If you’ve ever attended a wine event in Albuquerque, you’ve noticed Dr. Byron Wall. He’s the one working the room like an experienced politician. Tall and handsome, Wall looks like he just stepped out of a Ralph Lauren ad, or off Harvard’s campus—not exactly the type you’d expect to champion wines from the banks of the Rio Grande.
And yet there he is, going from table to table, pumping up the night’s offerings, the winemakers and the sales reps. Wall is quick with a handshake and a huge, perfect smile (he’s a dentist, after all).
This, friends, is for all intents and purposes New Mexico’s ambassador of wine. Wall is an unwavering promoter of liquid Land of Enchantment. Along with his wife, former KOB-TV news anchor Cindy Hernandez, he’s omnipresent as an educator and financial sponsor here in town. Through such successful events as Vintage Albuquerque, he’s helped raise thousands of dollars for the Albuquerque Youth Symphony, the Albuquerque Museum Foundation and other worthy beneficiaries.
Wall says his romance with wine began when he was a young exchange student in Germany. It followed him from his home state of North Carolina through undergraduate and graduate school at The University of Iowa all the way to New Mexico, where he eventually settled and opened Cosmetic Dentistry of New Mexico.
The Alibi sat down with Wall at Artichoke Café as he shared his encyclopedic knowledge of cuisine and wines. The conversation, excerpted here, was edifying and absorbing—like a good bottle of vino.
Do you remember your first great wine experience?
I was about 15, and it was a homemade apricot wine that had undergone a secondary fermentation, so it was sweet and fizzy. I still remember it 40 years later.
What are you drinking these days?
Mostly Italian and Spanish wines. I like the restraint and the balance in the alcohol, which makes them great for pairing with food.
What about New Mexico wines?
We are doing a fantastic job in New Mexico. I believe that local winemakers as a group are making better wines than the rest of the country. Gruet makes the best sparkling wine at each price point. You can’t get anything from France or California at Gruet’s prices with that kind of quality. Same with wines Rick Hobson makes at Milagro. In particular, I love his Cab Franc and Merlot. For summer wines, I love Casa Rondeña’s Viognier, which has become a cult wine among serious local wine drinkers. All the local novelty wines don’t interest me, but if people enjoy them, I am all for it. D.H. Lescombes is awesome juice, as are many Vivác wines.
There are lots of people who consider you the biggest promoter of New Mexico wines. What motivates you?
I think my passion for wine reflects my passion for life. First and foremost, I like the wines. But I try and surround myself with passionate people, and the most interesting people I know are in the food and wine industry. I am a huge fan of local products and locally owned restaurants. I like seeing good things happen to local people who work hard.
What do you think of the French Paradox? (The irony of the low incidence of coronary heart disease in French people even though their diet is high in saturated fats.) Does all the red wine they drink play a part?
Well, I believe the French Paradox has merit. I think it’s important to drink two glasses of red wine with dinner daily; unless you are having steak, in which case I recommend three glasses just to be safe. [Laughs.] Fermented beverages eaten with your meal correlate with lower heart disease along with other benefits. This is proven, although I think Europeans eat lots of fresh food versus the overly processed foods we are exposed to.
Tell me about wine and dental hygiene. Does it stain your teeth or cause cavities?
Wine is so much better for your teeth than soda, Red Bull or bottled iced tea. If you are really worried about your teeth staining from red wine, have them whitened. Don’t skip wine. Skip Red Bull because of acidity. It changes the pH in your mouth for hours and makes you susceptible to decay. Healthy gums and teeth are directly related to heart health, cerebrovascular health, pulmonary health and kidney health. It’s important to know that overall gum health is super important. Inflammation in your body is really bad and affects all your other organs. Bad gums and bad teeth equal inflammation. How much wine helps is certainly debatable, but wine is a much healthier beverage both for your body and teeth—OK, in moderation—than any soft drink.
You’re friends with T.J. Trout, who just announced he’s leaving 94 Rock. He’s also a wine lover. Does he have a good palate?
T.J. is amazing, and he grows grapes and makes wine, something I am not brave enough to do. So from that standpoint, he knows more than me. He has a great appreciation for wine. I’ve tasted his wines and have been impressed.
What’s the biggest myth about wine?
That ordering a wine in a restaurant or wine store is difficult and intimidating. The waiter is there to help you find something you will love in your price range. Don’t hesitate to ask for help with the wine list. All local restaurants with decent wine lists have lots of helpful staff to assist you without making you feel silly. Wine shops today actually cater to the average person. You don’t need to be a connoisseur to buy off a fancy wine list or to shop at Quarters or Jubilation.
How do you pair it with New Mexican food?
With enchiladas, try Milagro Zinfandel or Casa Rondeña Viognier. You don’t have to have beer or Margaritas with your chile. And now for the holidays with Thanksgiving turkey: a good Beaujolais.
You have a giant, gorgeous cellar. Any idea how many wines you have?
Three thousand, five hundred bottles, approximately. There is nothing in my cellar that is just to look at. They are all to drink. A few are just waiting for the right group of people to enjoy them with. Every wine I own is to drink with friends.
Give us some final wine words of wisdom.
I have been around wine snobs that want to pontificate. My only rule is, as long as you make an informed decision, eat what you like, drink what you like, exercise and be happy. Life is too short to drink bad wine. This is not a dress rehearsal! Oh, and take care of your teeth.