Go Native!

“Want something new and different? Bored with the same old? Go Native. Europe has a huge representation of indigenous grapes––read “native”––and more and more wines made from these grapes are finding their way to New Mexico.”

So you know a Cabernet is going to be perfect with ribeye or roast beef, but the beef for tonight’s meal is a marinated flank steak. Or the salmon you have planned is poached and served cool with capers, so the Willamette Pinot Noir you would normally have with grilled salmon is going to overwhelm your delicate preparation. Want something new and different? Bored with the same old? Go Native. Europe has a huge representation of indigenous grapes––read “native”––and more and more wines made from these grapes are finding their way to New Mexico. They may be single varietals or multi-grape blends. The wine press will often refer to varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir as “international varieties.” They are used to make wines all over Europe and the New World, sometimes in areas that make you scratch your head for the incongruity. But Europe, especially Spain, Portugal, France and Italy all have local specialties in cuisine and wine. The wine lover is always looking for the new and different, the crazy and esoteric. New Mexico restaurants are starting to embrace these wines and specialty wine shops are stocking them on their shelves. Here are some especially unusual examples of wines in that category to be found locally, some of them arriving this spring. Continue reading

Eloisa Hosts Ontañón

Wine Dinner at Eloisa

When a restaurant announces a wine dinner, there’s an air of expectancy that food, wine and presentation will exceed business as usual, that exemplary skills and talents of a troupe of chefs, sommeliers, wineries, their representatives and dining room staffs will harmoniously assemble for one dazzling evening. Otherwise, why bother? Local Flavor chronicled the who-what-when-where-why-how of organizing one such wine dinner at Eloisa.

It began on a commonly beautiful late September day during the 2015 Santa Fe Wine and Chile Fiesta. Cole Donald Sisson was in town as the US brand ambassador for Bodega Ontañón in Rioja, Spain. The winery is run by the 5th generation—four siblings—who come from a long line of farmers and only began exporting to the US four years ago. Even more recently, their product is to be distributed by Southern Wine and Spirits (“SWS”) in New Mexico. Before working for the winery, Cole ran the wine program for Michael Mina at the Bellagio in Las Vegas. That’s young sommelier heaven. At 34, Cole’s now part of a small import team based in Seattle, Wash.

Damon Lobato had just started as general manager and wine director for Eloisa, a stylish restaurant and bar opened by Chef John Sedlar earlier that year in a ground floor space of the Drury Plaza Hotel in downtown Santa Fe. The hotel had only begun receiving guests the previous summer after massive renovations to the historic St. Vincent Hospital. Damon, who keeps his black hair parted and wears a suit with old-world panache befitting one who once rode the rails of the Orient Express as a wine captain, was looking for a winery to do the first wine dinner in the new restaurant, when he met Cole at Wine and Chile. It was an ideal convergence of fresh starts. Continue reading

Taos Winter Wine Festival

TaosWinterWineFestWhy care? I mean, about anything, really, but…wine? I expect you to care about…wine? Really? When Beirut/Paris/Syria are rent by darkness, when Monsanto hijacks our grocery shelves and armed rightists visit slaughter upon caregivers, it’s hard to get it up for carbonic maceration. I understand. And yet…Wine—specifically the drinking of wine in a social milieu—pushes back against the darkness. Human conviviality offers respite. And something as silly as wine makes the world, and our place in it, briefly better. It’s worth bothering about.

Here’s an easy way to bother about wine—and maybe recover a little well-being—in Taos during the last weekend in January. The Town of Taos and the Village of Taos Ski Valley host a four-day wine event from Thursday, January 27 through Sunday, January 31. El Monte Sagrado is the in-town venue, hosting the Reserve Tasting (Thursday, Jan. 27) and half of the weekend’s seminars; TSV puts their Resort Center (at the base of Chair 1) to use as the site for the Grand Tasting (Saturday, Jan. 30) and for the balance of the seminars. The seminars are where it’s at for the geeky set; Bacchic irregulars can practice their rites at either of the big events. Serious wineries abound, too, with about 40 first-rank producers slipping into town to ski Taos and drink with Taoseños.

Start on Thursday evening (4:30 p.m.) at the Reserve Tasting and over-bid on the silent auction in order to support Taos High’s very sharp culinary arts program, The Great Chefs of Taos. Run by Mary Spears and Benjie Apodaca, the Great Chefs program has a handsome test-kitchen inside the high school that allows freshmen through seniors to earn credits while gaining basic-through-advanced culinary skills, impeccable sanitation practices and extern experience at large and small off-site events. A significant portion of their annual budget flows from fundraisers like this silent auction, so over-bid. And over-indulge: Taos restaurants bring appetizers and jostle three-dozen wineries bearing reserve-only bottlings. (Tickets: $75 and worth every penny.)

Seminars! Not strictly or solely for nerds and geeks, the five seminars offered this year span the globe and forge an intimate connection with some of the most committed and talented winemakers out there. Continue reading

Big Cabs for the Holidays

As of writing this story, we have already seen at least one day “when the weather outside is frightful.” In December, we spend time in front of the fireplace; the carnivores among us include more beef in our cuisine; and holiday get-togethers and gift-giving spur us on to spend more money on wine. The one wine that fills the holiday needs, cuisine and weather better than any other is Napa Valley Cabernet.

Napa is king of Cabernet Sauvignon. Yes, Sonoma has some lovely Cabernets, and Paso Robles is displaying its improving quality with each new vintage. But Napa is so identified with this varietal that when we discuss vintages for the Valley, we are talking predominately about Cabernet Sauvignon. This is a golden time to buy Napa Cabernets because of the four vintages currently available. Of course, New Mexico provides its own unique retail situation but before we look at what is available here, let’s first summarize the qualities of the vintages from 2010 to 2014 that makes this such an amazing time for Napa Cabs.

Every compendium of California wine will tell you that vintages matter as much in Napa as they do in Bordeaux. 2010 and 2011 were both cool vintages, in fact cooler than any of the vintages since, producing wines leaner than 2012, ’13 or ’14. A typical good vintage has a unique combination of dense but elegant black currant fruit with classic structural core, longevity and freshness. The cool temperatures for the 2010 vintages seemed to work more in that vintage’s favor, since the longer, cooler growing season often made wines with great finesse, and the harvest was not marked by rain. Also, 2010 Cabernets are drinking well now because the extra years of bottle age benefit any Napa Cabernet.

In 2011, however, we saw rain falling at harvest, and the vintage is politely described as “variable.” Cabernet Sauvignon is a late-ripening grape, and rain at harvest will challenge the grower and winemaker in deciding when to pick (although some winemakers were able to avoid picking while it rained). The newcomer to wine might describe the wine as drier, noticing the higher acidity, lower fruit component and lighter body. Occasionally, a 2011 wine will be excellent, even outstanding, especially for drinkers who prefer that style.

For the next three vintages, however, the weather changed considerably: 2012, 2013 and 2014 are described as drought vintages and are almost universally acclaimed. These wines are warm and “showy,” displaying greater extract: deep, bright color, full-on nose, higher alcohol levels. For some reviewers, the standout vintage of the group is probably 2013, but all three will have wines worth buying.

The second consideration for Napa Valley Cabernets is provenance—where, specifically, are the grapes grown in the valley? There are 16 sub-appellations (or American Viticultural Areas, as they are legally called) in Napa, each one with its own special soil and weather patterns. Orientation to the sun, proximity to San Pablo Bay and its fog, wind and precipitation all play their part. Carneros Cabernets are rare because it is so cool. Calistoga, at the opposite, northern end of the valley is the warmest region, since it is farthest from the Bay and consequently has more powerful wines. A somewhat general distinction can also be made between mountain and valley fruit. For example, Rutherford, Oakville and St. Helena have a softer more “inviting” style than the AVA’s of Spring Mountain, Mt. Veeder and Diamond Mountain District. Taking into consideration all these factors and what is available in New Mexico, here is a list of some exceptional choices. Retail prices may vary.

$20-$30

Ca’ Momi Cabernet Sauvignon Napa 2013—approachable without sacrificing Napa character

$30-$40

Billhook Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley 2012—more reticent, but lovely structure

$40-$60

Keenan Spring Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon Napa 2011—a standout exception to the vintage 

Frog’s Leap Rutherford 2013—brand new release; delicious typical Rutherford Cabernet, but more subtle, almost Bordeaux-like

Pine Ridge Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2013—even more successful than their delicious, complex 2012

$60-$100

Terlato Wines Rutherford Cabernet Sauvignon 2010—aging beautifully with classic “Rutherford Dust” character

Clos du Val Stags Leap District Cabernet Sauvignon 2010—Bordeaux-like style with the “iron fist in velvet glove” typical of Stags Leap District

Dyer Spring Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon 2012—a nose of cedar and bright-red fruits with complex subtlety; a perfect example of the appellation

$100-$180 Retail

Odette Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley Estate 2012—very limited, amazing Stags Leap District character

Dominus Estate 2011—the owner of the estate is from Bordeaux and has experience with rainy vintages. Described by Wine and Spirits Magazine as “proof that a challenge met can create something sublime.”

Diamond Creek Diamond Mountain District Gravelly Meadow Cabernet Sauvignon 2010— this wine is still young but meticulous care in the vineyards has produced an elegant Napa mountain-vineyard wine

Finally, we must remind ourselves that Cabernet ages well. The wines lose their expansive fruit but become softer, and gain “vinosity” and aroma. Vinosity is often described as all the flavors fine red wine gains that are not related to fruit—the flavors of tea, tobacco, cedar and earth. Delayed gratification is beautifully rewarded with expensive Cabernets, as I was reminded while drinking a 2001 Dunn Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon with friends last week. One can find older examples, on a limited basis, of single-vineyard wines from Heitz Cellar in the New Mexico market, and your favorite retailer probably has some other gems tucked away—or at least has access to some. But more importantly, any of the wines listed above in the $40-plus range easily have a five-year—sometimes as much as a ten-year,—life span. As they age, the wines grow in complexity and depth and can amaze you with their developed character. Buy a bottle or two as a gift to put away for yourself. Just store your purchased wines in the dark, at a constant cool temperature—55 degrees is ideal—and your investment will be repaid handsomely.

Story by Philip de Give

New Mexico’s Artisanal Hard Ciders

 

NM-CiderEach fall, my thoughts return to the apple orchards and cider presses of my childhood. The first hints of a chill in the air, crisp as a freshly picked apple, takes me right back to leaves crunching underfoot and warming my hands on a mug of hot cider.

So imagine my delight, then, at the soaring popularity of hard ciders in recent years, which let my adult self get in on the action and celebrate autumn in grown-up style. Even more exciting, over the past three months, local New Mexico ciders have become increasingly available at local breweries. This is due in large part to SB 440, commonly called the reciprocity law that went into effect on July 1. The new law allows local breweries to sell local wines (not just beers), and vice-versa. It’s had a hugely positive impact on local cider businesses, since ciders are considered wine under state law. It’s also a boon for the cider-drinking consumer, who can now enjoy a glass of the charismatic elixir with their beer-drinking friends.

New Mexico cideries are about more than making delicious beverages, though. The real mission behind these cideries is a fundamental commitment to strengthening our agriculture, our economy and our culture.

For centuries, apples have been an integral part of our state’s history. In the past, New Mexico orchards were full of heirloom apple varieties brought over from Spain. In fact, a survey conducted by the Manzano Forest Reserve in 1926 identified a tree that’s believed to have been planted by Franciscan friars before 1676, making New Mexico home to the oldest apple orchard in the United States! Continue reading

I Heard it on the Grapevine

plumpjack_17September marks the most important milestone of the year (in the northern hemisphere) for winemakers, grape growers, oenophiles and anyone else whose career or pleasure depends on vitis vinifera—harvest. The previous season’s pursuits hang in golden and purple clusters on rows of vines from California to France. Workers pick tons upon tons of grapes and winemakers endure sleepless nights monitoring the progress of fermenting juice. But for those lucky enough to live in Santa Fe, September promises a week full of great food, wine and general revelry with the annual Santa Fe Wine & Chile Fiesta. With over 150 participating wineries, importers and distributors (not to mention the incredible lineup of local restaurants), and the celebration of the event’s 25th year, 2015 is shaping up to be one of the best Fiestas yet. This year’s participating wineries have a lot to report since last year’s festivities, including a slew of awards, new winemakers, the introduction of new wines and even a marriage or two.

Silver Oak Cellars, SFWC’s Honoree of the Year, acquired full ownership of a Missouri-based cooperage producing American oak barrels. Founded in 1972 by Raymond T. Duncan and Justin Meyer, Silver Oak makes two Cabernets—one from Napa Valley and the other from Alexander Valley in Sonoma County. New winemaker Nate Weis (formerly of Antica Napa Valley) will have the opportunity not only to hand-select grapes, but to hand-select staves for the barrels in which his wines will age. Talk about quality control!

CADE, perched high up on Howell Mountain in Napa Valley, was created in 2005 by the founders of Plumpjack Winery as a compliment to that label’s valley-floor wines. CADE had reason to celebrate this year, as winemaker Danielle Cyrot released the first wines she nurtured all the way from vine to bottle. A graduate of UC Davis, Cyrot has worked harvests at Schramsberg and Artesa Vineyards in Napa and has worked for wineries in Alsace, France and South Australia. Danielle will continue to lead CADE in its commitment to sustainability—the winery was the first Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design Gold Certified in the Napa Valley. Continue reading