The tapas menu delights and the patio charms — and, no, smoke does not get in your eyes — at Las Cruces' new wine and cigar bar, Vintage Wines.
Vintage Wines, the new wine bar in Las Cruces, is a great place to come by oneself, with that special someone or with friends. The atmosphere is casual and relaxed, the handful of tables situated snugly as in a real French bistro to encourage conversation. Kick off the evening with wine and tapas inside, or wrap up the night out on the charming, cozy patio with a dessert wine or port and, if you desire, a cigar — your own or purchased from their modest yet impressive selection, kept "just right" in the little humidor.
A girl on my own for the evening, I've brought enough appetite to taste just about everything on the colorful and varied tapas menu and will make a light dinner of it. The bar "specials" menu lists four wines available as a "flight" — an opportunity I always enjoy to taste and compare some "noble rot."
Co-owners Nicki Wolf and Brian O'Dell, who also own Black Range Vineyards in Hillsboro, take pride in stocking only wines that they have tasted and enjoyed. The nearly four-dozen varietals ($5-$8/glass; $11-$26/bottle) include a good range of red, white and blush wines, sparkling and dessert wines and port.
I order up tonight's special flight ($4) and a couple of tapas: the tapenade with baguette ($5) and a fresh fruit and cheese plate with crackers ($6). Wolf pours a small glass of the first wine, a select white blend, and chats about the wines and business in general while she makes up my plates. It's a quiet evening so far, Wolf reports, something she's thankful for after a very busy week. She says she does a fair amount of package sales during the day and that snacking and drinking customers start filtering in around 4 p.m.
The tapenade, with black and green olives, capers, roasted red pepper and just the right amount of garlic for my taste, is delicious. Wolf admits it is a purchased product, not homemade, but says her guests all love it. The fruit and cheese plate is ample, with samplings of four cheeses, red and green grapes, a small dish of crackers and several lush strawberries. In addition to a nice sharp cheddar and gouda, the plate holds slivers of fontina and a nicely spicy cheddar coated with chile and lime. For a small dish, it offers an amazing variety of flavors and textures.
I take care to sip my first wine slowly, wondering why the rest of the flight has not yet appeared. I ask Wolf, who looks at my glass and says, "Oh, but you're not done with that one yet." I remark that I really want to be able to compare them, but she responds that she serves the tastes one after the other — for one thing, to save on glasses.
I down the first wine in one more sip so I can go on to the next — a chardonnay — which Wolf smilingly pours. . . into the same glass! I manage to conceal my surprise and smile back at Wolf while my inner wine snob gives a silent scream.
Meanwhile the place is getting livelier with couples, a small group and a few singles filtering into the bar and out onto the patio. A friend of Wolf's and O'Dell's is playing guitar outside, and the groupings of people drift in and out, their conversations blending. Wolf says a cigar club meets at the place weekly. Most of the folks tonight seem to know each other, and in this intimate setting, no one stays a stranger for long. A reformed smoker, I am pleased that none of the patio smoke drifts inside.
Next up on my wine flight is a cabernet sauvignon that, thankfully, Wolf brings in a fresh glass. This wine and the final taste — a delicious port — get me through my appetizers, and I order up a cheese and olive plate with baguette ($7) and a full glass of Desenzano ($7), a blend of Italian and Spanish wines that turns out to be medium bodied and delightfully complex. Wolf proclaims it as her favorite.
The cheese and olive plate arrives. That delicious sharp cheddar is the only cheese that repeats, accompanied by an herbed boursin, a Laughing Cow babybel round, a spicy cheddar with crushed red pepper, and a rich, satisfying brie. The accompanying olives are a mixed lot: a few pedestrian green olives with pimento and those rather boring black olives one gets from a can, along with a few huge cerignola green olives stuffed with jalapeno or garlic and some nice kalamatas — with pits, as is proper. Other tapas I do not try tonight include salsa and chips ($4) and mixed nuts ($3).
The few tables and couple of benches on the patio have filled, and two gentlemen from the bar also have drifted outside for a smoke.
The small humidor offers better than a half-dozen varieties of cigar — from $3 for a simple, mild smoke to $17 for an A. Fuente Gran Reserve that is described as "a rare work of art." Not wishing to waste such a choice piece of tobacco on the likes of my inexperienced palate, I choose a Dominican Tatiana infused with rum ($3) from the humidor and head outside with a glass of Black Beauty dessert wine.
I remember from my smoking days that one does not inhale cigar smoke, but enjoys the taste in the mouth and then exhales. I note that a slightly sweet bite from the rum lingers on my lips, delightful to lick and going nicely with the round, "chocolatey" red wine.
It's been a few years since I've enjoyed a cigar, and those who care about me need not fear this will bring back my bad cigarette smoking habits. But this bit of Dominican tobacco is a special treat on a warm evening. And, after all, when in Rome. . .
— Donna Clayton Lawder
Vintage Wines, 2461 Calle de Principal, Mesilla, behind El Patio on the Mesilla Plaza. Wed.-Sat., 11 a.m.-10 p.m.; Sun., 12-5 p.m.; closed Mon., Tues. 523-WINE (9463).