Business took me to New Mexico for two weeks. I'd been there four times over the course of my youth, and have fond memories of the state. Warm dry days, cool nights, much preferable to the steamy climate of Memphis. Oddly, this happens to be ideal for the growing of grapes for sparkling wine.
The Gruet Winery in Albuquerque, New Mexico was founded by French winemakers from the Champagne region. They make excellent sparkling wines in the traditional méthode champenoise, as well as a few still wines. Chardonnay and Pinot Noir are the primary grapes at the vineyards (Pinot Meunier is not grown; the owners feel that it doesn't contribute much to the sparklers). Recent experiments with Syrah for still wine have been highly successful, so much so that I didn't get a chance to try it either at the winery or at the restaurant.
Speaking of the restaurant, before I left the state I had dinner at the Gruet Steakhouse, located in Downtown Albuquerque. Over a glass of the 2005 Pinot Noir (much bolder and with stronger fruit than the 2004 Reserve below), I had the mixed grill: a duck breast with a cherry reduction, a portion of filet mignon with béarnaise sauce, and a perfectly cooked lamb chop with a chili-mustard seed sauce. A dish of creamed spinach and an orzo stuffed baked tomato rounded out the delicious meal.
I stopped by on a Saturday afternoon for a tasting and a tour of the facility. Thanks to Donald and to the young lady pouring samples for a warm and friendly reception at the winery. The tour and tasting are highly recommended. I got to see every phase of production for sparkling wines, and even got to stick my nose into a couple of barrels of still red wine. And I learned a great new Scrabble word. A gyropallet is a device that holds 504 standard wine bottles and over the course of eight days slowly turns the bottles and moves all of the yeast to the neck. This replaces the labor-intensive method of riddling the bottles, even though a good riddler could turn 30,000 bottles a day.
Note: while the wine is made and aged at the Albuquerque location, the grapes are grown further south in New Mexico.
The basic tasting is $6 and includes a regular wine glass; the $14 vintage tasting provides access to the higher end selections and comes with a lovely Riedel Champagne glass featuring the Gruet logo.
All wine information can be found on the Gruet website. I've seen some of the Gruet products available at Great Wines in Memphis. Other wine shops should be able to special order it if you ask nicely.
NV Blanc de Noirs. 75% Pinot Noir, 25% Chardonnay. $13.50. Lemony acidity, crisp and clean, with a touch of raspberries on the finish. Dry and well balanced. I liked this one enough to take a bottle back to the hotel for matching with some spicy Southwestern fare later on. Green chile and a cold crisp sparkler are a fantastic match.
2002 Blanc de Blancs. 100% Chardonnay. $24. Four years aging on yeast. Lighter nose, touch of vanilla, crisper and more tart than the Blanc de Noirs. Tangy finish.
2002 Grand Rosé. 92% Chardonnay, 8% Pinot Noir. $32. A touch of strawberry, a little bit of cream. Not as tart as the previous wines, smoother and well balanced. Faint hint of tannins. Really nice.
2000 Grand Reserve. 100% Chardonnay. $46. Aged in French oak and then on yeast for six years. Wow. Nice, lightly toasted aroma. Touch of tart acidity. Lovely long finish. Elegant.
2004 Pinot Noir Barrel Select. 100% Pinot Noir. $46. For some reason I was expecting a big, bold Pinot Noir, but instead I was greeted with a light and delicious wine that was more Burgundy than California. Wild strawberry aromas and flavors dominate. Smooth with excellent balance. Wonderful.