Rated the #2 City in the US by Travel and Leisure, Santa Fe, New Mexico, draws visitors to its well-known cuisine, plentiful art, rich history, boutique shopping, Native American culture, wellness spas, and a multitude of outdoor activities. As food lovers, we came to explore the culinary scene of this high desert city. But where there’s good food, there’s bound to be good wine, and the Santa Fe wine tasting scene does not disappoint.
Wine aficionados might be surprised to learn that New Mexico’s wine country is older than California’s famous Napa Valley. In 1629, New Mexico laid claim as the first New World wine country when Franciscan monks planted grapevine cuttings smuggled out of Spain in the upper Rio Grande Valley near Santa Fe. Floods at the turn of the 20th century, followed by Prohibition, decimated New Mexico’s wine industry until visionary French winemakers in the 1980s cultivated vineyards and helped re-establish New Mexico’s wine industry.
Today, there are 40 wineries around the state, and some of the best maintain a tasting room in downtown Santa Fe. Here are a few of our favorites:
Wine Tasting in Santa Fe
Originating from Gilbert Gruet’s Champagne house in Burgundy, the Gruet Winery of New Mexico makes award-winning sparkling and still wines from Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grapes. In their tasting room off the lobby of the historic St. Francis Hotel in Santa Fe, we tasted five of their sparkling wines. Our favorite is the excellent Sauvage, a non-vintage sparkling wine made from 100% Chardonnay grapes. With a pale straw color, this bone-dry thriller offers a delicate but persistent mousse. The minerally aromas and flavors of bright citrus pair nicely with oysters, sushi, and cream sauces.
Hervé Wine Bar
Hervé Wine Bar, another Santa Fe-based French import from Domaine de Perignon Winery in Burgundy, has been a family run affair since planting grapes in Southern New Mexico in 1981. The wine bar, with its long dramatic entrance, opened in May 2018 in honor of the founding father, Hervé Lescombes. The bar serves an elegant selection of mixed platters and charcuterie boards alongside sips of D.H. Lescombes fine wines. We couldn’t leave without purchasing a crisp, clean, and colorful Chenin Blanc to take home.
Made from 100% New Mexico grapes, hand-harvested and sorted, pressed, and aged in French oak barriques, Vivác Winery has produced classic European-styled wines for over 20 years. Jesse and Michele Padberg, along with Jesse’s brother, Chris, and his wife, Liliana, are making a big name for New Mexico wine. Wine Enthusiast, Sunset Magazine, and USA Today all sing their praises. We visited their Santa Fe tasting room in the Santa Fe Farmer’s Market Pavilion in the Railyard District and loved their “fresh, edgy, sophisticated” wines.
The 2017 Petit Verdot grows in their 6000-foot-high estate 1725 Vineyard, the year this land was granted to the Spanish. With a ripe dark berry color, herbal notes, and floral undertones on the nose, this wine offers a baked dark berry on the palate with bright acidity and velvety tannin on the finish. These new generation wine producers have shown the world that, yes, New Mexico wines outstanding!
Where to Eat
When you’ve worked up an appetite wine tasting, you’ll want to sample Santa Fe’s amazing cuisine. Because Santa Fe is home to more than 200 restaurants, dozens of specialty food shops, and the Santa Fe School of Cooking, it’s easy to find plenty of delicious choices.
Café Pasqual’s serves organic cuisine drawn from the traditions of Mexico, New Mexico, Asia, and the Mediterranean. Located in one of the oldest free-standing buildings in Santa Fe, the café is decorated by a full-length wall mural painted by a local artist. We dined there for breakfast and found the service and food to be outstanding. The corned beef hash with eggs and the chile relleno topped with poached eggs were both tasty dishes.
In the Hotel Santa Fe, the only Native American-owned hotel in downtown Santa Fe, the Amaya Restaurant offers diners a wide choice of New Mexican and American dishes. But their Red Mesa Cuisine provides diners an opportunity to sample Native American food. It features a selection of red chile and herb-rubbed elk tenderloin; herb and olive oil marinated quail breasts; or pan-fried red chile cornbread crusted trout.
The Picuri tribe owns the hotel and the evening we dined there one of the elders joined us. He graciously shared the history of his tribe and tales of life on the pueblo. During the warm summer months, guests can reserve a private teepee dining experience on the patio.
The Farmer’s Market
One of the oldest, largest markets in the country, the Santa Fe Farmer’s market is a feast for your eyes. Stands filled with colorful produce, specialty foods, fresh baked goods, and chiles, of course, lots and lots of chiles, make this twice-weekly market worth a wander. If you happen to be there during chile roasting time from late August to mid-October, the smells of freshly roasting green chiles waft through the air, tempting hungry buyers. At Christmastime, the pequin wreaths made from bright red chiles are too beautiful to pass up. But any time of year, the market is filled with food stands offering locally prepared dishes to satisfy just about any craving.
Where to Stay in Santa Fe
El Dorado Hotel and Spa
Located just two blocks from the historic Plaza, this AAA four-diamond rated hotel offers well-appointed rooms, full-service amenities, and valet parking. Enjoy a margarita cocktail at the Agave Lounge, one of the stops on the Margarita Trail. Guests can also engage in a delicious dining experience at the Agave Restaurant or enjoy a relaxing drink at the Cava Santa Fe Lounge in the hotel’s cavernous, wood-beamed lobby.
La Fonda on the Plaza
This historic four-diamond hotel features 180 guestrooms, including 15 luxury terrace rooms and suites with a private concierge. You can dine in the festively decorated La Plazuela Restaurant or listen to live music in La Fiesta Lounge. The hotel is filled with original artwork. And art tours are available four days a week to learn more about this unique collection.
If You Go
Frequent flights into nearby Albuquerque or Santa Fe’s regional airport make it easy to visit this high desert city. The drive from Albuquerque’s airport to Santa Fe takes about an hour, and twenty minutes. The Santa Fe airport is twenty minutes from downtown.
Any time of year is a good time of year to visit. When chile roasting season takes place from late August until October, the whole town fills with the delicious smell of hatch chiles roasting over open fires. During the Christmas holidays, the downtown plaza comes alive with bright lights and festive decorations. Santa Fe enjoys an average of 325 sunny days per year. Summers are generally pleasant, with temperatures rarely getting above 90 degrees.
So, if we’ve piqued your interest, visit Tourism Santa Fe for more ideas on planning your visit.
This wine column was co-written with Gary Baker