New Mexico, "Land of Enchantment," one of the few state nicknames I wholeheartedly agree with. Sure, Minnesota has a lot of lakes, and Florida has a lot of sunshine, but New Mexico has a lot of enchantment, something intangible and ephemeral. It's a beautiful place where I've had few but memorable adventures, most recently getting trapped in Albuquerque during a blizzard.

Derek and I drove across the country to stay with his family in Chattanooga, Tennessee, for the holidays. Living in Los Angeles, it didn't even occur to us to check the weather. Not that we've never lived anywhere else and are unaware that in December not everyone enjoys 75 degree days filled with sunshine. We just didn't think about it. We drove to Flagstaff the first day, spending the night in the Debbie Reynolds room at the historic Monte Vista hotel. We awoke to the quaint beauty of the rustic mountain town, getting back on the road quickly as we had spoken with the hotel owner about an approaching storm. Over a foot of snow was expected and the first flakes began to fall as we pulled out of town. We were happy with ourselves for having avoided the trouble, but little did we know that we were headed straight for it.

A later look at a satellite map would show a blue strip representing the blizzard which stretched along the highway we were driving on. To the north and south it was clear, to the east and west it was clear. The storm was over our car, following us as we drove. We couldn't escape it. We were in the middle of Nowhere, New Mexico, the space on the 40 between the border and Albuquerque. At one point we discussed stopping for a coffee, but I urged Derek to keep going. To not stop until we got to Albuquerque or we would end up stranded at some roadside gas station that sold moccasins, belt buckles, dolls with long dark braids, dreamcatchers and arrowheads. We'd have to sleep in our car, maybe keep ourselves warm by popping open the 6 bottles of wine we'd brought with us. Drink ourselves to sleep as the frost crept over the windshield and our toes went numb...




GRUET BRUT BLANC DE NOIRS, Sparkling Wine

No, we had to keep moving, no matter how bad the roads got. If we could just make it to the first Albuquerque exit, we would be safe. Find find a hotel, relax, call it a loss. Get back on the road early the next morning and make up for the fact that we had only driven 300 miles that day. The roads got worse, though there were less and less cars to contend with. We listened to the Bon Iver album we'd reviewed in November (perfect for the occasion) and Fleet Foxes, hunched forward with tense shoulders focusing on the disappearing asphalt, slowly being swallowed by the white wash that had already swallowed up the rest of the horizon.

 

 


We eventually made it. Pulled into the first exit which took us to Old Town Albuquerque and a beautiful Southwestern-style square with a large Christmas tree all blanketed in snow. It was enchanting. We found a hotel room and got drunk in the bar on martinis with a girl who shared my name and my passion for video games. We tromped around in the pristine snow that fell on the courtyard behind the hotel making a very tiny snowman and having a very short snowball fight. In the morning we headed out. The roads had thawed and we had clear blue skies for the rest of our drive, making it through Texas and Oklahoma and staying in Arkansas that night.

So, when New Year's rolled around and it came time to choose a sparkling wine on our recession-moving-towards-depression budget, I immediately went for Gruet. Their wines are widely available but, oddly enough, not very well known, perhaps because they make wine in New Mexico, not the first place you think of when you think of American wine. In fact the Gruet family has been making Champagne in France for many years. On a vacation to the American Southwest, they met some folks that had succeeded in growing vineyards in New Mexico. They felt that the climate and soil of some of the higher elevations were similar to that of their home, and that they might be able to produce sparkling wines in the area. Years later Gruet continues to produce great quality wines (without the use of pesticides) right outside of Albuquerque. Their Brut Blanc de Noirs is a steal at $17, bright and crisp with zesty lemon and apple aromas. The finish is all minerals and steel, long and satisfying.

 

 

I suppose there is some moral to this story, some lesson to be learned. We did find out that had we not hit the blizzard and been forced to stop that we would have made it to Tennessee just in time for a freezing storm complete with black ice and several multi-car pile-ups. As is, we made it just in time for the birth of Derek's 3rd neice, who was born the morning after our arrival. I'm sure that numerous clichés apply, or maybe the more obvious, "Check the weather before a road trip in December." The point that I really want to make is that I hope you all have a wonderful 2009. Keep trying, even when things seem hopeless, and make the best out of the situation you're left with. Trust that everything happens for a reason and that things tend to end up the way they are supposed to. But above all, drink and be merry.