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

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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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

In the Midnight Hours…

Nightlife-MeowWolfe-LK_MG_8232Santa Fe is notoriously known as a sleepy little town, lacking in options for late-night revelry. “They roll up the sidewalks at nine p.m.,” the joke goes. But Santa Fe is shaking off that reputation with plenty of places to shake it on the dance floor, belt out karaoke or take in a show. Believe me, there are places to have fun into the wee hours of the morning, if you know where to look.

Visitors and recent transplants to Santa Fe, here are some ideas on how to spend your midnight hours in our not-so-sleepy town!

Uniquely Santa Fe

Among the state’s most-instagrammed locations, Meow Wolf’s House of Eternal Return has been called a combination of children’s museum, art gallery, jungle gym and fantasy novel, but that doesn’t really capture it. It’s really something you have to see for yourself––it is truly indescribable and highly regarded as a must-see for any visitor. But here’s something you may not know about the wildly creative art installation: At night, it transforms from a child-friendly playground into a psychedelic—and much more grownup—concert venue. Meow Wolf stays open late when there’s music, sometimes as late as 2 a.m., depending on the show. You can delight in the elaborate House of Eternal Return and enjoy the current band or DJ—all sans the rug rats.

Meow Wolf: hours vary during shows; 1352 Rufina Circle, 505.395.6369,

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Cava-dreamstime_m_3777248There are many wines that make an excellent start to the meal as an aperitif.  Your wine aficionado may want to drink Champagne, but there is a good alternative that’s less expensive, especially at this time of year. When we eat outdoors, we focus on appetizers or small plates, and eat lighter foods. This is typical of the lifestyle in Spain, where they drink Cava.

Cava is a sparkling wine from Northeast Spain that has come full circle in the wine consumer’s appreciation. It was very much in fashion 20 years ago, but fell out of favor when locally produced sparkling wines, Prosecco and French Crémant, displaced it in the market. Prosecco has become especially popular, but to understand Cava it is best to describe how it differs from that Italian bubbly, and to look at the production methods of both wines.

There are seven generally recognized methods for making sparkling wines, but the two most popular methods are Champagne and Charmat (also known as “cuve close,” or Tank). Cava is produced by the Champagne method. The words Metodo Clasico or Metodo Tradicional will be found on the label of Cava as a legal reference to that method. The term “Champagne method” is not allowed on a bottle of Cava since Spain is part of the European Union, and it respects that legally protected appellation of France. So what is this special method that applies to Cava and Champagne? And how does it affect the taste of the wine? Continue reading