While I was in Albuquerque New Mexico in October 2019 I visited an interesting winery. It feels like New Mexico is on the verge of something but I can’t put my finger on it. Gruet in Santa Fe is a long established producer that makes good to excellent sparkling wines. St Clair in Deming has some decent red wines and great QPR whites but now a player named VARA is on the scene. I think they are on the right track but time will tell as they release their new wines. They make a fortified slightly sweet apertif product called Vina Cardinal made from a grape called Listán Prieto ( AKA the Mission grape) . This grape variety was first planted in North America in 1629 by a Franciscan Friar named Garcia de Zuniga and a Capuchin Monk named Antonio de Arteaga . This is the oldest continuously grown grape in North America. For Vina Cardinal the grapes are grown in New Mexico and the wine is fortified to 17% alcohol and has a slight amount of residual sugar. Think of a blend of Pineau de Charentes and Dubonnet. Just the palest hue of pink and a pickled sweet watermelon rind mouthfeel. I think it would be brilliant with something old school like a melon wrapped with prosciutto starter course. The first releases of wines have not happened so they have been bringing in wines from Spain and bottling them in NM and label them Product of the United States. The tasting I had included a 2018 Viura ( super fresh and clean) a 2018 Albarino ( nice and briny ) as well as a Tempranillo Lot #014 and a Garnacha #014 ( perhaps the lot numbers relate to the vintage ?) . The reds were a bit on the tired side so I poured them both together and the sum was greater than its parts. We bought the Viura and I’m looking forward to trying it with some seafood pasta.
After a bit more research it looks like the plan is to release locally grown wines in the future . Also they have a dynamic young chef turning out some excellent food to match the calibre of the wines. The duck confit with juniper and coriander was very nice with the reds and the Papas Bravas (fried potatoes with smoked tomato aioli ) were superb with the whites if a bit spicy for my tastes. Check out VARA Wines in Albuquerque at 315 Alameda Boulevard NE Zipcode 87113 phone 505 898 6280 www.varawines.com.
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