2013 Southern New Mexico Wine Fest – Part 1, or Quenching My Thirst at the Wine Fest

Wow, what a day!! Mike and I had a great time at the wine fest today. The heat was quickly forgotten once we stopped for our first tasting. In just five hours we managed to partake in 12 wine tents and 8 food tents, so it’s not like we had time to dwell on the heat anyway! By the end of the day I had quite the stack of tasting notes, not to mention half a case of wine and some amazing goat cheese (more on that in Part 2!) Meanwhile, Mike played the roll of Food Taylor Made promoter – passing out my freshly printed business cards and talking up my new blog. Needless to say, we made quite a few friends today. =)

I can’t wait any longer to tell you all about it so I’ll just jump right in! I’ve rated each, and before you ask, yes, they’re all rated at least 6/10.  Each tent had such a wide range of wines to taste, that we didn’t ever walk away without finding something one of us liked.

First, a note on our wine preferences to help you gauge whether you’d agree with our ratings. Both of us enjoy a pretty broad range of reds and whites, although Mike tends to favor dry reds (yes, even those that “suck the spit out of your mouth”, as one of the wine guides so aptly described!) with a spicy finish. I, on the other hand, am all about the mouth feel. I enjoy buttery, oaked chardonnays and rich merlots with hints of plum and berry. We both appreciate a good port!

12pm – Amaro 7 / 10 from

Between the two of us we tried six different wines here. Unfortunately, since this was our first stop of the day, I didn’t take a lot of notes. (I’m sorry, Amaro!!)

(+) We both enjoyed the wines here, even though we can’t remember everything we tasted. The Chenin Blanc was light and crisp and we both liked the Cruces Sunrise (see below).
(-) I wish their info sheet included tasting notes like those of the other wineries.
(*) We came home with a bottle of the Cruces Sunrise, a rosé with a touch of sweetness. It’s one we could both agree on since it was neither too dry nor too sweet.

12:15pm – St. Clair9 / 10 from

These guys were everywhere! There were at least two St. Clair tents, but they also had tents under the names D.H. Lescombes (VIP with food pairing!), Vino de los Muertos, Soleil Mimosa, and Wine Slushies (okay, I know that’s not a name, but that’s literally what the tent was called!)

(+) They definitely have something for everyone and there wasn’t much we tasted that we didn’t like. Malvasia Bianca (balanced, not sickly sweet, rich dessert wine with tropical fruit notes), Gewurztraminer, Mimbres Red (sweet red), Nebbiolo (good balance between semi-dry and semi-sweet), Cab-Zin (mild tannins), Port (touch of brandy, aged 10 years, awesome bottle)
(-) There’s really not anything bad I can say about St. Clair. Their Merlot wasn’t as full as I like but that’s not to say it was bad.
(*) We bought a bottle of their Chardonnay to give to a friend for her birthday. I’m actually wishing I’d picked up a bottle for myself, so we may have to stop by their tasting room tomorrow. 😉 It’s very soft and slightly sweet with a nice buttery finish. Mmmm…

12:30 – D.H. Lescombes7 / 10 from

This was the St. Clair VIP tent ($10 for 8 tastings with food pairings and a specialty glass).  These wines were limited release and pricier than any of the other wines we tasted throughout the day.  Ceci guided us through our pairings and while she was only on hand for the festival, she’s a fan of the wines: “You can post the truth – that’s how much faith I have in these wines.”

(+) It was great to great to get out of the heat and have a snack. Petit Verdot (round finish, currant, spice, mushroom), Rendezvous (peppery smoke, subtle spice), Renaissance (juicy spice, velvety, smooth)
(-) While I do appreciate the challenge that comes with having prepared food pairing plates at such a large festival, the plates were still a little  dry.  Also, although we did enjoy a few of the wines, I think this is a good example of how price isn’t an indicator of taste.  We didn’t have any trouble leaving the festival without purchasing any of these wines.  That’s not to say, though, that we didn’t end up with a couple of bottles after visiting the tasting room and bistro the next day.

12:50 – Wine Slushy9 / 10 from

Mmm…Summer Peach!  That is all. =)

12:55 – Vino de los Muertos8 / 10 from

Yet another St. Clair tent.  Erin was our pourer and we had a lot of fun talking about the wines with her.  There was no limit on the number of tastes we could have, so we really appreciated her taking her time with us – we didn’t feel rushed at all.

(+) Lime-A-Rita (definitely not your typical find at a winery, tasty, sweet, very light), Pomegranate (nice balance between sweet and tart), Rojo Dulce and White Merlot (both have a nice spicy-sweet quality, but the White Merlot was actually less sweet than the Rojo), Hatch Green and Chimayo Red Chile Wine (okay, I know this sounds weird, and the fact that you can smell the chile doesn’t make it less so, but they actually tasted pretty good! Both had a mild sweetness, but they both had their own distinct flavor.  A definite must try!)
(-) Triple Berri had an interesting flavor but was too sweet for our liking.
(*) We picked up two bottle of the Red Chile wine, mostly because the flavor was so unique that we couldn’t pass it up.  One bottle will grace our own table, while the other one I’ll be sharing with my department at (well, after) work.

1:10pm – Luna Rossa7 / 10 from

This is not a St. Clair tent (imagine that!)  One thing I was very excited to learn from our wine guide Prestine is that the owners, Paolo and Sylvia, are actually from Italy!  So of course they focus on a number of Italian varietals, and (even better) their tasting room is paired with a genuine pizzeria.  We actually stopped by on Sunday – reviews to be posted later.  The highlight of this tent was definitely getting to meet Paolo himself.  He was nice enough to pose for a picture with me and was all to happy to hear about how much we enjoyed his wines.

(+) Chenin Blanc (mildly sweet, buttery, tropical fruit, slightly dry finish), Shiraz (behind the scenes touch of sweetness, not too in your face), Refosco (very dry – too dry for me, but Mike liked it), Gewurztraminer (super tasty, mild tannins that help balance the sweetness)
(-) Merlot (didn’t have the full-bodied mouth feel that I like in my merlots), Sangria (too sweet, reminded us of a grape otter pop), Chardonnay (again, not as full and oaky as I like)
(*) Our purchase here was the Chenin Blanc.  I’m looking forward to pairing it with a nice light and summery chicken dish.

1:30pm – Dos Viejos7 / 10 from

In general, Dos Viejos was okay, but didn’t hit the top of my list.  The best part about this tent was our pourer, Joey.  He was such a pleasure to talk to – he really knows his wine and is an amateur wine maker himself.

(+) Merlot (medium, dry, hints of berry, actually reminded me a lot of a nice sharp parmesan), Wild Hare (as Joey called it, this is the “poor man’s port” (since it’s not fortified) with a bit of “sweet and heat”, nicely complex), Cinco (a blend of five whites that would pair nicely with blue cheese or fettuccine alfredo), Valienté (a sweet, port style red with surprising complexity)
(-) IMO, the Cab-Merlot and Red Zin were too dry and peppery for my tastes, but Mike enjoyed them, Symphony (too sugary sweet).

2:15pm – Cottonwood7 / 10 from

Another great pourer (where do they find these guys?!), this one known as “Pop”.  We didn’t taste as many wines here, and likes vs. dislikes were pretty evenly split.

(+) Cab (not too dry for a Cab, mild spice, Mike really liked this one), Merlot (Pop said they’ve been lacking in Merlot grapes, which explains why it wasn’t very full-bodied, but the flavor was good), Lipizzaner (crisp, sweet white with pineapple and apple notes)
(-) Jack Ass (No really, that’s what it’s called. Pop said it competes for their best seller, but it was too sweet for our liking – sweet and vanilla like a sugar cookie), Bulldog (strong mango and tropical fruit notes, sweet with a slightly dry finish).

2:45pm – Rio Grande7 / 10 from

Rio Grande was offering sangria in addition to several wines, so of course we had to pull double duty here.  Peach sangria in hand, we made our way down to the other end of the tent where Paul was glad to help us.

(+) Queue Tendre (mildly spicy, oaky white with a surprising hint of sweet), Grenache (light on the tannins, smooth finish with hints of berry and plum), Cab (dry, oaky, mild pepper finish)
(-) There weren’t any wines that we didn’t like, but nothing really stood out as a “wow”.  Of course it’s possible that our palates were a little numb at this point – after all, we’d already visited eight wine tents!

3:00pm – D.H. Lescombes8 / 10 from

That’s right – another St. Clair tent!  This one was the non-VIP version of their D.H. Lescombes line (which didn’t make the wines any less delicious!)  We lucked out with the pourer once again (maybe they were all great?), this time with a cool guy named Kevin.

(+) Chenin Blanc (one of the few we saw at the festival, fruity, light, crisp), Cab (smooth, dark berry and leather), Royal Kir (one of the few sparkling wines we tried, nice currant finish, mmm…), Ratafia (one of my very favorites, sweet but not overtly so, earlier in the day Erin said this is amazing poured over ice cream and grilled peaches)
(-) Chardonnay (drier than I like my chardonnays and not as oaky as I like, tart, pear and apple), Pinot Noir (again, one of the few we saw; I’ve found pinots that I really like, but this was pretty peppery with strong tannins), Port (shocking! I usually love ports, but this had a strong espresso finish that just wasn’t very pleasant)

3:30pm – Soleil Mimosa7 / 10 from

This line is another interesting offering from St. Clair. It’s essentially a mimosa in a bottle and it comes in four varieties.  We tried the pomegranate and the mango.  Both were very refreshing, which was much appreciated since we’d come face-to-face with the hottest part of the day.  My recommendation would be the pomegranate – the tartness really balances the sweet of the orange.  Mango was just a tad too sweet.

3:40pm – Ponderosa Valley6 / 10 from

Our last tent of the day, which would explain why it’s hard to remember a lot of specifics.  I do remember that the pourer wasn’t particularly chatty, which kind of took away from the experience.  I know most of the wineries hire people specifically to help with festivals – they aren’t core staff – but considering how great the pourers were at the other tents, this one really stood out.

(+) Jemez Red (Mike and I both liked this one since it was somewhat dry, but had a smooth finish; blend of Baco Noir, Ruby Cab & Nebbiolo), Redondo Red (semi-sweet with a dry finish, blend of Ruby Cab, Leon Mellot, Baco & Pino Noir), Chamisa Gold (delicious and refreshing, the kind of sweet that would balance well with some of that famous Hatch green chile)
(-) Tempranillo (dry, very hefty, strong tannins)

Overall, we really enjoyed getting to try soooo many wines all in one place.  This is my first festival of this size, so I’m not sure if we just lucked out with all the great pourers, or if that’s pretty typical.  Nothing can replace the chance to talk to the actually vintner (or even a member of the family), but I did enjoy getting the perspective of people who are a little more removed from the process.

We were there from noon to 5, but we weren’t drinking wine the whole time!  There were a number of food booths that really helped punctuate each tasting.  Stay tuned to Part 2 and I’ll fill you in on all the dips, nuts, oils, and goat cheese (yum!!)

I LOVE to cook, bake, and entertain for friends and family for two reasons: 1) I LOOOOOOVE food!! 2) I am a people-pleaser. I get my joy and warm, fuzzy feelings by making others feel loved and taken care of. What better way to do that than with a delicious, home-cooked meal?!

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