We have lots of experience with California wines but really didn’t know much about New Mexico wines; however, we were pleasantly surprised. We learned that New Mexico’s high desert climate is ideal for producing many wines (such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Reisling, Merlot and Pinot Noir) with its hot days, cool nights and sandy soil. At the high elevation of the wineries we visited (5000 to 6000 feet), cold weather is the biggest threat to developing grapes.
We learned along the way that wine was introduced to New Mexico by Spaniards in 1598 with the first grapevines being planted in 1629. By 1800, wine was one of the top three exports from New Mexico, but in 1943 the Rio Grande flooded, destroying the wine industry which eventually recovered in the 1980s. Now there are over 43 wineries in New Mexico. More than 900 acres are planted with vines that produce 700,000 gallons of wine annually.
Of course, first we had to try refreshing margaritas as a nice break from wine. The menu is extensive and offers an enticing range of traditional and unique dishes so our biggest challenge of the day was deciding what to order. We thoroughly enjoyed our lunch of Spicy Green Chili Stew and Fajitas al Estilo Chimayou—marinated steak topped with grilled onions and bell peppers, served with pico de gallo, guacamole, beans and warm flour tortillas. Rancho de Chimayó Restaurante is located on Santa Fe County Rd. 98 on the famous “High Road to Taos.” Next to the restaurant is a hacienda with seven adobe-style guest rooms.
The winding, mountainous road back to Taos was dramatic and provided the perfect, inspiring backdrop to our day’s adventures in the New Mexico wine country.
photos courtesy of Todd Montgomery