I grew up in Arkansas City, Kansas—a tiny little town on the Oklahoma border. (BTW, it is pronounced Ar-KANSAS not Arkansaw!) I was a farm girl and in the field next to our house, standing watch over rows and rows of vegetables, was a huge Cottonwood tree. It was a climbing tree. A thinking tree. A gathering tree. My brother and sister and I would climb the tree everyday to get out of the Kansas heat for a little while. It was our place and we loved it.
When I visited El Alamo Winery back in November of 2022, all of the joyous, carefree memories of my childhood came flooding back and I could have stayed in their backyard for hours (but it was really cold that day!). Alamo is the Spanish word for “Cottonwood” and it is the perfect branding for this little boutique winery because it is situated in the shadow of New Mexico’s largest (and maybe oldest) Cottonwood tree.
Mere days before my arrival, the powers that be had been to El Alamo to check out the tree. It is estimated to be over 270 years old. The tree is 36 feet around, 117 feet high, and has a span of 140 feet! The tree towers peacefully on the edge of the Acequia Madre de Alcalde and is the inspiration for El Alamo’s branding.
Tasting at El Alamo is by appointment only and it was one of my favorite tasting experiences ever. The tasting was led by Joseph Martinez, owner/winemaker, whose enthusiasm and passion for winemaking is genuinely contagious. Joseph was so thoughtful about the way he prepared for my arrival and made me feel special. I know this was not because he knew I was an industry person coming to check him out. It is just his way and he’ll do the same thing for you.
Joseph Martinez is a mechanical engineer-turned-winemaker. He approaches his wine-making from a scientific point of view, but acknowledges and embraces the fact that wine requires artistry, as well. Joseph credits Josh Johnson of Embudo Valley Vineyards for helping him lay a good foundation for the art of winemaking. He also credits Jerry Burd of Black Mesa winery for helping him with the business of wine. I have great respect for both Josh Johnson and Jerry Burd, so I would say that Joseph has taken their advice, shaped it for his particular vision, and run with it.
El Alamo isn’t a fancy place. It’s a little boutique winery and tasting room in a converted garage. Joseph came out to greet my husband and me. He led us through the winery into the backroom where there is a comfortable tasting bar with several seating options. My husband and I sat at the bar where crystal clear tasting glasses had been set for us and where we could get a good view of El Alamo’s wine bling—the many medals and awards it had won.
Baco Noir is king of El Alamo estate wines and Riesling is queen. El Alamo wines are fully expressive of the high altitude (5700 feet), soil, and climate unique to the Alcalde region of northern New Mexico. In addition to their estate grapes, El Alamo purchases Cabernet Sauvignon, Petite Sirah, Sangiovese, Tempranillo, and Petit Verdot from New Mexico Vineyards in Deming. Between his estate grapes and those grown further south, Joseph masterfully creates award-winning varietals and blends.
My goal on this visit was to experience the wines produced from the cold-climate, high-altitude grapes of northern New Mexico, so I tasted only the Baco Noir and Riesling styles. Joseph is a master at getting the best from the Baco Noir grape. Unlike the more familiar wines consumed by Americans, the Baco Noir grape is a French-American hybrid with one v.vinifera parent and one v.riparia parent. The vitis riparia is a native American species highly resistant to phylloxera, so a French grape breeder decided to cross the French vinifera, Folle Blanche, with an unknown variety of the riparia family in order to create a phylloxera -resistant vine that retained the characteristics of the French grape and none of the unpleasant characteristics of the riparia family. That’s how the Baco (named for the French dude) Noir was born. At one time the grape was very popular in Burgundy and the Loire, but it is almost exclusively a North American grape now.
Joseph uses Baco Noir to create several types of Rosés and an out-of-this-world, full-bodied, Bourbon Barrell aged varietal.
2019 Dry Baco Rosé was my favorite of all the rosés I tasted. The color was spectacular and Joseph told me that the Baco Noir hybrid “bleeds red,” so he only needed a 30 minute maceration time to obtain the beautiful rosé color. This is a New Mexico State Fair award-winning wine with luscious red berry flavors dancing in a crisp acidity. The flavors develop on the palate into rich red plum and red currant fruits with a long finish.
2018 Semi Sweet Rosé was, surprisingly, my husband’s favorite of the day. There was a hint of butterscotch caramel that I typically associate with oxidation. Regardless of whether oxidation was intentional, it was not unpleasant and gave a richness to the wine.
2021 Primavera Dry Rosé is a 65-35 blend of Riesling and Baco Noir. It’s a little hard to describe because the flavors, driven by the characteristic high acidity, were dancing all over my palate and never seemed to land. It was a wine that I wanted to keep drinking to see if I could “catch” the flavors. Quite unique.
Baco Noir (2019, 2020, 2021). This is El Alamo’s signature wine. I tried all three vintages and there was quite a difference from year-to-year, BUT all three were spectacular and have won awards. A lot of wineries strive for consistency in their signature varietals from vintage to vintage. For small, boutique wineries, this can be a huge challenge. The difference in vintages of the El Alamo Baco Noir comes, I believe, from the bourbon barrels in which it is aged. Joseph continues to experiment with how long to age the wine in the bourbon barrels. Since the barrels are rarely, if ever, re-used, the intensity of flavor from barrel to barrel is going to differ. Nonetheless, the El Alamo Baco Noir gets its velvety smooth, full-body with notes of dark fruit and vanilla from Joseph’s masterful use of the bourbon barrel.
Riesling, as many of my readers know, has not typically been a favorite of mine. However, tasting the high-altitude Rieslings grown and vinted in northern New Mexico, my palate is finally coming around. The El Alamo Riesling did not disappoint! I tried the 2018 award-winning dry Riesling, the 2019 dry Riesling, and the 2020 sweet Riesling. The 2018 was fantastic! It had wonderful aromas and flavors of apricot, peach, and apple blossom. There was just a hint of the petrol (TDN) flavor typically associated with Rieslings. The high acidity provided a perfect balance, and I thought the wine was very good. The 2019 Riesling was not quite as developed as the 2018. It had a medium acidity and a nice light body. Great to have on hand for summer. The 2020 sweet Riesling was fermented in the same tank as the dry Riesling. The wine was separated and back sweetened. Another good summer wine for my Riesling-loving friends.
My visit to El Alamo was one I hope to repeat—maybe in warmer weather! Joseph Martinez is still developing his own unique style and for a winery less than 10 years old, his wines are accessible and delicious. I am eager to taste each new vintage of Baco Noir and see what tweaks Joseph makes to the fermentation and aging of this great varietal.
I highly recommend taking a little trip to Alcalde to visit El Alamo. It is super easy to make a reservation. Just go to the website. There’s a button to reserve your day and time. I will admit that the online reservation system was a little formal, so I didn’t know what to expect or how to prepare for my tasting, but the tasting with Joseph was very relaxed and both my husband and I had a wonderful time.
Please drop me a line or comment on the post if you’ve been to El Alamo. I love to hear about your wine-tasting experiences in New Mexico, the United States, and/or anywhere in the world! Stay tuned for an upcoming post on my tasting experience in Costa Rica.
If you’ve missed any posts, or want to check out other wineries, go to my Archive Page. All the posts are categorized and alphabetized just for you!
Until next time….
2 thoughts on “THE COTTONWOOD”
ArkCity…. know it well. Just South of Winfield. Guv Bob Docking. Think we covered this already.
Pingback: Get Lucky! | Wine of Enchantment