Chile season is in full swing, and with the harvest of New Mexico's favorite spicy fruit also comes the harvest of one of its sweetest—grapes. The nation's largest celebration of these sweet and spicy pals also comes along this time of year, the Santa Fe Wine & Chile Fiesta. This multi-day bacchanal attracts thousands of foodies forking out $195 each to attend the festival's Grand Tasting, a three-hour free-for-all featuring wine tastings from 90 national wineries and (mostly) chile-focused bites from 75 area restaurants.
Not being a fan of big crowds and loud over-imbibers, I wondered how one could have a little wine and chile fiesta of one's own. Most Santa Feans are pretty adept with chile, and have mastered at least a few recipes. What kinds of wines would go best with these, however, and where do we get them?
I turned for advice to the experts at one of my happy places, Kokoman Fine Wines and Liquors (32 Cities of Gold Road, 455-2219) in Pojoaque. If you judge a book by its cover, maybe you've driven past it multitudes of times and not stopped. From outside, Kokoman looks like nothing more than a quick stop for a six-pack of Coors tall boys, but step inside and a heavenly new world is revealed.
Since 1981, Keith Obermeyer's knowledgable wine buyers have stocked fine wines from around the world, in the process even being named one of the 50 Best Wine Stores in America by GQ Magazine. Within local wine circles, Kokoman's weekly tastings are legendary. I stopped in one Saturday before the aficionados began arriving, with their personal tasting glasses in hand to get some advice from wine manager, Mark Spradling, and wine sales associate,
"We have at least 4,500 different wines in here and we can help pick a number of them to pair nicely with our local fare," says Spradling.
"New Mexicans love sweet wine and that is probably because of all the spicy foods we eat," adds Marcello.
The logic is thus: wines with higher residual sugar pair well with spicy foods because the sugar dulls the heat, but the right wine can also enhance the flavor profiles of chile dishes.
Spradling and Marcello agree there are a variety of New Mexico wineries producing vintages that go well with chile dishes. Among the most popular sellers at Kokoman are the Girls Are Meaner Gewurztraminer ($14.99) and Sweet Jenner Rose red blend ($13.99) by Northern New Mexico's Wines of the San Juan.
"These wines are moderately sweet," Spradling says.
Other local suggestions include the Barbera or Adobe Red table wine ($19.49) from Jaramillo Vineyards in Belen and the Nini red blend ($23.99) and Montepulciano ($18.99) from Luna Rossa Winery in Deming.
Branching out into the wider world of wine, Riesling has long been a favorite accompaniment for spicy foods, and Spradling suggests the Merkelbach
Auslese ($26.99) as a friend to the brightness of green chile.
"German Riesling is always a safe bet," he says, adding that "Sauternes could also be pretty interesting."
Red chile, with its more intense, smokier profile pairs well with a variety of red wines from around the world.
"When I think of red chile I think of smoky, fruity pinot noir," Marcello says. "Also Gamay, Brachetto, and Schiava could be interesting."
Among these, he recommends Oregon pinot noirs which "show fast and fruity, so you want to drink them early."
Marcello suggests Pike Road ($19.49) pinot noir, which he calls a "fresh,
approachable, everyday" wine.
Foillard Beaujolais-Villages ($25.49), meanwhile, has "lots of fruit in the nose but finishes dry so leaves the smokiness of red chile."
In terms of Brachetto, a light, dry, and fruity wine, Marcello points to Anthos
($19.99) an "all natural wine with native yeast and no intervention; this one was always good before natural wines became hip."
Schiava, the daily drink of choice for many northern Italian farmers, is also a good sweet yet light option, of which he recommends the Kaltern ($18.49).
"What about wines made with chile?" I wonder.
We all get a good laugh.
"Most I have tried are pretty pedestrian," Spradling notes, "but Noisy Water makes both green chile and red chile wines that are actually interesting."
If you are, or would like to be, a fine wine connoisseur, Kokoman hosts weekly wine tastings Saturdays from 3:30-6pm. Spradling and Marcello are on hand for these and would be happy not only to share their extensive knowledge of the big world of wine, but help you find the perfect accompaniment to pretty much any meal you have in mind—chile or no.
Kokoman Wine Tasting:
3:30-6 pm Saturday Sept. 21. Free.
Kokoman Fine Wines and Liquors,
34 Cities of Gold Road,