Occupying prime real estate right next to the Lensic Performing Arts Center, the new Noisy Water Tasting Room is decorated in cheerfully bright white wood shelves stacked with cases of wine. A cursory inspection reveals that bottling falls into two tiers. On the one hand you have the higher-end stuff, which is vintage-dated and actually has a variety or two listed on the label. For example, the 2014 $58 Absolution is a blend of cabernet sauvignon and merlot.
Then there's the lower tier of wines like the $20 Tighty Whitey Wine pinot grigio, a concept and label so kitschy it makes me cringe from secondhand embarrassment. Apparently, this wine won actual awards in the form of a handful of medals at the Finger Lakes International Wine Competition. It's a charity wine event for cancer research, and the organization gave out 2,613 medals in 2017 alone, so I don't know how you could enter and not actually win something. Contributing to cancer research is noble, but not the same as actually making good wine.
"Noisy" is the English translation of the Spanish word Ruidoso, which also happens to be the name of the town where the winery was founded in 2009. The operation buys grapes from any available source of decent plant matter in New Mexico, mainly from vineyard land around the banks of the Rio Grande, Albuquerque and Deming.
But that's not why I'm mad; by no means does a winery need to tend its own crops to make good wine. In fact, growing grapes in New Mexico is hard work. Our growing season has frosts in late spring and early fall, so grape varieties need to be the kind that bud late and ripen early. They must also be drought-resistant. The average mean rainfall in the state (which can veer wildly from anywhere in between 2 and 33 inches) is 13.9 inches. For reference, about 20 to 30 inches are required to produce a decent crop of grapes. In addition to possessing a unique climate and landscape, New Mexico's heritage and history is rich and contains influences from all parts of the United States and South America. Why not talk about that and bring that into your wine story, instead of slapping a label with a cartoon Marilyn Monroe-esque figure on your Jo Mamma's White blend?
The winery has two other tasting rooms in Ruidoso and Cloudcroft and produces 50 different wines, but only 20,000 cases a year. In a 2017 interview, owner Jasper Riddle told the Albuquerque Journal he aimed to target both seasoned wine aficionados and drinkers who want wine to be fun and approachable. "We can hit both groups," Riddle maintained. I admire this approach, because wine is obviously many things to many people, and should be a part of everyday life as well as the purview of an elite group of enthusiasts.
The good isn't always the enemy of the great, but the tacky is the enemy of both—and if you're going to push your $24 Big Legs Red blend in the same space as you're offering a $44 reserve malbec, who exactly are you trying to appeal to, if not both down-market and upscale tourists on a spree? This is the kind of wine you encounter in any small town across the United States. Why is novelty wine in downtown Santa Fe?
It's certainly not for locals. Local wine has to compete with all other alcoholic beverages to occupy space in our glasses, and the non-wine options in this state are just too appealing. I fully identify as a wine drinker, and I'd drink any Santa Fe Spirits or Cumbre beer before New Mexican wine—except for Gruet in certain occasions. Noisy Water isn't aiming to change that.
Just to be fair, I decided to taste a flight for $10. I started off with the Tighty Whitey pinot grigio ($20 a bottle), which was forgettable. Then I followed with the 2015 reserve chardonnay ($27 a bottle), which tasted like a fruit cooler with butter poured on top and seemed awfully sweet to me for a wine labelled dry. I moved on to a 2015 dolcetto ($27 a bottle), which was actually pretty decent; then the 2014 Absolution ($58 a bottle), which was fine but clearly overpriced. But this is a typical turn-off for me where wines made from local grapes are concerned. At least it had a vintage date on it? Finally, I tried the Rojo Caliente Red Chile wine ($24 a bottle). It tasted a little like spicy pancake syrup and made me alternatively sad and angry that this is the box New Mexican wine has decided to pigeonhole itself into.
Good table wine should come from a specific place and culture, not from a marketing campaign designed to appeal to the lowest common denominator palate that prefers all things innocuous and sweet.
Why not make good New Mexican wine from grapes that are proudly of a land that boasts an amazingly diverse and unique selection of plant and animal life? Create something locals can be proud of, and please step away from the novelty and the kitsch.
Noisy Water Winery Tasting Room
219 W San Francisco St., 983-9454
11 am-7 pm Monday-Thursday
11 am-9 pm Friday and Saturday
Noon-7 pm Sunday