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An Unforgettable Evening in the Taos Ski Valley

Recently, my family and I were fortunate to attend the second annual Taos Summer Wine Festival, which is held in the Taos Ski Valley. I didn't know if this year would be able to top, or at least match, the near-perfect inaugural event. As one of my favorite memories of 2017, I sure hoped it would.

Somehow, 2018 was even better. With endless tastes of wine and gourmet food from top chefs, plus all-inclusive activities in the breathtaking New Mexico mountains, you can't go wrong. It's no exaggeration to say the Taos Summer Wine Festival is one of the best foodie experiences in the United States. While other wine events offer a hodgepodge of tastings and loosely related prix fixe meals, Cecilia Cuff and her fellow festival organizers have proven that what really makes a weekend flawless are the special details.

At the Taos Summer Wine Festival, no small touch has been overlooked. Tips are included. Bubbly is plentiful and encouraged. There was even free charging for our Chevy Volt. If the sun is too bright, an oversized umbrella promptly appears and is wrestled and finagled into place, just for you, while you sip a glass of sparkling wine. I was especially impressed with that last part. Also, I should probably have helped Cecilia with that umbrella. I blame the wine.

We arrived and collected our passes without any line. Although the ski valley setting was already naturally beautiful, flower arrangements had been thoughtfully placed throughout. Guests loved them. (So did the hummingbird moths.) There was no lack of seating, whether for large groups or smaller ones in search of a cozy space, and it never felt crowded.

taos wine festival tickets

Within moments, we were greeted by friendly waitstaff offering hors d'oeuvres. And, yes, you can bet I had to Google how to spell that.

salmon appetizer
This salmon was the perfect bite.

Bottomless flutes of effervescent Le Grand Courtage set the tone. It was clear to all the guests that we were in for an exquisite weekend. 

review of the taos wine festival
SN didn't even like wine when we met 14 years ago. You've come a long way, baby!

My parents joined us this year and agreed the Taos Summer Wine Festival is not to be missed. My mom has actually been pestering me ever since, wondering when I'm going to write another article (and another after that) reviewing the weekend. It seems it is up to me to increase attendance next year, lest we risk her favorite event being discontinued.

It's a lot of pressure. 

guests at the 2018 taos summer wine festival
My dad didn't expect to enjoy his time in Taos and said it's "just a bunch of snooty liberals," but even he is looking forward to attending again in 2019.

Yes, he makes me roll my eyes too.

With time to spare before dinner, my parents left to check into their hotel, the conveniently located Alpine Village Suites. SN and I were lured by the crisp New Mexico mountain air into taking a walk. I like to think that it canceled out the calories we were about to consume.

alpine village suites taos

The Taos ski resort is filled with public art and places to explore.

taos ski resort

wooden statues at the taos ski valley

public art taos ski valley

public art in taos nm

scenery in taos

best hiking near taos nm

taos nm wildflower hike

After our stroll, SN and I met back up with my parents and headed to the highlight of the festival, a progressive dinner through 192 at The Blake, the Hondo Restaurant at the Snakedance, and The Blonde Bear Tavern at Edelweiss Lodge. Each stop featured wine pairings. I am not kidding when I tell you this dinner was one of the most fun things I've done in my life. It was certainly the best meal I've ever had.

In fact, if any of the Taos Summer Wine Festival organizers are reading this, I'd love to see a progressive brunch added next year. And a progressive lunch. And while we're at it, how about a progressive first weekend of the month, every month? Taos is 3 hours away from us and we would gladly make the drive for as many progressive meals as you would like to add! 

So. Much. Fun.

192 at the blake
We began our dining adventure at the elegant 192 at The Blake, where we were treated to locally sourced, fire-roasted stuffed quail with huitlacoche, stone fruit, and calabacitas. (By the way, it seems spell check has never heard of calabacitas. I guess it's a New Mexico thing.) I was pleasantly surprised to discover that we were not forced to sit at a large table with strangers at 192 at The Blake or any of the other restaurants, as is common with wine event dinners. With social anxiety, this small detail was greatly appreciated and it improved my dining enjoyment exponentially.

wine pairings at 192 at the blake
Our quail was paired with three impeccably chosen red wines: 2014 Clos du Caillou, Cotes du Rhone, 2015 Garrayana, Gamay Noir, Willamette Valley, and 2013 Damilano, Barbera d’Asti. We were encouraged to pay attention to how each improved the meal and determine our personal favorites. Learning about each wine one-on-one with a sommelier elevated the already-enjoyable dining experience.

Next, we walked next door to The Hondo Restaurant at Snakedance, greatly anticipating more delectable food and drink. We were not disappointed.

hondo at snakedance taos
The Hondo featured a Sous Vide Lobster Tamale with a roasted poblano pepper sauce, sweet corn puree, and avocado mousse. Weeks later, my mom is still talking about it as one of the best things she has ever eaten. I enjoyed my lobster tamale, but one of the best things I've ever eaten was the amuse-bouche served before it, shown above. Who would have thought tiny pancakes could be raised to such deliciousness?

wine pairings at hondo snakedance taos
Our lobster tamales were paired with aromatic 2016 Santiago Ruiz Albariño, Rias Baixas. As if we had not indulged enough already, after finishing our entree, tastings from Delgado Zuleta were poured. They are the oldest active producers of sherry in the world, going all the way back to 1744.

After this course, it was raining heavily outside. We could have waited for the weather to improve...but the next stop on our progressive dinner featured steak. Needless to say, we got wet.

Blonde Bear Tavern at Edelweiss Lodge
At the meticulously decorated Blonde Bear Tavern at Edelweiss Lodge, we were served the most beautiful appetizer I have ever seen, a Norwegian salmon crostino (the singular of crostini - see how educational my blog is?) with beet relish and crème fraiche. It was almost (almost) too pretty to eat.

wine pairings at the taos summer wine festival
And, of course, there was more wine. (That makes seven glasses so far, for those of you keeping track.) We were poured a 2011 Chehalem "Reserve" Pinot Noir from Willamette Valley and we learned about the wine from sommelier Jason Romero. It paired grandly with what might be the most sophisticated food I have ever had the pleasure of eating, Tournedos Rossini, which is medallions of beef tenderloin topped with Himalayan black truffles.

As a funny side note, SN and I try to be elegant and discard our (his) redneck ways, but it's difficult.  Each beef medallion was topped with a fried squash blossom. Neither of us had ever eaten a squash blossom before, but it wouldn't have been fried it if it wasn't to eat, right? It was delicious! I got to the stem and looked around the restaurant - do you eat the stem? Other diners were, so I did the same. Oh, the stem is awful! I mentioned this to SN later and he agreed, saying that he didn't think we were supposed to eat the stem, but he did it after looking around and copying the other guests.

That brought us to the conclusion of the evening, dessert. It was still raining outside. A little water will never keep me from chocolate. Apparently, I'm not the only person in my family who feels this way.

taos summer wine festival reviews
My mom is all smiles coming out of the rain, as she knows it's time for sweet treats.

taos summer wine festival desserts
This is the best photo I took of the dessert offerings, which included churros, hot cocoa, cinnamon sugar sopapillas, chocolate tamales, and more, all paired with flutes of Le Grand Courtage. It was a dream come true and I had no time for photography. 

The dessert reception was originally intended to be under the stars, along with the largest telescope in New Mexico, but the rain had forced everyone inside. A wonderful time was still had by all. I could have eaten 100 of those churros.

They were little, like 1/3 the size of regular churros, so that would really only be like eating 33 or 34 churros. Not so outrageous, really.

Next year, I'd really like to see more churros. There was Le Grand Courtage available on the plaza. It seemed a little lonely all by itself. Arrive and pick up your festival passes? Have a churro. Enormous barbeque lunch before an even bigger tasting event? Have a churro. Heck, have two.

happy blogger at the taos wine festival
There are 11 months left before the 2019 Taos Summer Wine Festival. I can't wait!

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