Friday, April 21, 2006

La Viña Winery - La Union, New Mexico - 4/20/06

I was visiting this area of New Mexico this week and we did happen to stop by this winery. I must admit that I was prepared to not like the wines and to find poor quality products; typical of what I generally find at local wineries; local wineries that only sell in their immediate area (immediate sales room, that is) because they really cannot compete with even average wines from California and other standard wine regions.

My thoughts about this wine region, which is so hot and dry, is that it must be really difficult to grow decent grapes, and that I should find wines that are just totally cooked, over-ripe or flavorless, with perhaps monster tannins and off-putting flavors. I even checked their website prior to visiting and was surprised to see Riesling (a cool climate grape that is a favorite of mine) in the lead picture. Very suspicious…

What I did find at La Viña, though, was fairly well made wines that were pleasant, and even good, to drink. The fruit was fresh in most of the wines and the styles were elegant and not overblown or overworked. La Viña Winery claims to be New Mexico’s oldest winery, which is true as far as continuous production under the name, but the vines at the current winery are only about six years old and are really just starting to offer high quality fruit.

La Viña has about 24 acres planted to 23 different varietals including some classic Italian varietals like Sangiovese and Dolcetto to standards like Chardonnay and Merlot. They do get a bit interesting with the sweeter wines (Riesling and Muscat) and even a touch of Viognier is grown. A port-style wine was offered as well, though it was not a favorite (see below).

I tasted about eight wines and liked all but two or three. I’ll start with my least favorites:

The Viognier, which is barrel aged and done in a dry style, lacked any of the varietal flavors I typically look for in Viognier. Missing was the perfume and flowery aromatics that are almost always present to some degree in this grape. Instead, there was a mask of vanilla and awkward neutral fruit flavors that really did not shine. (I was informed that hey were only going to be making the unoaked, sweet-style Viognier in the future.)

Next was the port-style – a blend of the junk wines – what that really is supposed to mean as a sales-pitch I still have not quite figured out – made in a drier and lighter (18%) style than real Port. Unimpressive and not to my personal taste, though I can see some taking to it.

The oaked Chardonnay was just that – another mildly oaked Chardonnay that was a bit awkward and OK, as far as chard is concerned. Not really a grape I would expect out here in this climate; I believe seems to make sense to concentrate on grapes that work in the given climate rather than concentrate on wines you are supposed to have. Even the owner admitted that it was just another Chard.

What I did like was:

the Dolcetto (2003) – light and rustic with fresh fruit and a clean easy finish that will work well with cheeses and cured meats – just like the stuff from Piedmonte does;

the Primitivo (2003) – the immediate aromas lead me to believe that the wine was cooked due to slight stewy aromas, but on the palate and the finish the fruit was fine and easy with good rusticity and balance, ending in a pleasant, smooth red;

the Heritage blend (2004, and just bottled the day before), a Bordeaux style blend that was actually elegant and balanced with good depth of fruit flavors and a lasting finish. I felt it was the best of the group I tasted, and they were really quite pleased with this effort.

the Riesling – done in a sweeter style with some varietal flavors and richness shining through – not a really great Riesling, but well made and tasting enough like Riesling that it was good to drink;

the La Dolce Viña – a non-vintage (at least I cannot find one on the bottle), 100% Muscat that has a bit of effervescence. At 12% alc. it was not demandingly sweet, but showed some balance and loads of sweet-style fruit that lasted long through the finish. They claim this as their best seller (American tourists like sweet wines) and this seemed to be a wine well suited for the climate – over-ripe sugar, low acid style is good for a wine like this.

All in all I was more impressed with these wines produced from six-year-old vines (actually what I was tasting was from even younger vines at their harvest), and felt that these folks were on the right path to making some very good wines in the future. Will they ever compete with the best from California or Europe? No, but then again they do not make enough wine to really sell beyond the local area, which will use all they can make, I am sure.

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