Autumn in Santa Fe, New Mexico, translates to chile-harvest time. Farmers markets, including the Santa Fe Farmers Market, which is held each Saturday from 7 am to noon in the Santa Fe Railyard area, sell hot chiles, often strung together in eye-catching ristras. Chiles are a staple on most restaurant menus, from the expected (sauces accompanying main dishes) to desserts (Dream Cakes' green-chile cornbread cupcakes). Equally on top are wines, from state-made bottles (Gruet Winery in Albuquerque, is renowned for affordable sparkling wines distributed in most states) to wine sourced from Bordeaux, Italy, the New World, and California. Because Santa Fe is such a gastronomic destination it's nearly impossible to eat out and not be handed a wine list of hard-to-find offerings sure to leave a memorable imprint on your palate.
On the ground floor of Hotel St. Francis, the city's oldest hotel a block from the plaza and fresh off a top-to-bottom renovation in 2010 (adding artisan-made tapestries and furniture), Secreto Bar is a haven for wine lovers and cocktail enthusiasts alike. (Mixologist Chris Milligan even has his own web site.) From 5 pm to 7 pm Monday through Saturday, $1 "odd" wine pours are offered. Or, head straight for the lounge's wine list where 18 wines are by the glass. Four are from New Mexico: Gruet Winery's Blanc de Noir, Domaine Saint Vincent Sparkling Rose, Casa Rodena's Serenade, and Santa Fe Vineyards' Indian Market White.
La Casa Sena
Also off the plaza, but in the other direction, La Casa Sena is ground central for wine lovers. About 15,000 bottles of wines are stored in temperature-controlled conditions and the 61-page wine list includes headings that indicate just how extensive the collection is (First Growth Bordeaux and Grower & Small Production Champagne, for example). The best tables to sit down and enjoy these wines are in Sena Plaza right out front, where iron tables are draped with white tablecloths next to a water fountain and surrounded by artsy boutiques. Or, ask to be seated inside the restaurant's 1868 hacienda-style adobe house where the Sena family (one of Santa Fe's oldest known families) once lived. As for the wine selections at La Cantina Wine Shop, the companion wine-retail area, its owners pledge to look at more than just the scores awarded by wine critics. Instead, the shelf talkers contain personal tasting notes from the staff.
Santa Fe School of Cooking
The 23-year-old Santa Fe School of Cooking offers a guided walking tour of four Santa Fe restaurants, with four different itineraries, beginning from its location near the plaza. At each stop you'll not only bite into a miniature-sized version of a popular menu item, while meeting with the chef or another key player in the menu creation, but you'll wash it down with a glass of wine. It's a great way to try out a handful of eateries in a compressed amount of time, with your eye on eventually making a reservation the next night at your favorite one. (Hint: at each restaurant don't be shy. Ask for the wine lists and peruse the options, to help you choose.)
Old House Restaurant
About four blocks from the plaza, is the Eldorado Hotel & Spa, where you go to get pampered, whether it's a Chocolate Mole Wrap & Massage at Nidah Spa or a 12-ounce, 28-day dry-aged rib-eye with a side of hatch green-chile mac & cheese. Old House Restaurant's dim lighting and the soft glow of a fireplace in one corner, coupled with native art and objects decorating the walls, is the perfect pairing with an extensive wine list offering affordable prices. Most bottles are less than $100, including two Turley Zinfandels (California and Contra Costa County, California), Argyle Pinot Noir (Willamette Valley, Oregon), and half a dozen Old World Reds from France, Spain, and Italy. Three Gruet sparkling wines are on the wine list too. There are 23 wines by the glass, from Reims, France (Moet Chandon N/V Nectar Imperial), Western Australia ("The Ripper" Shiraz), and many points between.
Synonymous with New Mexican cuisine, Coyote Cafe, about two blocks from the plaza, has been on most food-centric travelers' radars since it opened in 1987. What isn't as well known, however, is the well-curated wine list. Within its 22 pages are 19 Sine Qua Non wines (ranging from $50 for a half bottle to $400) from California that are Rhone style blends, other cult favorites like Opus One, Chateau Margaux, and Stags Leap Wine Cellars. There are older vintages of well-respected wines, too, like a 1973 Louis Latour. If you're trying to cram a lot of restaurants into one day, but still want to sip from the wine list, order small plates from the starters menu which features lighter dishes like Atomic Horseradish Salad (rice-vinegar radishes with Parmesan horseradish sauce and cilantro) or Eduardo's House Smoked Chile Rubbed Duck Breast.
Photo Credits: Secreto Bar: Courtesy of Secreto Bar; La Casa Sena: Courtesy of La Casa Sena; Santa Fe School of Cooking: Courtesy of Rosewood Hotels; Old House Restaurant: Courtesy of Eldorado Hotel and Spa; Coyote Cafe: Courtesy of Coyote Cafe