Land of Enchantment – The Wines

After meeting with grape grower and educator David Salazar (read the previous article) we went to taste wines. First stop was the Rio Embudo Valley, just south of Taos, where Vivac and La Chiripada are found. Rio Embudo is a fertile, agricultural valley; a little scruffy, but full of earthy charm.

La Chiripada

We’ve been drinking wines from La Chiripada for two years. They make a vast assortment of wines (17 as of our last visit), some from grapes grown sustainably in their valley and some from conventional grapes grown near Denning, a town in southern New Mexico that seems to supply most of the wineries. Naturally, we tasted the wines made from their own vineyard.

The Rio Embudo Reds 2005, regular and reserve, were our favorites. The reserve ($20) is soft, full and supple, with complex layers of berries, mostly cherry. Made from a blend of Leon Millot, De Chaunac and Foch, it sits for a while on oak and has a lovely mouthfeel. The regular ($16) is delicious, but not as complex or assertive as the reserve. The jammy berries give it a youthful, easy-to-drink quality; a perfect picnic wine.

Although made from the same Millot grape, the Canoncito Red 2005 had a sweetness that the Rio Embudos did not. Interestingly, the vintner recommends this with New Mexican cuisine.

What we love about these wines is their true terroir. The unique New Mexican varietals (especially the Leon Millot) and the distinctive soils create a wonderfully different wine that many of our sophisticated East Coast wine-drinking friends adore. (www.lachiripada.com)

Vivac

The 2005 Fire Vineyard Blend is 100 percent from their own vineyard, grown sustainably, with an eye toward organic certification. At $16 this is an easy-drinking wine with soft tannins and a nice acid balance. The winemaker says it has “notes of smoke, ripe peaches, and green chilies,” though we didn’t taste that in our bottle. This wine would complement most cheeses. (www.vivacwinery.com)

Milago Vineyards

Owners Rick and Mitzi Hobson are passionate about everything: their valley, the grape-growing process, wine making, and even their pet pig whose visage adorns each bottle. They were drawn from their business and education backgrounds to their land, located in Corrales, on the western bank of the Rio Grande.

The 10-acre vineyard is farmed with sustainability in mind. Two to three tons of organic compost is applied per acre and a drip irrigation system is used; evaporation in this semi-desert region is rapid. A lot of hard work goes into each carefully pruned vine to maximize flavor intensity and reduce the need for chemical intervention. Rick told us, “It makes a lot more sense to grow grapes in New Mexico than water-intensive crops like alfalfa or chilies.”

Hoping to keep the Corrales valley agricultural, Rick has neighbors and fellow farmers growing grapes. Each lot has its own microclimate, lending itself to a different varietal. Thus, the Hobsons are able to make Chardonnay, Zinfandel, Merlot, Syrah and Cabernet.

The 2005 Chardonnay ($17) is crisp and delicious and did not need masking by oak. The 2004 Zinfandel ($15), however, benefited from its 15 months in oak barrels, and formed a good balance with light tannins that did not overpower the fruit. The 2003 Syrah ($18) was very appealing, and while we did find the “aromas of clove and vanilla” promised by the vintner, we did enjoy the “hints of tar and leather.” There are very few cases of the Syrah left, and once these are sold, it will be several years before more are available. (www.milagrovineyardsandwinery.com)


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