Drive north on I-25, past downtown, and it's on the right, a fairly non-descript beige building stuck among the usual sorts of things scattered along an interstate on the outskirts of town -- in this case, Albuquerque, N.M. But don’t be deceived by looks. The building houses the headquarters of Gruet Winery, which is one of the best sparkling wine producers in the United States.
That Gruet is one of the best, and that the company does it with grapes grown in New Mexico, speaks volumes about how far regional wine making has come in the U.S. Gruet sells more than 80,000 cases in 48 states, and it graces the wine lists of high-class bistros around the country. And, it’s an example that other regional winemakers can study to see how to match grapes with climate and turn out a critically acclaimed product at a more than fair price.
“The climate is certainly part of our success,” says Laurent Gruet, whose family emigrated from the Champagne region of France in the early 1980s. Most of the chardonnay and pinot noir used to make the wines are grown in southern New Mexico, taking advantage of the region’s 4,300-foot altitude and cool nights, the sandy and loamy soil, and low humidity. But that’s just the beginning of the process. “Our goal,” says Gruet, “is to make sparkling wine as close to the French style as possible.”
Which is what Gruet does, but without sacrificing the refreshing, New World quality of the fruit. French champagne is terrific, but can be a little stuffy, especially when it comes to price. Gruet doesn’t have that problem. Its basic wine is Gruet Brut NV ($13), a clean, crisp sparkler with a bit of caramel on the nose and balanced acid. It’s not Dom Perignon, but it’s not supposed to be (and try finding real champagne – even ordinary stuff – for less than $30 a bottle).
Also recommended are a very berry yet still dry Gruet Rose NV ($13), made entirely of pinot noir; the Gruet Demi-sec NV ($13), creamy and sweetish, but still balanced; and the Gruet Blanc de Blanc NV ($21), made from chardonnay and a stunner at this price. Try it in a blind tasting with French bubbly that costs $30 or $40 and prepare to be surprised.
One other surprise from Gruet: The company has planted syrah and done two vintages. Laurent Gruet is convinced he can make world-class syrah in New Mexico for around $13. I tasted the 2004, and it was nice – not as big as a shiraz, and with some candied fruit. It’s not as overwhelming as the sparkling wine, but in a couple of years, who knows?