SANTA FE, N.M. — It’s only a three-hour mid-afternoon event. And to keep it a manageable size, they limit the tickets, so they sell out every year.
You don’t think of the Wine & Chile Fiesta as being a fundraiser, raising money for a good cause, do you? Maybe because it’s so freewheeling, informal and unstructured, it’s in the daytime and it’s so much fun!
This historic tribute to New Mexico’s affection for fabulous chile, and chile’s great pairing with vino, is their mutual festival every autumn up at the Opera grounds.
This year’s 26th Annual Grand Tasting occurred on a gorgeous, sunny, blue-sky, not too hot, not too cold, Santa Fe storybook autumn day.
One should not eat much of a breakfast the day of the Wine & Chile Fiesta. Best to go on an empty stomach and sample all 300 tasty offerings from Santa Fe’s restaurants and the country’s vineyards as they merge to tempt us with their creations.
Some dishes are one tiny nibble; others are almost a meal. All should contain either New Mexico red or green chile – even desserts, which were great!
Cognoscenti of the outstanding vineyards stand in line for long spells waiting for the complimentary pour of something sumptuous that could easily be $100 a bottle, bypassing the ordinary brands and then beelining for the other A+ chateaux. I’m not telling which.
We spent 10 minutes in line for one of my big favorites, for a quarter of an inch of the garnet liquid. And to think some people (the real pros) swirl it around in their quite expert mouths and then spit it out! Crazy! We wanted to savor it with our succulent tuna tartare with red chile and sesame oil.
This day’s trend, though, was tacos – the perfect serving format: forks not necessary … pick up your food and have the other hand free for your wine. Vanessie did a yummy wasabi tuna tartare taco with red chile sauce.
There were pulled pork tacos, shredded beef tacos and green chile chicken tacos, and Chef Martín made a sublime duck mole taco that I hope he’ll put on his menu. A blissful surprise was Sazon’s Fernando Olea with his famous, fantastic “Sopa de Amor” – lump crab in a cream soup with almond foam on top, excellent with a chilly, crisp rosé!
What joy, wandering around eating divine tapas and drinking tastes of wonderful different wines al fresco on top of the Opera, looking out at the Sangres just turning yellow, live music floating through the tents … well, just a blissful afternoon.
The profit from the Wine & Chile Fiesta underwrites “Cooking With Kids,” a program started in 1995 that has grown to serve over 5,000 children and is now in 13 schools. Such culinary luminaries as Johnny Vollertson, Martín Rios, Rocky Durham and Fernando Olea volunteer to teach children the value of healthy, fresh foods, and how to prepare them and have fun in the belief that they will choose these good foods over junk foods when given the chance.
The board members, chefs, and Wine & Chile participants also have an eye on apprenticing those children who grow up through the ranks of the program who show a talent and an interest in pursuing the food service/hospitality industry. So far, the Wine & Chile Fiesta has donated $150,000 to “Cooking With Kids” over the past eight years and seems inclined to keep going.
It’s a wonderful way to sample new restaurants and see if you might like to go there; a jolly place to say a quick hello to old friends; a good way to try wines you might like to order, if you only knew. Yes, I found several restaurants to try and some I’d forgotten. It all closes down at 4 and then, woozy and satiated, you have to go home and take a nap!
(By Ashley Margetson / abqjournal)