Savoring Italian Wines from Both New Mexico and Italy
by Susan Montgomery
Our Southern California Wine Review Council recently had the opportunity to taste an interesting assortment of Italian and New Mexican wines, but since several of the wines from New Mexico were produced from Italian grapes it was a tasting afternoon with a decidedly Italian flair. We paired these wines with some enticing dishes prepared by council members and had a wonderful afternoon of sipping and snacking. As always, so many of the dishes paired nicely with a variety of wines, but there were some stellar matches. Here are the wines we tasted and our reactions:
This excellent wine was understandably a double gold winner at the San Francisco International Wine Competition. Luna Rossa is located in Deming, New Mexico, in an elevated area with the ideal terroir for nurturing this Italian grape. This mellow white with floral, earthy aromas had nice citrus and crispy apple flavors that paired well with a savory seafood ceviche and tasty salmon canapes. This was one of my favorite wines of the tasting and it typically sells for the unbelievable price of around $13 a bottle.
Vigna Petrussa is a premier winery in Northern Italy. This wine, produced from the rare and hard-to-grow Picolit grape, which is uniquely air dried before aging in barrels, is a fragrant wine with hints of stone fruit and almond flavors. Because of its subtle, mellow flavors, it was a good match for the decadent honey walnut baked brie. This is another nicely priced wine for about $20 a bottle.
Another exceptional wine from Vigna Petrussa, this tart wine featured orange and lemon flavors that complemented the sharpness in the seafood ceviche and enhanced the wonderful salmon canapes, but because of its complex tastes, I could see also enjoying this wine as a pleasant sipper without food. It usually sells for about $25 a bottle.
This is another beautiful Italian wine and was one of the favorites of our tasting. The winery is located north of Naples and the grape is another rare Italian varietal. You could tell right away because of its clean, smooth taste that this wine was aged in stainless steel. It had a rich golden color and the aromas and tastes reminded me of an apple orchard in full bloom. Again, it went nicely with the baked brie and also surprisingly well with a spicy jalapeno cornbread. This wine is very reasonably priced at $16.
We visited Vivac Winery many years ago while driving through New Mexico. We were impressed then and their wines have only gotten better. This winery has won many accolades, including being recognized as the best red wine producer in New Mexico by Wine Enthusiast. This light but lively red wine was beautifully aromatic with jammy berry flavors, making it a good match with the tangy barbecued ribs. The retail price is about $32.
This wonderful New Mexican winery was founded by Italian winemakers and we could certainly detect the Italian roots in this lovely wine. This delicious, complex blend of seven Italian grapes was rich and nuanced after spending almost five years aging in oak barrels. This wine featured intense cherry and smoke flavors, highlighted by nice hints of spice and pepper, and went especially well with turkey kabobs dipped in a tangy Tzatziki sauce. and also with a rich dish of orzo, beef, and mushrooms. It generally retails for about $23.
Aged in French Oak, this Refosco is another wonderful New Mexican wine with is origin in Italy. With its strong blueberry and blackberry flavors and herbal, earthy tastes, this intense, deeply colored red wine paired nicely with rich dishes such as the barbecued ribs and open-faced Greek Sliders. It retails for about $23.
Noisy Water is one of the most popular wineries in New Mexico with four tasting rooms around the state. For a Montepulciano, which is normally bold and intense, this is a surprisingly light, refreshing red wine that was actually almost translucent when held up to the light. The tannins were smooth and the taste was evocative of savoring a cherry pie in front of a smoky bonfire. This pleasant wine enhanced the taste of the turkey kabobs and was also a good match with the scrumptious baked brie because it didn’t overpower this rich dish.
The Gruet family has been making champagne in France since 1952 so they brought invaluable knowledge and experience to New Mexico when they established their winery in 1983. The winery has won many awards for its outstanding bruts. This vibrant sparkling wine, made in the classic Methode Champenoise process (involving a second fermentation), is aromatic with flavors of berries, honey, and even pastries. The tastes of stone fruit have a nice minerality that lasts through this brut’s soothing, long finish. This was the last wine we tried during our tasting and it was the ideal accompaniment to the luscious, rich almond tart, made from a classic Chez Panisse recipe. This brut is typically about $42.