One of these years, I am going to rock the Santa Fe Wine & Chile Fiesta. I am going to hit the tastings, the luncheons, the tours—you name it and I will be there, and whatever is being served will be in my mouth. Except for the golf tournament. I will not go to the golf tournament and I will not put anything from the golf tournament into my mouth.
In the meantime, there are only excuses. This was not the year to hit up my editor for multiple $60-$175 tickets and, presumably, wine festivals are reluctant to give press passes to well-known lushes.
Fortunately, the fiesta has grown big enough in its long existence (2010 will mark its 20th anniversary) to spawn proximity events, like the “Harvest Wine Dinner” I attended at Joe’s.
Joe’s used to be called Joe’s Diner. Chef Roland Richter has, for years, been an enthusiastic buyer of local ingredients, all the while maintaining a large and reliable menu at his unintimidating Southside restaurant. I don’t know if dropping the “diner” designation is intended to also drop pedestrian implications, but Richter’s wine dinner demonstrated he’s comfortable cooking far beyond the reach of pizza and burgers.
Hors d’oeuvres were followed with an eggplant, pear and honey soup. I thought, “I don’t care if it is all local—how about I start kicking the chef until he makes me a pizza?”
But a hint of mesquite—from grilling the eggplant—added a perfect note to the soup’s flavor while tempering the texture.
The soup was paired with a Milagro Vineyards chardonnay—not the soft, “buttery” chardonnay that has crippled wine innovation with its popularity—but a slightly bitter chardonnay with a cruel little snap. It was a chardonnay with unexpected attitude, especially from a New Mexico vintner.
An honest aside: The prospect of a fine meal prepared with local produce, dairy, meat, vegetables and fruits is always titillating because the flavor is going to be outstanding, but the prospect of that fine meal paired with local wine is always depressing because the flavor is going to fall short. I expected to be secretly pairing my meal with…water. But the wines, all of which were provided by the small, Corrales-based Milagro, were a genuine surprise.
I didn’t taste anything that will be etched on my palette until the end of time or anything, but Milagro’s blended red table wine, in particular, will be doing a regular turn at my house from now on. Retailing at $14, it’s the best balance of value and flavor I’ve yet found in a New Mexico wine. Served with fresh tomatoes from Española and Richter’s famed fiore di latte mozzarella, it was a plucky salute to the official transition from summer to fall.
For the main course, Richter happily piled a beef tenderloin atop a medley of vegetables. On top of the tenderloin, he piled a rack of lamb. Lamb! On top of beef! I seriously considered kissing him on the mouth.
Milagro supplied its 2006 cabernet sauvignon—an entirely serviceable wine with a determined presence, though if it had been up to me, I’d have stuck with the table wine’s charming insouciance.
The meats were both perfectly prepared: The lamb slipped away from the bone, and the beef was soft and flavorful beneath a respectable char.
By serving a crepe as dessert, Richter brought us down slowly, a zinfandel reduction sauce helping the leap from meat to sugar.
I may not have hobnobbed with the wine and chile elite this year, but I managed to discover there’s more than meets the eye at a modest restaurant like Joe’s, and that two people in Corrales really can make wine.
And nobody tried to make me play golf.
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