While one may not expect crisp, acidic wines to come from the southern border of the U.S., New Mexico offers surprisingly refreshing bottles to pair with its signature Hatch chiles. Wine isn’t new to the state either—the first vines were planted in 1629.
In recent years, however, quality has been on the rise across the state, from around Las Cruces in the south, all the way to the northern border of Colorado, and areas surrounding Santa Fe and Albuquerque.
Grapes here benefit from some of the highest elevations in the country, sometimes above 6,000 feet. “Even the southern part of the state is still high altitude for the wine world, so our entire state offers up grapes that are thicker skinned due to that,” says Michele Padberg, owner/director of marketing and publicity at Vivác Winery.
New Mexico Wine Facts
Almost 1 million cases produced annually
Approximate Vineyard Acres: 1,200
Elevation Range: 400–6,700 feet
This elevation, in combination with sandy soils that provide excellent drainage, keeps wines crisp and lively, while still offering up excellent concentration. The surrounding desert environment has benefits, too.
“The hot days and cool nights keep the integrity of the natural acidity which gives the final wines balance and structure,” says Padberg. “The dry climate keeps things like rot out of the equation as well as most pests.”
New Mexico AVAs
Middle Rio Grande Valley
Mesilla Valley (shared with Texas)
Of course, altitude also comes with challenges: Devastating freezes can hit hard both in late spring and at the end of the growing season.
Sparkling wine house Gruet has drawn attention to the region in recent years, as it continues expanding to meet demand for the Champagne-style wines. But bubbles are only the tip of the iceberg.
Wineries to Look for
Wineries here produce a variety of spectacular still wines from racy Riesling to structured Cabernet. A singular style has yet to emerge, but many winemakers are dabbling in Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Syrah.
As with many under-the-radar regions, few wines leave New Mexico. Its industry has experienced a boost from a local wine association celebrating a “Viva Vino” campaign. The organization’s annual wine festivals throughout the state make it well worth a visit.