SANTA FE, THE TOWN
Santa Fe was the hub that I used for years during the shoulder seasons during my professional cooking days. Working my gigs in Alaska during the summer and ski resorts in the fall and winter seasons. It enabled me to learn Southwestern cuisine from this most enigmatic and eclectic New Mexican hilltop town. In addition, I’ve always found Santa Fe to be very friendly and accommodating to outsiders and tourists. This friendliness was even more during the Santa Fe Wine and Chile Fiesta.
The town was eager to show the best is offered to the gastronomic and oenophilic public. Arriving early in the week allowed me to settle in and visit some of my old haunts to get in the proper mood for the four-day extravaganza. Since parking is at a premium in Santa Fe, I chose a location that would allow me to walk to all of the instructional and tasting venues. This blog post is significant because the festival itself was huge!
We stayed at the Hotel St. Francis in the heart of Historic Downtown. This turned out to be a capital idea since it allowed me to be within a few blocks of the wine classes and chef demonstrations. It also allowed me to visit some of the great shops and local drinking and eating establishments that Santa Fe is most famous for. The hotel itself offers free WiFi and is pet friendly but doesn’t have the excess perks other hotels might so check the website if you are thinking of staying here. The parking lot was small, but the hotel validated the pay lot across the street.
Some of my old haunts include:
This is a complete list of great places to eat, drink, or both in Santa Fe. There are dozens of other worthy sites in and around town. Santa Fe is a culinary destination for some, but it’s not the only thing in town. The shopping, art, and antique market scenes are just as compelling, and I always mix them all in every time I’m in town. In addition, there is plenty of hiking, mountain biking, vineyard tours, and other outdoor activities here to boot. Santa Fe nearly has it all.
Most wine seminars and food tastings are located in or around the downtown area during the Wine and Chile Fiesta week. Many are at the Santa Fe Community Convention Center, which offers quite a few rooms for the winemakers to give tastings and lectures about their respective vintages.
Among the wine seminars were Grgich Hills, Tablas Creek Esprit (California), De Beaucastel Vertical, Selbach-Oster (Germany), Gobelsburg and Nikolhof (Austria), Donnhoff, Louis Jadot, Henri Boillot, Volnay, Domaine Paul Pernot Chassagne Montrachet (France), and Fontanafredda Barolo Vertical (Italy) to mention just a few.
Celebrity Chefs included Rick Bayless of Topolobampo in Chicago and PBS fame Mexico-One Plate at a Time, Stephan Pyles, Flora Street Cafe, Dallas (Father of Modern Texas Cuisine), Martin Rios, Restaurant Martin, Santa Fe (Best Chef in the Southwest 2016 & 2017) and a much-anticipated mole demonstration from Chef Fernando Olea, Sazon, Santa Fe given at the Santa Fe Cooking School.
HOG ISLAND OYSTER AND CHAMPAGNE FEST
The Hog Island Oysters and Champagne walk-around was hosted at the Santa Fe Community Convention Center on the patio. Of course, the champagne (all French) was from Perrier Jouet Grand Brut, Laurent Perrier Ultra Brut, Louis Roederer Brut Premier, and Gaston Chiquet Tradition, all at or above 90+ ranking free-flowing to wash all the fresh-shucked Tomales Bay, Northern California oysters down.
The oysters were served four ways: fresh-shucked, grilled, fried, and cold marinated. Kevin Nash (2017 Best Chef of the Midwest) was on hand to oversee the production.
THE GRAND TASTING
The Grand Tasting was held at the Santa Fe Opera House grounds to accommodate the enormous sold-out crowd. This was the most comprehensive celebration of a single city’s culinary heritage and the spirits that match that I have ever seen. The Grand Tasting of the Wine and Chile Fiesta pulls out all the stops. Nearly 80 Santa Fe restaurants catered the food, and over 180 world-class wines and liquors were served non-stop for four hours. The list of wine vineyards alone read like a who’s-who of modern winemaking:
(Alexander Valley, Bodegas Ontanon, B R Cohn, Browne Family Vineyards, Cakebread, Caymus, Chalk Hill, Louis Roederer, Chateau Bligny, Cline Cellars, Clos du Val, Duboeuf, Duckhorn, Ferrari-Carano, Francis Ford Coppola, Grgich Hills, Hahn Family, Hess Collection, J Lohr, Jordan, Kenwood, Kendal Jackson, Louis Jadot, Oberon, Perrier Jouet, Ramey Wine Cellars, Robert Mondavi, Rodney Strong, Schramsberg, Schug Carneros, Ste. Michelle, and the list go on and on.)
This list isn’t comprehensive and does not include the ports and dessert wines. I even found someone in the chocolate tent free pouring a Jeroboam of Graham’s old tawny port! This is a food and wine festival gone wild.
My summary for the Santa Fe Wine and Chile Fiesta met and exceeded my expectations. Every wine seminar, cooking demonstration, guest celebrity chef, and food & wine tasting was held flawlessly. This year’s weather threatened a hard rain but was held off except for a few brief light showers. Other than that, every day was exceptional.
Each night my wife and I had fun trying out new places. At the Hotel St Francis, they had an excellent bar called the “Secreto Lounge.” My wife favored the Smoked Sage Margarita: Espalon Reposado Tequila, O3 Brazilian Orange Liqueur, freshly squeezed lime juice, and Smoked Sage infused with Hickory Smoked Sea Salt rim. Delicious! The Hotel Restaurant, Tabla de la Santos Restaurant, made a good breakfast with a catty-corner view of Cafe Pasqual’s. On a couple of mornings, my wife and I sat as soon as we walked in at a table near a grand fireplace.
We watched endless lines of patrons huddled in the cold waiting to get into Cafe Pasqual’s while we sat with a steaming hot cup of coffee and a good-sized breakfast featuring a house-made green chile sausage. Excellent! There was a great crowd in town the week of the festival. Everyone we met seemed in a convivial good mood, eager to make/share memories in Santa Fe. I can’t say this about every city I pass through, but Santa Fe delivers every time I’m in.