When it comes to vino, New Mexico has been in the ball game since 1629, when the first vines were planted in Socorro. This was years before the first Napa plantings were even a thought. Before you go jetting off to California’s wine country for your next tasting, investigate the ultra-hip regional wine destinations in your own backyard.
Casa Rondeña Winery
733 Chavez NW, Los Ranchos de Albuquerque, 344-5911, casarondena.com
John Calvin, Renaissance man, home builder and designer, guitarist, and winemaker, founded this gorgeous winery in Albuquerque’s North Valley in 1995. I'm always amazed at the number of locals who have never visited this architectural marvel. As soon you get accustomed to the dazzling setting, you'll remember that you're there for the wines; and once again, you'll be knocked off your feet by the array of luscious, prize-winning bottles offered. Whether you want to make-believe you're in Tuscany or Ronda, Spain, this location and the winery’s delightful wines will provide the setting for your dream day-trip getaway.
Billy Crews Fine Dining
1200 Country Club Road, Box 838, Santa Teresa, New Mexico, (575) 589-9463, billycrews.com
One-eighth of a mile from the Texas border and 35 miles east of Las Cruces on I-10 is Billy Crews' place. Although the restaurant is known for its food, the wine list has garnered rave reviews since 1986. It happens to be the only restaurant in New Mexico that's been awarded a Wine Spectator Grand Award for its wine list. Not only that, it's done so every year since 1986–a total of 22 years. To earn Wine Spectator’s most prestigious award, a restaurant has to have a truly serious wine collection--and Billy’s does. With an inventory of 70,000 bottles to choose from, the wine list is 119 pages long and includes gems such as a ’76 Romanée-Conti at $2,750 and an ’87 Petrus at $1,100. Call General Manager Bernie Rocha for dinner reservations and an appointment to guide you through the encyclopedic list.
12202 Road G, Cortez, Colo., (970) 565-0825, sutcliffewines.com
Sutcliffe Vineyards is a four-and-a-half-hour drive north of Albuquerque, just west of Durango in Cortez, Colo. If you can't believe this cool region could produce good wines, you're right--it produces stellar wines. John Sutcliffe’s wines, which are sold throughout the United States, were lauded in the May 2008 issue of Town and Country Magazine, and this Englishman’s talent with the grape is causing reverberations in the national wine press. Sutcliffe makes wines with a variety of grapes, but his Viognier and Syrah are held in extraordinary regard. Although this region’s microclimate is an anomaly, it is John Sutcliffe’s love of the grape and the land that imbue his wines with an almost mystical quality. A day spent drinking wine with John Sutcliffe in this gorgeous little hamlet will make you believe in magic.