In 1984 Gilbert Gruet—a man who had labored his entire life to create a Champagne label in Bethon, near Epernay—planted an experimental vineyard in New Mexico, of all places.
How did such an improbable situation come about? Gruet was certainly no Taittinger or Roederer. He was a hard-working guy who had planted his first vines in 1952, established a co-operative in 1967, and finally succeeded in realizing his dream. But in 1983, the family was traveling in New Mexico and met some French winemakers who had successfully cultivated vines in the wilderness south of Albuquerque. When Gruet studied the soil and climate, he decided it was perfect for Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. He dispatched two of his children, Laurent and Nathalie, to oversee the new venture. They released their first sparkling wine in 1989.
Today, Gruet is firmly established in the American landscape. The wines have won every accolade imaginable, and are distributed nationally to a wide network of restaurants and retail stores (in 2014 Gruet partnered with Precept Wine, a family-owned company representing a portfolio of wineries located in Washington, Oregon and Idaho). The wines are made by the classic méthode Champenoise in their Albuquerque facility, aged in the bottle for 24 months before release, and are indistinguishable from the real thing at a fraction of the price.
The Gruet Brut ($15), a blend of 75% Chardonnay and 25% Pinot Noir, is the cornerstone of the production. It has a bright yellow gold color, aggressive streams of tiny bubbles, and a yeasty nose with aromas of citrus and green apples. The wine is far more sumptuous in the mouth than the nose would lead you to expect: creamy flavors of vanilla wrap around vibrant acidity and highlight the boisterous notes of lemon, lime and apple.
The Blanc de Noirs ($17), at 75% Pinot Noir and 25% Chardonnay, is the mirror image of the Brut. The nose exudes attractive floral scents and just the faintest hint of red fruits. In the mouth, the wine is full-bodied, voluptuous and intriguing, with a core of intensely ripe red berries. It would make a great match with Thai, Szechuan, Cajun and any other spicy cuisine.
Aromas of strawberry, floral tones and hints of rhubarb spring from a glass of the salmon-colored Gruet Brut Rosé ($17), made from 100% Pinot Noir. The wine is deep, rich and sturdy on entry, giving way to a ripe core of red berry fruit in the mid palate; flavors of red raspberry, strawberry and wild cherry are honed by good acidity and supported by a strong mineral backbone. One of the best things about this wine is the finish: flavorful, resonant and lingering on the palate like a spring day.
Mark Spivak is the author of Iconic Spirits: An Intoxicating History (Lyons Press, 2012) and Moonshine Nation (Lyons Press, 2014); his first novel, Friend of the Devil, is now available from Black Opal Books. For more information, go to amazon.com.