Just as there are two ways to taste wine, vertical and horizontal – that is, by type or vintage – there are two main approaches to touring New Mexico wineries, which makes the state’s extensive tasting map a lot easier to tackle.
As insiders know, our state hides some award-winning gems, thanks to a winemaking legacy dating back to the Spanish friars of the 1600s, and boosted by European vintners who invested in the region in the 1980s. New Mexico now boasts more than 40 wineries producing a startling variety of varietals for all tastes – although local tastes may tend toward the sweet or fruity to match our fiery cuisine.
Sampling all that a particular region has to offer is best accomplished by taking a wine tour – self-guided or commercial – that hits a half dozen wineries or more in a day or weekend.
An alternative way to taste is by soaking up the experience of a particular winery by planting yourself in its terroir and spending a leisurely hour with the winemaker, tasting and discussing technique and philosophy. Many New Mexico wineries, especially boutique properties off the beaten path, surprise casual visitors with their inspired settings, accessible owners and relaxed ambiance. For this kind of tasting, it may be well worth driving an hour out of the way to visit a single vineyard.
Try a festival
For the inclusive approach, Beverly Stolz of the New Mexico Wine & Grape Growers Association suggests trying a commercial operator like New Mexico Wine Tours, which visits northern wineries, or Duke City Tours, which runs customized trips around Albuquerque. You could also put together your own tour, as most wineries welcome tasters whenever they are open.
Festivals are another way to decide which makers merit a closer look. The wine association hosts statewide festivals in both Albuquerque and Las Cruces on Memorial Day and Labor Day. “If you’re here on a holiday weekend and want to sample a large number of wines in one place, that’s where to do it,” Stotz says. Check out nmwine.org for the festival FAQ.
Some communities host their own wine festivals, often paired with food, such as the Santa Fe Wine Festival at El Rancho de las Golondrinas in July, the Santa Fe Wine & Chile Fiesta in September, the Corrales Bike & Wine Tour in April and August, the Art & Wine Festival in Red River in June, and the New Mexico Wine & Cheese Festival at the Railyards in Albuquerque.
For true oenophiles, award-winners are probably the main interest. Wineries that took home medals last year range from the smaller Jaramillo Winery in Belen and Casa Abril in Algodones, to well-established Luna Rossa and St. Clair in Deming and Gruet in Albuquerque, to Black Mesa and La Chiripada on the “Low Road” between Santa Fe and Taos.
While some of these wineries are off the beaten path, the settings are often beautiful and the winemakers leisurely and welcoming. Visitors to such isolated wineries as Jaramillo in Belen, La Chiripada and Vivac in the Embudo Valley, and Wines of the San Juan near Farmington report on Tripadvisor being happily surprised to have spent a relaxing hour talking with proprietors and tasting wines, chocolates and handmade cheeses.
Boutique wineries are often run by highly motivated, second-career vintners who are living their passion and make wines only a few hundred cases at a time, instead of tens of thousands. “There’s a lot more intimacy because the winemaker is there, you can ask questions and look at the vineyards and bottling room,” says Al Knight, owner of Acequia Winery in Corrales, who pours for visitors himself. “Bigger wineries just hire people to serve you wine who are not as knowledgeable.”
Corrales and the surrounding area may offer the best of both worlds, as the region has a half dozen small wineries within a few miles, officially known as the Corrales Wine Loop and open Wednesday to Sunday year round. Extend your tour south along the Rio Grande, and you can take in the Old World setting of Casa Rondeña in Albuquerque’s North Valley and the bistro (with pet-friendly patio) of the state’s largest winery, St. Clair, by Old Town.
A third way to sample wine in New Mexico is by popping into a location on your itinerary that also sells gifts to take home. A number of wineries moonlight as cheese makers, chocolate houses, purveyors of artisan condiments, and (especially in summer) a setting for concerts, “paint & sip” art nights, and food-and-wine dinners.
Popular in this category are Pecos Flavor Winery in downtown Roswell, Estrella del Norte Vineyards just north of Santa Fe, Black Mesa Winery between Santa Fe and Taos, Noisy Water Winery in Ruidoso, and Luna Rossa Winery in Deming and Mesilla, as well as the venerable St. Clair.
A surprising number of wineries in New Mexico are open for tasting every day, though some do charge a nominal fee. The wine growers association has a clickable map of its 40-plus members at nmwine.org, with a reminder that when it comes to making wine, New Mexico was the first in the nation.