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New Mexico wine: Exploring the Middle Rio Grande Valley

The burgeoning New Mexico wine industry can best be experienced in its beloved towns of Albuquerque and Santa Fe, and the geography in between, the Middle Rio Grande AVA, where wine lovers can experience some of the best producers in the state.

New Mexico has long been known as an artist’s dreamscape complete with sweeping desert valleys and craggy mountain ranges dotted with piñon pine, spiny cacti and brilliant pastel-coloured sunsets. There’s a reason it’s received the moniker Land of Enchantment but it’s more than just brilliant sunsets and high-desert vistas.

There’s quite a bit of wine history here. In fact, it’s the home of the first Vitis vinifera planted in the United States. Spanish Franciscan monks planted grapevines in the Rio Grande Valley in 1629, over 130 years before the first established California vineyards.

By the late 1800s, New Mexico flourished with grapevines, considered the state’s third most important agricultural product. Prohibition in the early 1900s hindered a resurgence of the wine industry, followed by devastating floods in the 1940s that ravaged the area. In the 1970s, the industry began to revive.

Today, New Mexico is home to three burgeoning American Viticultural Areas, including the Mesilla Valley AVA – straddling the western border of Texas – the Mimbres Valley AVA and the Middle Rio Grande Valley AVA.

Scroll down to see tasting notes and scores for nine Middle Rio Grande Valley wines

Where to eat, drink and stay

Campo restaurant at Los Poblanos Historic Inn and Organic Farm

In the heart of the Rio Grande River Valley, this historic farmstead was designed in 1932 by architect John Gaw Meem, the ‘father of Santa Fe style’.

The boutique guest lodge features 45 rooms spread across a pastoral landscape with lavender fields, flower gardens and fruit and vegetable fields. The 10ha property offers shady cottonwood trees, Spanish-tile fountains and winding walking trails.

The farm restaurant, Campo, offers a fresh daily field-to-fork menu using organic house-grown and local ingredients. Dishes include braised lamb birria with seasonal roasted vegetables, blue corn hominy and house-made Sonora White-Wheat tortillas. The extensive wine list devotes an entire page dedicated to selections from New Mexico.

Level 5 and Gruet Bubble Bar at Hotel Chaco

Featuring a selection of New Mexico wines and spirits from producers such as Gruet, Noisy Water, Vivác and Santa Fe Spirits, Level 5 enjoys a rooftop view from the fifth floor of Hotel Chaco in the city’s Sawmill district.

The menu features a broad taste of Southwestern cuisine, including quinoa, pork-stuffed piquillo peppers, grilled chicken, and vegetables with corn flan and chimayó peppers.

The outdoor patio is home to the Gruet Bubble Bar, a rooftop outpost featuring a selection of sparkling wines from the Gruet portfolio. Guests can sip and stroll the rooftop patio while enjoying the city’s best views.

While you’re there, consider a stay at the urban-chic hotel combining contemporary design with Southwest flare and featuring luxe rooms with scenic views, and a respectful nod to the heritage of the region’s indigenous peoples.

Arroyo Vino

With a playful name meaning the ‘wine ditch’, this off-the-beaten-path locale offers a fresh, creative approach to local fare. Celebrated chef Allison Jenkins integrates her classical culinary training with Mediterranean flavours to match the warmer climes of the state.

She balances the flavours of each season with dishes such as Ligurian-style braised rabbit with buckwheat polenta, roasted carrots and olives or cider-braised short rib with 45-spiced carrot purée, roasted fall vegetables, hazelnut-apple gremolata.

As the name suggests, the restaurant is also home to a well-curated wine list and a retail section featuring international selections from every corner of the world.

Terra at Four Seasons Rancho Encantado

A few kilometres from Santa Fe’s historical centre, the historic Four Seasons Resort Rancho Encantado is one of the region’s most peaceful retreats.

Once a working dude ranch at the turn of the century, the expansive 23ha, high desert property tucked up in the Sangre de Cristo foothills was once a hidden gem for Hollywood celebrities, including John Wayne and Jimmy Stewart.

Cosy villas offer privacy with breezy patios, luxe Southwest décor, and there are ample hiking trails and outdoor amenities throughout the property.

The hotel’s restaurant, Terra, offers stunning sunset views and features a seasonal menu with regional staple ingredients such as corn, beans, squash, chiles and bison from executive chef Jose Fernandez. Dishes include spicy green chile corn chowder, a rack of lamb with blue corn polenta, and fire-grilled ribeye steak with Chimayo chilies.

Nine wines from the Middle Rio Grande Valley

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