Friday, March 15, 2013

New Mexico Winery Visit: Casa Rondeña

The high desert of New Mexico is becoming known for something other than hot peppers and adobe architecture. Fine wine is burgeoning in the area and the leader in the state is Casa Rondeña Winery.

John Calvin is the owner and winemaker and a bit of a renaissance man. His interests focus on music, architecture and wine. During a recent conference in Albuquerque, I took advantage of a tour of this fascinating winery.

The 350 days of sunshine and low humidity make New Mexico ideal for producing high quality dry red wines, although some finesse is needed to adapt to the unique conditions. John pointed out a
surprising fact: the first vinifera grape vines in North America were grown in New Mexico in 1629 by Spanish monks.

The trip would have been worth it for the architecture alone. The winery features a soaring bell tower and a great hall with cathedral ceilings and Indian-carved sandstone shaded windows. Casa Rondeña is a top quality operation in every regard.

Our group toured the tank room and the grounds and finally settled in for a tasting in the 1629 Club. Our first wine was an elegant 2012 Viognier that is cold fermented and has a touch (0.4% RS) of sweetness. It has beautiful tropical flavor notes.

Next up was the 2010 La Sobrina’s Table, a blend of Sangiovese, Tempranillo and Cabernet Sauvignon. This is a soft and fruity summer red.

The 2008 Meritage blends Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and a dash of Petit Verdot. This is a delicious wine that displays complexity with flavor notes of blackberry and vanilla and a nice long finish.

Cab Franc was what convinced John and his family that they wanted to make wine for a living. The grape grows well in New Mexico. It has a beautiful dirty barnyard aroma and dark cherry flavor mingles with the earthiness. Only 440 cases of the 2009 Cab Franc were bottled and it is a splendid wine.

The flagship of Casa Rondeña is the 1629. This “numerical” wine is 50% deep, dark Syrah, 41% Cabernet Sauvignon and 9% peppery Tempranillo. This is a bold wine that displays the very best of New Mexico winemaking. It can stand tall with any red wine in North America. It retails for $39 and has a limited production of 600 cases.

It’s only taken 384 years, but it looks like the time is right for New Mexico wine to step into the spotlight. With outstanding wine such as those being produced at Casa Rondeña, it won’t be a secret very much longer.

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