(Story by Phillip de Give)
As of this writing, USA Today is collecting votes to determine the best Wine and Food Festival in the nation, and the Santa Fe Wine & Chile Fiesta is in the running. The excitement and wine-related activity in town is shared by many restaurant owners, retailers and wine aficionados—and with all the luncheons, seminars, field trips and amazing tastings that take place over five days, there will be numerous opportunities to sample and drink new wines.
The best place to start your tasting is with Champagne, and the Nicolas Feuillatte Brut Réserve Blue Label is bright, fresh and crisp. It is perfect with bagels and cream cheese, popcorn or shucked oysters. Another favorite aperitif is a glass of Riesling. This varietal is a true classic making some of the world’s greatest wines. An off-dry version can be a gentle starter for the palate. While Southern New Mexico is famous for an assortment of red Italian varietals grown around Deming, Riesling can thrive in vineyards at higher elevation in the northern part of the state. Mirabal Reserve Riesling, made from grapes sourced at 6,000 feet in Dixon, is brand-new to the market. This wine should pair well with Southeast Asian dishes or milder Hatch green chile.
If you’re looking for wines that go with chile and eclectic cuisine, one should explore wines made from indigenous Mediterranean varietals. Tornatore Etna Bianco from the terrain of Sicily’s famous volcano, and Olianas Vermentino from Sardinia have aromas and flavors reminiscent of herbs, tree fruit and ripe citrus. These wines are fun to pair with vegetable dishes, warm weather fare and surprisingly, slightly aged cheeses.
From Spain, one of Santa Fe’s favorite smaller Rioja wineries will be represented at the Fiesta, Bodegas Ontañon. The Ontañón Tempranillo Blanco is made from a white mutation of the dark-skinned Tempranillo grape. It has been recognized by Rioja’s Regulatory Council and now is a permitted variety in their classification. The wine almost has a cornucopia of flavors reminiscent of white flowers, citrus and pineapple.
Also paring well with those dishes is a classic favorite that is back in style in a big way—Sancerre. The crisp, delicate, but persistent flavors of this 100% Sauvignon Blanc make it a new darling of both wine newcomers and Baby Boomers. Pascal Jolivet Sancerre, imported by Frederick Wildman, is a delightful rendition.
Your search for white and red wines that have not been smitten with oak will be well rewarded if you attend events hosted by importer Kermit Lynch Wine Merchant. They will be introducing wines from Corsica, Sicily and Sardinia, and their exhaustive portfolio of small family estates includes Northern Rhone Syrahs, Corsican Rosé, Bandol and Cassis (the wine, not the liqueur) from Provence, Burgundy and Bordeaux.
This year’s honoree, Tablas Creek Vineyard, will bring the Esprit de Tablas Blanc, a blend of Grenache Blanc, Roussanne and Picpoul. That is a Rhone varietal mix that makes sense in the warmer climes of Paso Robles, making a wine of “excellent concentration…and dramatic perfume.”
If we want to look at classic varietals, we need to include No. 1 in popularity—Chardonnay. The new release of Ferrari Carano Sonoma County 2017 Chardonnay displays all the buttery, apple, cinnamon and pear overtones one could want from a California offering.
For a classic varietal in red wines, don’t miss Pinot Noir, with some lovely domestic examples at the Fiesta. They can show a great spread of flavors from tart red to deep black cherry and great diversity from Oregon to California. Do you like higher acid wines reminiscent of Burgundy? Go to the Willamette Valley and Sokol Blosser Winery. This B Corp (Beneficial Corporation) winery, by definition, takes a responsible look at the impact of their decisions not only on shareholders, but also on employees, customers, the community and the environment. The Sokol Blosser Dundee Hills Estate Pinot Noir 2016 displays a long delicate finish of savory flavors and cherry fruit.
Merry Edwards, the Grande Dame of Russian River Pinot Noir, will be attending the first few days of the event in person. Having recently sold the winery to Louis Roederer Champagne, catching her at the wine dinner at The Anasazi Restaurant may be a rare opportunity. The knowledge and experience that she brings to the table with this varietal in California is amazing. Her Pinot Noirs are rich, bold and full of flavor and would stand up to short ribs, duck breast and many beef dishes. Look for the Merry Edwards Winery Klopp Vineyard Pinot Noir 2016.
For many wine lovers, the reigning king of wines is Cabernet Sauvignon. One of the newest wineries to make it to New Mexico is Notre Vue Estate Winery & Vineyards. The estate spans two world-class growing districts in Sonoma—the Chalk Hill appellation, with its ashy volcanic soils perfectly suited for Bordeaux varietals, and the ancient riverbed of the Russian River appellation, ideal for Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Tasting these wines will be a great illustration of Sonoma’s wine diversity. I’ll be looking for the Notre Vue Bordeaux Blend 2014. Three Bordeaux grapes are grown on the Chalk Hill portion of the estate: Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec and Cabernet Franc. Together in this blend, they produce a dark fruit medley of black currant, blackberry and black cherry.
Finally, consider finishing your tasting of Cabernets with a special focus. A pre-eminent Napa AVA is Stags Leap District. Among the wines sourced and produced from this prestigious AVA are these three Cabernets: Clos du Val Hirondelle Vineyard, Pine Ridge Vineyards Stags Leap District, and Silverado Vineyards Solo all made from Stags Leap District estate fruit providing an enlightening tasting comparison.
For more information about the Santa Fe Wine & Chile Fiesta, visit santafewineandchile.org. The ever-popular Grand Tasting is on Saturday, September 28 from noon to 4 p.m.