produced by larger houses, Armagnac by small independent producers.
Armagnac allows 10 grapes but usually uses four. Cognac is usually distilled from one.
Cognac aims for elegance and smoothness, Armagnac for richness.
Cognac is typically not vintage-dated, better Armagnac often is.

And how do we taste these libations? When we reach for a glass of fine brandy, as with any wine, we take a sniff.  The classic cognac snifter, or “balloon” glass does it no service. Created to amplify and focus the bouquet, it does that to such an extent that one’s nose is overwhelmed and detects the distilled alcohol as “burning.” Much better for appreciating fine Cognac or Armagnac is a small, thin-rimmed tulip-shaped glass. Keep your nose slightly farther away than you would when tasting wine. Take several gentle sniffs, then sip. Aromas and tastes come together and you begin to understand the cost of making—and buying!—these elixirs. Their smoothness and complexity can be amazing.

Four official designations for Cognacs

VS (or 3 Star) stands for Very Special and these cognacs have a minimum age in oak of two years for their youngest eau-de-vie.

VSOP stands for Very Superior Old Pale and these cognacs have a minimum age of four years.

XO (Extra Old) cognacs have a minimum age of six years.

XXO is a new official category as of 2018 and these Cognacs will have a minimum age of 14 years.

The better Cognacs retailing $100 a bottle or more have super premium bottlings, with names like Prestige (bottled in special decanters), Napoleon, Extra (both technically included in the XO category), Hors d’Age (“Outside Age”), often with an average age of 35 Years or more but again included in the XO category.

The VS Cognacs are perfect for mixed drinks; in fact the original versions of the Sazerac Cocktail and French 75 (Lemon juice, Cognac and Sparkling wine) were made with Cognac. A perfect Sidecar (winter’s answer to a Margarita with Brandy instead of Tequila) can be made with a VS Cognac.

Here are some brief tasting notes for examples found in New Mexico retail stores retailing for under $75.


Armagnac3Hennessy VS

The world’s most popular Cognac. Displays the typical profile of nut, oak and vanilla with hints of mixed fruits, berries.

Martell VS

Slightly stemmy nose, nutty mid-palate. Very drinkable and appealing for a VS. Martell is the oldest of the larger Cognac houses and ages its VS for five to seven years instead of the minimum two-and-a-half years.

Camus VS

Aromas and flavors of mixed dried fruits. Very smooth for a VS. This house advertises its family ownership of the house and its vineyards.armagnac1

H by Hine VSOP

More complexity; almost a potpourri of flavors: tobacco, dried plums. Lovely lingering finish.

Courvoisier VSOP

Classic style, finds the middle road, and a nice balance in oak and citrus tang.


A drier style, described as slightly “fiery,” straightforward and powerful. The bottle is distinctive, a pot-bellied flask.

Pierre Ferrand Ambre

The Ambre is positioned in age and price between a VSOP and an XO. Unusually rich for a Cognac, with complex notes of forest leaves and dried apricot.


VS (or 3 Star) Armagnacs have a minimum age for the youngest eau-de-vie of 2 years.

VSOP Armagnacs have a minimum age of 3 years.

XO have a minimum age of 10 years.

The better Armagnacs are often vintage dated, which is very rare for Cognac. Vintage Armagnacs from Sempe and Cerbois can be found in New Mexico on your favorite independent retailer’s shelf.

armagnacChateau du Tariquet VSOP Bas Armagnac

The bottled is labeled “couleur naturelle” and the brandy definitely looks paler. The taste, however is heavier, more full-flavored, with beautiful complexity. Baked orange in the background. The emphasis on bold complexity. (Bas Armagnac refers to a smaller district within Armagnac.)

Chateau du Briat VSOP Bas Armagnac

Made from 100-percent Baco, and perhaps that’s why it’s even bolder, with strong notes of forest leaves, and more savory notes. (A little-known fact is that Armagnac distillation includes wine made from Baco, a hybrid grape; hybrid grapes are not allowed elsewhere in wine production for AOC wines and spirits.)

Laressingle VSOP ArmagnacArmagnacvsop

Again, very dry and savory, more rustic. Less evidence of oak and vanilla. Muted herbal notes with a long finish.

With cold weather here, the perfect digestif after the meal is a glass of Cognac or Armagnac. You can enjoy the fruits and labors of decades of hard work and aged brandy poured into a glass. There is an added advantage, too, since this is the time of year when it’s better to give than receive. I can think of no more thoughtful gift than a bottle of Armagnac or Cognac. This beautiful distillate will keep, too—so you don’t need to finish the bottle once it’s opened, which means there will be plenty of future opportunities to “stay warm” and happy after the Winter feasts…and for those cold, “frightful” days in front of the fire with some good company and a full glass.

Santé, to your health—and “let it snow, let it snow, let it snow…!”

Après Slope

(Story by Melyssa Holik; photos by Liz Lopez)

After an exhilarating day on the slopes, one of life’s sweetest pleasures is to relax with friends over a few adult beverages back at the lodge, ensconced by the warm glow of a fire. Unfortunately, Ski Santa Fe doesn’t have a lodge, exactly, and while the on-hill Totemoff’s Bar is lively and fun, it closes at 4 p.m. What’s a winter sports enthusiast to do?

Don’t worry, we’ve got you covered. Here, we’ve rounded up the best apres-ski spots in Santa Fe, where you can defrost your body and restore your soul. From a funky 1930s inn, to a deeply authentic mezcaleria, to a hyper-local distillery, these locations are ideal for chilling out and warming up.

Photo by Liz Lopez

The place: Secreto Lounge

Behind the bar: Evan Schultz, Bar Manager

Secreto Lounge at Hotel St. Francis made a name for itself as the leader in garden-to-glass craft cocktails back when the movement was just gaining momentum in Santa Fe almost a decade ago. Today, the bar still specializes in classically inspired cocktails crafted with fresh local and seasonal ingredients, and Bar Manager Evan Schultz has picked up where Chris Milligan left off, while bringing a revitalized spirit of playfulness to the Secreto seasonal menu.

There’s no doubt Evan is up to the task—after all, reinvention is what he does best. He’s managed cocktail programs at Pranzo Italian Grill, Agave Lounge at Eldorado Hotel & Spa, Cowgirl BBQ and most recently opened the bar at Meow Wolf. Over the course of his career, he’s created more than 100 cocktail lists in total, and he really likes to innovate cocktails and invent new flavor combinations.

Evan started bartending in Richmond, VA, first at a Cuban bar called Havana 59 and then a  Brazilian restaurant called Dora’s. He spent many of those early years creating labor-intensive muddled cocktails (think Caipirinhas and mojitos), which left a lasting impact on his meticulous bartending style. He’s not afraid of putting in the extra work to create something extraordinary.

“This style of bartending is not for everyone,” he says. “There’s a lot of extra prep, a lot of craft that goes into our cocktails.” Some of it, Evan admits, may seem fussy—even unnecessary—but he explains every choice the bar staff makes is considered. Creating drink components themselves gives them the ability to tweak flavors more precisely. A perfect example is the house-made marmalade they use for Old Fashioneds. “We wanted more Santa Fe flavor, and it just wasn’t available in the marmalade you buy. We wanted more sage, more lavender—those flavors of the Southwest. If you’re really specific about what you’re looking for, you’ve just gotta make it yourself.”

Evan’s an avid snowboarder so he has a very clear idea of what makes Secreto an ideal après-slope bar. “Our current seasonal cocktail menu is fall and winter friendly without being aggressively fall. For example, for our Palabra Dorado, we use turmeric and sumac which are warm, comforting flavors, while still being new and interesting.”

Secreto has a ski lodge feel, too, with dark wood furniture lit by candlelight, small-scale spaces and a quiet atmosphere that won’t test your tired body’s nerves. It currently has myraid whiskey-centric drinks on the menu, and many—like the Alpen Valor—are based on traditional mountain drinks that are meant to be warming. The result is a serene locale that’s relaxing yet invigorating.

Featured Drink: Palabra Dorada

Photo by Liz Lopez

A take on a classic Last Word, the Palabra Dorada starts with high-quality gin, which Secreto infuses with turmeric and sumac for warm fall flavor. True to the classic version, chartreuse and maraschino liqueur provide complex herbal flavor along with the gin. For a seasonal and local twist, the Secreto version is finished with a sprig of rosemary and rosemary olive oil from a local specialty shop, to add a fun, unusual texture and mouthfeel — and the finishing touches look pretty cool, too! Watch Bartender Evan craft this sought-after, après-slope cocktail!

Secreto Lounge is located at 210 Don Gaspar Ave. in Santa Fe, 505.983.5700,

Photo by Liz Lopez

The place: Tonic

Behind the bar: Winston Greene, Owner/Principal Bartender

Tonic stands out in Santa Fe as one of the latest of the late-night spots in town. The entire bar is a single room styled with 1920s and jazz-inspired decor, where punctiliously prepared cocktails transport visitors to earlier days.

Tonic’s name was also carefully chosen for its layers of meaning. Most obviously, it’s a reference to Tonic’s live music and jazz-inspired decor. Tonic’s owner Winston Greene explains, provide the melody and framework for a song. But Tonic also refers to medicinal drinks designed to make you feel better (think Gin and Tonic), and to the French word tonique that describes a small restorative dish intended to improve your health. With that in mind, Winston carefully selected each element, from the color of the walls to the chairs, the music, the level of service and each and every ingredient that goes into a glass. “We wanted everything in the room to have a tonic effect,” he explains. “Bartenders have a special power. No one walks in here with something small.” Whether it’s a celebration, shaking off a difficult day, or replenishing yourself after a day on the slopes, Winston recognizes the importance of each person’s experience. “As bartenders,” he says, “we get to be at this intersection where people can have a better experience moving forward by how we treat them and what we put in their glass. What we do gets to be a tonic.”

Before opening Tonic in 2017, Winston lived in Santa Fe on and off since he was 12. His first bar gig was as a barback at Milagro, where he realized the work suited him. By the age of 23, he was a manager at Rouge Cat, where he learned not only how to make a drink, but also the subtle arts all bartenders must master: how to deal with different personalities, diffuse conflict and avoid overserving. He learned how to create a great experience for each person who walked in the door.

Next, Winston was invited to Hotel Chimayó de Santa Fe to build a cocktail program from scratch. Though he doubled sales in the first year and built the atmosphere that endures today, wanderlust won out and Winston left the Southwest once again. After a two-year stint honing his craft with outstanding bartenders all over New England, he returned to Santa Fe as food and beverage manager for Eloisa and Bar Alto at the Dury Plaza Hotel. In 2017, he struck out on his own and opened Tonic. Today, he applies the same logic and thoughtfulness to spaces and rooms as he does to cocktails. Every aspect of light, the colors of the upholstery, it all becomes the “cocktail” of the room.

Early in the evening, the overall effect is almost soporific. As the hours get late, though, this place gets pretty hopping, especially on the three nights a week they feature live music. Best of all, they never charge a cover. “People should feel free to come in and enjoy the music. It’s another level of comfort people can come in and enjoy something like that,” Winston says.

What makes Tonic ideal for après-slope? As Winston puts it, “If you spend all day on a white, bright hill, exerting yourself, it’s nice to come somewhere that’s naturally calming. We have calm service, a demure color scheme, the music is soft, you can come in and relax.” But Tonic has more to offer than just great atmosphere. “Your palate is heightened when you exert yourself,” Winston says. “Our cocktails are filled with layers of complexity so you get to come in in this heightened state and taste something magic.”

It’s clear Winston takes pride in bartending.“Cocktails are an American invention,” he says. “So as bartenders, we’re stewards of a whole cultural identity.” With that in mind, he’s developed a program that honors cocktail history while riffing on it in new and unusual ways. The drink menu is rooted in the classics, but influenced by local flavors and Winston’s particular attention to detail. “Every ingredient we use, we think, ‘How can we get a better version of this? Can we make it in-house? Can we get a local version?’ And we do that for every single drink,” he says. “We try to make every ingredient count.”

Featured Drink: Bliss Behind Your Eyes

Photo by Liz Lopez

Tonic’s Bliss Behind Your Eyes starts with sotol, a liquor made from an agave varietal foraged in Mesoamerica that Tonic infuses with damiana, dandelion and local wormwood to impart regional flavor into the spirits. They add a homemade cinnamon syrup made with ceylon true (rather than the more mainstream cassia bark) and hopped grapefruit bitters to create a potable tonic that clears your head and lifts your soul. The dandelion has an analgesic effect, and the damiana lowers blood pressure, and of course, the alcohol gets you a little tipsy. It’s soothing, it’s delicious and it’s truly one of a kind.

Tonic is located at 103 E. Water St. in Santa Fe,

Photo by Liz Lopez

The place: The Bar at Sazón

Behind the bar: Amanda Morris, Bar Manager

Sazón is best known as a restaurant, renowned for its mole and sophisticated take on Mexican cuisine. Owner and Chef Fernando Olea is originally from Mexico City, and he showcases Mexico’s Indigenous and culinary traditions with modern, unexpected updates. Chef Fernando’s Mexican heritage shows in the authenticity of Sazón’s incredible collection of Mexican art, including a large mural by Federico Leon De La Vega and the faithful representation of new-world cuisine.

In a small room just inside the restaurant entrance, the bar at Sazón is the perfect place to unwind after coming down from the mountain. The rustic wood interior and cozy fireplace are immediately inviting, and the attentive, welcoming service immediately puts you at ease. The bar at Sazón opens at 4 p.m., right when the lifts close, and has a special menu that is definitely not your standard bar fare. There are plates of meat or fish cooked on a hot stone at your table, a savory corn truffle called huitlacoche, and for the adventurous, there are even grasshopper tacos!

In addition to the incredible food, Sazón identifies itself as a mezcaleria and tequileria, so they specialize in agave-based spirits like tequilas and mezcals. Bar Manager Amanda Morris says, “We offer a lot of things people haven’t tried before, that you can’t find everywhere.” But don’t be intimidated; Sazón offers flights so you can sample and learn, and as Amanda explains, “The staff is very knowledgeable about it and happy to explain the differences between the varieties and the histories behind them. We like taking you on the adventure.”

Beyond flights, they also have mezcal and tequila-based cocktails on the menu. “Mezcal can be intimidating, not everyone is ready to sit down and sip on it straight. So the more ways you can introduce it to people, the better.”

When considering why Sazón is great for après-slope she offers, “This place is real, old Santa Fe. The building is 200 years old, and it’s very atmospheric, which gives it a nice, warm ambiance. There’s a friendly vibe in here, and all types of people come in and just start talking to each other.”

Amanda knows what constitutes original Santa Fe vibes. She grew up here and has worked in the hospitality industry all her life. Amanda herself personifies Santa Fe’s laid-back charm, with her sincerely welcoming nature that makes visitors feel genuinely at home. “I’m a direct person, but still friendly,” she says, with the no-nonsense geniality of a seasoned industry pro. Over the years, Amanda has worked at La Casa Sena, Rio Chama Steakhouse and even as co-owner of Skylight. Throughout her career, she’s seen a wide variety of styles of drinks and different crowds, and has learned the trade thoroughly. “I love the interaction with people, and I love learning about wine and spirits. Both are really fascinating to me. Here at Sazón, we have a really eclectic wine list and an eclectic collection of spirits. There are two aspects to being a bartender: the hospitality aspect, and making drinks. The people you interact with are always the first priority. So I strive to always exceed people’s expectations, with service, with quality and knowledge of product.”

Amanda remembers to put people first, and it shows. Whether you stop in to the bar at Sazón for the interesting food, unusual spirits or impeccable service, you’re likely to find yourself thoroughly enchanted by the experience.

Featured Drink: El Caballero

Photo by Liz Lopez

“Mezcal is exploding in popularity right now, everyone seems to want to do a take on the classics with mezcal,” Amanda says. (Though Sazón’s mezcal cred is pretty high up there.) The Caballero is a take on the Old Fashioned, starts with an añejo mezcal base in place of the bourbon and a splash of vanilla infused syrup instead of plain sugar. Chipotle bitters stand in for the angostura, and the whole thing is muddled with Luxardo cherry and finally, garnished with an orange peel.

Sazón is located at 221 Shelby St. in Santa Fe, 505.983.8604,

Photo by Liz Lopez

The place: La Reina

Behind the bar: Annie Brothers, Bartender

A relative newcomer to the Santa Fe bar scene, La Reina opened in 2018 inside El Rey Court, an original Route 66 hotel that dates all the way back to 1936. Owners Jay and Alison Carroll have stayed true to the inn’s original roots, aiming to evoke the welcoming atmosphere and nostalgia for Route 66 Americana.

The menu at La Reina focuses on mezcal and tequila, which, as Bar Manager Jasper Jackson-Gleich says, “is suited to a New Mexico type of Americana; it feels like this place.” While some may think focusing on one type of spirit is limiting, Jasper sees it as a creative stimulus. “By imposing limits on our menu, and constricting yourself like that, you have to be more creative,” he says. Bartender Annie Brothers agrees, explaining that she loves working at La Reina because “it’s not just making gin and tonics or vodka shots all night. Everyone on the team is really into making these beautiful, creative drinks you can’t find anywhere else. I’ve really learned a lot here.

Indeed, La Reina does have a fantastic collection of agave and mezcal, and they’re used in compelling ways in a variety of winter drinks, all of which can be enjoyed as you cozy up to one of their two beautiful fireplaces.

Annie grew up in Santa Fe and has been working at La Reina since it first opened. She’s currently pursuing her Master’s Degree in social work, and her caring nature shows in her bartending style, too. “I approach it the same way—I listen to what people are looking for, and then find a way to meet that need. All our cocktails are all very different. It’s fun to match a drink with people’s tastes and find a way to introduce that palate to them.”

Because of La Reina’s location inside El Rey Court, the crowd ends up being a mix of Santa Feans and visitors to our city. Annie says, “It’s a cool meeting place between locals and tourists, and I get to watch these beautiful conversations that happen as a result. I like being able to facilitate that.”

There’s always something happening at La Reina. If you’re in the mood for music after your ski or snowboard excursion, they have live music every Wednesday and occasionally other nights of the week. They often host small sets for bands that are playing at larger venues like Meow Wolf. There’s a food truck on Thursday and Saturday, and Thursday is locals night when Santa Fe residents can enjoy a 10-percent discount.

On Saturday, they celebrate “La Reina of the Week.” For this honor, anyone can nominate any woman from the community who they want to celebrate. The selected La Reina of the Week is honored with a signature cocktail for the day, (usually a spin on one of her favorites) and is honored on Saturday at the bar. “La Reina is supportive and inclusive to women,” Annie says of the program. “We have all female bartenders, and that tends to be a male-dominated space. So it’s really cool that we’re able to use the bar to celebrate women everywhere. That’s my favorite night at the bar!”

Featured Drink: La Ultima Palabra

Photo by Liz Lopez

The Ultima Palabra is a mezcal riff on a classic Last Word. Instead of Chartreuse, it uses the lighter and milder Génépi to avoid overpowering the mezcal. The herbal quality of this Italian Alps liqueur is ideal for a winter drink and creates a beautiful celadon color. It’s a Last Word with a smoky mezcal kick.

La Reina is located inside El Rey Court at 1862 Cerrillos Road in Santa Fe,, 505.982.1931.

Photo by Liz Lopez

The place: Santa Fe Spirits

Behind the bar: Anna Barr, Bartender

Santa Fe Spirits is actually not a bar, it’s a tasting room for New Mexico’s preeminent artisanal distillery. Santa Fe Spirits serves only their own locally made spirits, which are created using local ingredients and flavors to capture the essence of the Southwest.

Bartender Anna Barr is a relative newcomer to bartending and to Santa Fe. Originally from Boston, Mass., she moved to The City Different only three years ago and started bartending at Santa Fe Spirits in April of 2018. She’s always loved to play with flavor and texture in cooking, and her curiosity has served her well as she learns the techniques for making a great drink. “I’ve always been fascinated with building something to consume, and using ingredients you may not expect,” she says, adding that she relies on her intuition. “I really have to listen to my gut, and have confidence in the recipes we have.”

While she hasn’t skied in years, Anna relates to the needs of skiers and snowboarders. She notes, “You want to fully unwind after exerting yourself in a sport like that. This is a place you can really do that.” The small tasting room is snug and intimate, and feels more like the front room of someone’s house than a bar. It’s easy to talk to the bartenders and learn about the distillery and their wares.”

In fact, their spirits are a way to continue your experience of Santa Fe, since they use locally harvested ingredients like cactus flower and osha root to create unique terroir in their beverages. “After skiing in the landscape,” Anna says, “you’re still participating in the landscape here, with the mesquite and botanicals we use in our gin or the local apples, there’s a beautiful relationship between the landscape and our spirits.”

The bartenders at Santa Fe Spirits are accommodating and friendly, and if you’re uncertain what to order, you can rely on their help to choose something that will suit you. In addition to classic cocktails, there’s an ever-changing menu of seasonal drinks. The staff is always busy creating something new, testing it and refining it. The whole team works together to develop new drinks and keep the menu fresh. “It’s fun to have this opportunity to spice things up,” Anna says. “Everyone here has similar goals—they want to make a great cocktail, everyone is committed to everyone having a good experience here. It is hard work to be cooperative, but all of us are really committed to that.”

Featured Drink: Spiced Toddy

Photo by Liz Lopez

Anna’s take on a traditional hot toddy is something she created on the spot for a customer, and it was an instant hit. She’s proud of the way it shows her growth as a bartender, and the work she’s put in to learn about complex flavor profiles and how to properly balance a drink. It starts with the expected lemon, ginger and whiskey, but Anna then adds three different types of bitters, fresh orange and nutmeg before topping it with hot water. What could be more quintessentially après-slope than that?

Santa Fe Spirits Downtown Tasting Room is located at 308 Read St. in Santa Fe,, 505.780.5906.