Yes, they make wine in New Mexico. Continuing our "They Make Wine There?" series after this summer's feature on Texas wine, we bring you the finest New Mexico has to offer. I'm not talking about Alamogordo, of nuclear test fame, or Roswell, home of Area 51 either. My wine horizons have certainly been broadened through the crack investigative reporting of The Oregon Wine Blog Special Correspondent Chris Heuchert, and I hope yours are too.
This shit got real a few weeks ago when Chris was driving on a rural highway near Santa Fe heading back to his rustic mountain getaway. Between the rumbling of his stomach from hunger, the blazing sun, a mild headache, it appeared on the side of the road as if a desert oasis: the Estrella Del Norte Vineyard. Wait, what? New Mexico, right? He had to stop and see what this foolishness was all about.
It was true, there was wine inside the quant stucco southwestern style building. And a nice lady who made Chris and his posse feel quite welcome throughout the wine tasting experience. They tasted 6 reds in short order, sharing the experience with a quite engaging staff who clearly knew a lot about the wine. After tasting through the big reds one might expect from a dry, high-heat region like New Mexico, Chris saw something on the menu that literally turned his world upside down: Pinot Noir. But Josh, you ask, isn't Pinot Noir rather a fickle varietal? One that likes a cooler, moist climate? Why yes, it is, thanks for asking. You can understand Chris' surprise to find it in the middle of one of the most extreme climates in the US. Unfortunately, there wasn't a bottle open for him to try to compare to the love of our lives, Oregon Pinot. Chris was so intrigued by the experience, he took the red pill and was a member of the wine club when he got back in the car. Fast forward two weeks, you'll find a case of wine from New Mexico delivered to his apartment, and an enterprising Managing Editor of The Oregon Wine Blog on the couch ready to see what Estrella Del Norte is all about.
As an aside, did you know that New Mexico is the oldest wine growing region in the United States? The first grape vines were brought to Senecu, a Piro Indian pueblo, in 1629 by a Franciscan and a Monk. No, this isn't a variation of a "Franciscan and a Monk walked in to a bar..." joke. By 1880, there were 3150 acres of grapevines in the state, and by 1884 New Mexico was producing almost a million gallons of wine per year. Currently, New Mexico boast 42 operating wineries and tasting rooms.
To kick off my New Mexican experience, Chris popped open a bottle of the 2007 Estrella Del Norte Cabernet Sauvignon, one of my favorite varietals. Not quite knowing what to expect, I gingerly swirled the wine in my glass and took a big old sniff. I immediately detected notes of....booze. Once I got past the boozy features on the nose, I found a rather pleasant cacophony of dark red fruit. Upon taking the coveted sip, we detected an immediate heat related to the boozy nose, with an otherwise rather mild and dry profile laced with dark fruit and a peppery finish. The winery describes it like a "starry Northern New Mexico evening", and while I'm not sure I agree with that, I can definitely attest that it was better than expected. I'll be the first to admit that my palate has been shaped around Eastern Washington cabs, hard to beat, I know. All things considered, "better than expected" is a glowing endorsement for a non-Washington offering.
So, there you have it. We brought you Texas. We brought you New Mexico. What's next in the "They Make Wine There?" series? You're just going to have to wait to find out, because frankly, I don't know yet. Any suggestions?