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St Clair Winery & Bistro – Albuquerque, New Mexico

St Clair Winery & Bistro

While conducting research to write this review, I uncovered varying accounts as to the genesis of wine-making in New Mexico.  The New Mexico Wine Country Web site indicates the first Spanish explorers and settlers brought their European wines grapes with them as they made the Rio Grande valley their new home in the early 1500s. The original grape stocks supposedly remain the source of many of New Mexico’s vinters to this day.

Another source relates that in 1629, Franciscan friars planted the first vineyard (for sacramental wine) in New Mexico in defiance to Spanish law prohibiting the growing of grapes for wine in the new world. Those first wines were planted  on the east bank of the Rio Grande slightly north of the village of present day San Antonio by Fray Gracia de Zuniga, a Franciscan monk. Despite conflicting accounts, one fact appears incontrovertible–New Mexico is the oldest wine-making region in the country.

A loaf of bread with an herbed (parsley, thyme, garlic) butter

Today the fruit of the vine is cultivated in more than 5,000 acres throughout the Rio Grande valley. St. Clair Winery, situated in the fecund Mimbres Valley is the state’s largest winery. Thanks to day and night time temperature variances that can range by as much as 30 degrees and a growing elevation of 4,500 feet, the winery is reputed to grow some of the best grapes in New Mexico.  Forty different types of grapes produce several award-winning wines including Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel and Syrah.

The Deming-based winery sits on several hundred acres and has a 500,000 gallon capacity distributed among seventy different wines under eight labels.  It is among the 100 largest wineries in the United States with an annual production of 80,000 cases of wines.  Its grapes are trucked from its 200-acre vineyards fifty miles away just outside Lordsburg.  At the winery, the grapes are filtered and pressed.  Some are barrel-aged for as long as 18 months.  In the January, 2010 edition of New Mexico Magazine, my friend Lesley King profiled the wine-making process at the St. Clair Winery for her monthly King of the Road feature.

Nosh

In 2005, St. Clair Winery launched a wine-tasting room and bistro on the outskirts of historic Old Town Plaza and on the site of the now defunct Rio Grande Cantina. Bacchus would be proud.  An extensive wine list showcases St. Clair wines which may be enjoyed in the bistro or the stylishly appointed wine bar. The wine shop also features some of our favorite gourmet offerings as well as wine accessories. St. Clair Bistros can also be found in Las Cruces and Farmington in addition to the tasting room in Deming.

The bistro’s menu is a vehicle for the diversity of St. Clair wines which are used to accentuate the sauces and gravies on most menu items as well as salad dressings and even the bistro’s signature soup d jour.  The menus describe the best wine pairings for the bistro’s delicious French country dishes.  An old-world style dining room and spacious outdoor patio provide an enjoyable venue for generally very good dining.  

Green Chile Mac and Cheese

27 July 2014: One of the best precursors to a meal at the bistro is the cheese nosh  which over the years has undergone multiple transformations.  When first offered, guests were allowed to select three from among ten different cheeses to enjoy with Kalamata olives (thankfully pitted), grapes, chunks of chocolate, mango chutney and homemade crostini.   The platter was generously portioned and easily sated two diners.  Today turophilies (someone who is obsessed with cheese) can still order the cheese nosh and enjoy a wide-variety of surprisingly high quality cheeses.  The nosh plate is artisinal in its presentation and delightful in its variety, albeit no longer as prodigious as it once was.  Intended to be a “light snack,” the cheese nosh is beautifully plated and colorful. 

During a visit in July, 2014, the cheese nosh plate showcased five cheeses with unique personalities in terms of taste and sharpness, texture and appearance. Those cheeses were: Maytag Blue Cheese, a hand-made, cave-aged often considered one of America’s finest blue cheeses; Sage Derby, a mild, semi-hard cheese with a sage flavor and green veins characteristic of sage being added to the curds; Port Derby, a smooth and creamy cheese with an elegant Burgundy veining; Brie, the best known French cheese with a complex flavor and soft texture; and pimento, a softly spreadable cheese featuring chopped cherry peppers.  The cheeses are quite good  especially when judiciously paired with palate cleansing raspberries and dark chocolate nibs.  A variety of crisp crackers is also provided.

Pomegranate Chipotle Pork Salad

26 February 2011: Other sumptuous appetizers are also available.  The Bistro’s Green Chile Mac & Cheese, homemade mac and cheese pairing Hatch green chile with a penne pasta topped with a creamy Provolone and Cheddar cheese blend is sinfully rich, a decadent bowlful of richness.  This is an entree-sized appetizer  easily big enough for two to share.  It’s an adult mac and cheese with heady cheeses, perfectly prepared (al dente) penne and Hatch green chile for a piquant personality.

Though it may appear at first glance that the lunch menu is dominated by sandwiches and salads, upon further study, you’ll find that there are a multitude of entrees with only a handful (such as the prime rib) not available for lunch. The dinner menu showcases slow-roasted selections which take a bit longer to prepare.  During dinner servings, which begin at 4PM, the sandwiches and lunch pastas come off the menu.  All in all, the menu selections are extensive in both quantity and variety.

Flat iron steak topped with Cabarnet infused bleu cheese crumbles and potatoes au gratin

Many lunch and dinner entrees are served with the house bread, a wonderful loaf accompanied by an herbed (parsley, thyme, garlic) butter.  It’s a delicious, crusty bread enlivened by a terrific butter.  That bread is the perfect canvas for the bistro’s panini sandwiches.  Other sandwich options include the Southwest Tuna Melt, Pot Roast Sandwich, Bistro Dip and a Meatball Po’ Boy.  There are three burgers on the menu including a flame-roasted green chile cheeseburger made with Hatch green chile.  Burgers are constructed from premium certified Angus ground beef (ten-ounces) made to your exacting specifications.

27 July 2014: If you’re a salad lover, the Bistro will make you very happy, especially if your choice is the Pomegranate Chipotle Pork Salad, a beautifully plated masterpiece showcasing pomegranate and mango roasted pork loin, spring mix, cucumbers, jicama, shaved Asiago cheese, shaved almonds, and fresh beets tossed with the Bistro’s Pomegranate Wine Vinaigrette.   It’s as tasty as it sounds with all ingredients melding in delicate harmony with each other to compose a flavor profile that is savory, sweet, tangy, sharp and absolutely delicious.  The roasted pork loin is tender, moist and delicious, a perfect vehicle for the pomegranate wine vinaigrette (which is bottled and available for purchase).

Sebastien’s Wine Steak

The slow-roasted dinner entrees, including the “king of roasts” prime rib are slow-roasted and therefore not available until after 4PM.  These are served with homemade  mashed potatoes and a fresh vegetable medley.  Perhaps more than any other menu items, the slow-roasted dinner entrees truly accentuate the wines with which they are prepared.   

My Midwestern born and bred wife certifies the Merlot braised country pot roast as among the best she’s had outside of her native Chicago. Tender enough to be eaten with a fork, the pot roast is well-seasoned and delicious.  It is seared and slow-roasted in its own delicious juices.  This is pot roast the type of which you might find directly above a picture of comfort food.  It’s a meaty elixir for whatever ails you, a true carnivore’s delight.

Pasta del Faro: Fresh garlic and olive oil with artichoke hearts, sun-dried tomatoes, Greek olives, red peppers and capers sauteed in Chardonnay and topped with feta cheese.

26 February 2011: Available for both lunch and dinner is an eight-ounce flat iron steak topped with Cabernet-infused bleu cheese crumbles and accompanied by potatoes au gratin.  Flat iron steaks are a value-priced cut that is tender, juicy and which some experts say has the “beefiest” flavor of any cut of beef on any steak.  The bleu cheese sauce and crumbles accentuate that beefy flavor with the pungent sharpness of one of my favorite cheeses, making me wish there were more than eight-ounces to enjoy.  The potatoes au gratin are perfectly prepared with just enough more than a hint of cheese, but not so much that it dominates the sweet flavor profile of the potatoes. 

27 July 2014: For sheer tenderness, it’s hard to imagine any steak comparable to Sebastien’s Wine Steak, a char-grilled steak prepared to your exacting specifications topped with a wine and mushroom sauce and served with garlic redskin (a term not offensive when describing potatoes) mashed potatoes and fresh vegetables.  With nary a hint of fat and sinew, at medium the steak is not quite cut with a fork tender, but it’s close.  It’s a moist, juicy steak and not solely because of the terrific wine and mushroom sauce.  Alas, a special steak is served with pedestrian garlic mashed potatoes, a once popular trend which has had its day.

Jackson Square Bread Pudding

26 February 2011: The Pasta del Faro is another adventure in pure pasta pleasure and flavor discernment.  This creative entree–fresh garlic and olive oil with artichoke hearts, sun-dried tomatoes, Greek olives, red peppers and capers–is sauteed in Chardonnay and topped with feta cheese.  There is a lot going on in this dish–a lot of flavor contrasts pitting very strong tastes against one another that go surprisingly well together.  It’s a bountiful dish big enough for two to share or for a nice meal the next day when the flavors have penetrated even further.

27 July 2014: The bistro has the audacity to call one of its desserts Jackson Square bread pudding. Having sampled almost every bread pudding offered within blocks of Jackson Square, we savored the opportunity to debunk or validate whether this dessert warranted its name.  This wonderful bread pudding passed muster! A New Orleans French toast thick slice of bread is topped with golden raisins, white and dark chocolate, egg custard and topped with homemade butter rum sauce. This bread pudding ranks as one of the five best in New Mexico on both mine and excelsior Larry McGoldrick‘s rankings.  The only thing which would make this an even better bread pudding is even more dark chocolate.

Don’t ever and I mean never let the sweet-talking wait staff talk you into trying another dessert, least of all another bread pudding.  In 2011, the Bistro introduced a second bread pudding, this one showcasing the flavor of pralines and pecans, two staples of the deep south.  Topped with a homemade butter whiskey sauce, this bread pudding suffers from the same fate which befalls other bread puddings.  It is absolutely cloying, not tempered at all by just a dash of salt.  It’s definitely not in the same league as the fabulous Jackson Square bread pudding.

Whether you’re an oenophile (someone who appreciates and knows wine) or a gastronome around town, you’ll find both creative and delicious wines and very good food at the St. Clair Winery & Bistro, a French country treasure in Old Town Albuquerque.

St Clair Winery & Bistro
901 Rio Grande
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 243-9916
Web Site

LATEST VISIT: 26 July 2014
# OF VISITS: 4
RATING: 18
COST: $$$
BEST BET: Nosh Platter; Jackson Square Bread Pudding, Pasta del Faro, Sebastien’s Wine Steak, Flat Iron Steak, Pomegranate Chipotle Pork Salad, Green Chile Mac and Cheese,

St. Clair Winery & Bistro on Urbanspoon

  • Tina Chavez says:

    First of all the wine is tops, great wine – great price – available in many places. Favorites are Riesling and the Gewurztraminer. Now, about the restaurant… first time we visited I had the Pasta Marinara, I think they missed a step, the meatballs were pretty much raw. Manager was very appologetic and I went with the Chicken Marsala, I would rate that pretty high, very tasty. Also had the Kobe burger, my first… very good.

    March 16, 2010 at 7:55 PM
  • Bob of the Village of Los Ranchos says:

    Well, am starting another year of several munchings just a block south of I-40 in this casual comfy, but tastefully appointed winery/bistro with several settings for seating from “extroverted” to cozy, i.e. it’s not just one large room. Prices are in the $12-19 range across the variety of munchables.

    Alas, I really need to resolve to explore more as I seem to be in a rut of eating this here and that there. At St. Clair’s, the lemon buttery, grilled salmon on wild rice is my perennial choice despite several tempting entrees on the menu. Awhile back, a meat n potatoes friend had the Beef Forestiere and praised it to the umbrella top as we sat (just to let you know of it) on the patio…and that was in spite of having it medium well!

    This past Friday, the place was packed by 6 and there being a not so convenient parking lot might say something about folks possibly liking the food beyond the prices, ambiance, and wine… IMHO.

    Besides the food and wine listings on the website, you will also find which combo is playing on which night of the week:
    http://www.stclairwinery.com/bistros/albuquerque/

    ‘Chow’

    January 10, 2011 at 11:36 AM
  • Larry McGoldrick says:

    Stumbled upon St Clair and had a quick lunch here today with Jane as we were scurrying off to yet another appointment.

    Add the Cuban Panini to the list of the finest Cubanos in ABQ.

    The Jackson Square Bread Pudding is magnificent, and has made it into my top five (replacing Cajun Kitchen’s version, which is now #6). Jane allows that JSqBP is the very best she has ever had.

    Here’s my revised BP list as of Jan 22 2011:

    1. Barry’s Oasis
    1. Lambert’s
    3. St Clair
    4. Two Fools
    5. Indigo Crow.

    January 22, 2011 at 4:11 PM
  • Morgain says:

    Gil, I ate here last night for my birthday. Having read several very less-than-stellar reviews on Urbanspoon.com, I confess, I wasn’t sure what to expect. As it turns out, my friends and I had an enjoyable experience. The service was good (save for some confusion with the check at the end), the wine, of course, was excellent. I ordered the prime rib, which was tender and flavourful. Sadly, some of the menu items you mentioned in your review are no longer on the menu – unfortunate, I think. Still, a good dinner. Worth the jaunt across I-40 to get there. Definitely worth a second trip.

    October 16, 2011 at 2:54 PM
  • Bob of the Village of Los Ranchos says:

    Per price “adjustments”, I withdraw my previous recommendation.

    October 28, 2012 at 5:31 PM
  • Roberta says:

    I have only been here for lunch but I LOVE the Southwest Tuna melt. Who would have thought a tuna melt could be open face with a green chile on it. Add to that the avocado and I am loving it. It is also cooked correctly, not over done as most fish is here in NM.
    Although everyone elses food looks and tastes great I always get this.

    June 1, 2013 at 12:47 PM
  • Shotsie says:

    The wines were way too sweet for me to order a meal. Nothing approached dry. And they have almost no beer menu as an alternative. (Usually I get stuck going here with friends who love the place, and don’t mind sweet wine, since the patio is nice.) The cheese sampler was okay, not great. A rating of 18 is about right – Gil didn’t mention the sweet wines that probably tempered his score.

    August 1, 2014 at 2:26 PM

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