Monday, October 6, 2008

2008 New Mexico Wine Festivals: a Review

Taos, July 2008

Another wine festival season is coming to a close in New Mexico and there are good things to report. The first festival, new this year, was held in the village of Corrales just north of Albuquerque. Boasting quilts as well as wine, the Corrales Quilt & Wine Fair was celebrated Mother’s Day weekend. I was there giving wine talks on a host of subjects, some of which I’ll be covering in future blogs.

It was a first for the village, and a first for me to talk about wine without having a glass in my hand – except to demonstrate my world famous swirling technique. Hey, it’s not everybody that can swirl wine in those diminutive festival glasses without spilling a drop! By the end of the day, I was so ready for a glass of wine. Fortunately, my pals at the local wineries were there to provide me with generous pours.

July - Toast of Taos
The Southwest Wine Competition held in Taos in late June is followed by the Toast of Taos the week of July Fourth. The winners of the competition are then featured at the various wine dinners during the festival week. The competition this year included wines from Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Texas. I was privileged to witness the entire judging series.

During the competition the support staff verifies the temperature of each wine, pours tastes into approximately 6 wines of a particular grape, such as Chardonnay, and brings them out to the judges. There were approximately 12 tasters at two tables to judge each flight of wines. Since no labels are on display each wine is judged on its appearance, bouquet, and taste from the initial attack through the mid-palate and on to the finish.

To qualify as a judge you’d need to pass a one year program covering all aspects of wine judging. Sorry to burst your bubble if you were thinking of volunteering for the next one. I interviewed several of the judges as well as attending the wine dinners – Oh, the busy life of a wine writer. Not that I have any complaints, mind you.

The Toast of Taos is in its third year and much of the success is due to the inexhaustible energy of Sally Trigg of Holy Cross hospital. The hospital has sponsored the event since its inception. Sally and her volunteers put their hearts into making it a success and I have no doubt that next year’s Toast will be even better.

Dining and Lodging in Taos
Taos has many fine restaurants including the Trading Post Café just south of Taos. The façade, which does call to mind a trading post, belies the interior, where very well-prepared food fills the rooms with enticing aromas. Most of the Southwestern wines I sampled at the dinners were very well made, and indicate a shift to higher quality as the winemakers better understand the terroir of Southwest AVAs. Many judges commented that they believe the general quality level of the wines offered for judging have noticeably improved. This confirms my own belief that better crafted wines are coming from this part of the country.

If you are planning on attending next year’s Toast, or other wine events in Taos, the Taos Inn ( should be your first choice for where to stay. This historic inn encompasses several outbuildings all interconnected with atriums and courtyards that invite a leisurely stroll. Just off the main entrance is Doc Martin’s Restaurant, named after a much loved country doctor from the 1920-30s and contains several rooms and courtyards to handle any diner’s whimsical choice of atmosphere and food. The wine list, prepared by Craig Dunn, is extensive and imaginatively designed, and more suggestive of the Four Seasons in NYC than a southwestern outpost. The restaurant has won the prestigious Wine Spectator Award of Excellence 20 years in a row, which will come as no surprise once you’ve dined there.

I returned to the Taos Inn for July Fourth weekend, bringing my wife, and we attended an outstanding wine dinner at Bravo!, just south of downtown Taos. The “!” is part of the name, just in case you thought I was being dramatic. The restaurant featured many of the medal winners of the previous month’s competition. Chef-owner Lionel Garnier was on hand to bathe in the applause he evoked whenever he came out to see how the dinner was going. They even provided us with two intriguing dinner guests to converse with and comment over the wine. Sadly, the restaurant closed its doors in August, but the memory of that dinner will remain.

Although I’ve only been to Taos a few times, its stimulating atmosphere always hooks me. This is a place your feet compel you to canvas, even if you’re not a power walker. While I can’t comment on all the fine wines I sampled, I’d like to focus on a few I think deserve your consideration.

Guy Drew Vineyards ( makes very impressive wines, particularly the reds. The 2004 Syrah won a gold medal and best red award from the Southwest Wine Competition. I was in the back room with the support staff while they set up the flights of wine for the judging and one of the helpers said, “You gotta try this Syrah.” This Syrah is one of those obvious must-have wines that you just want to cozy up to in your favorite chair and sip long into a wintry night. This was my first heads-up alert to Colorado wines, but definitely not my last.

I took home a Guy Drew 2004 Meritage and left the half-full bottle (obviously, I’m an optimist) in my wine cellar after using a vacuum sealer, thinking I’d finish it the next day. The next day ended up being a week later. Knowing most of my opened reds don’t last more than a day or two I was sure I’d be using the Meritage as cooking wine. In fact, it was still showing good fruit and most of the flavors were still there! That was a first. Check them out before they realize what a bargain their wines are and raise prices.

The Winery at Holy Cross Abbey ( ) was another gold and silver winner that is producing fine wines. I’m a big fan of Cabernet Franc and their 2006 vintage was well executed with classic Cab Franc flavors. The 2006 Reserve Merlot was also excellent and both were silver medal winners. Still a young winery, it was established in 2002, the numerous medals the winery has already garnered suggest that this is one to watch.

While there are many wine festivals in New Mexico, few can match the location of Taos and the many fine restaurants and lodging landmarks it offers. Put it in your plans for next year, I know I will. Salut!

No comments: