The Deal & Saturday Tasting:
This weekend presents a perfect storm: Valentine’s Day—the king of manufactured “holidays”—falls on a Saturday, so every restaurant in America will be booked to capacity (as is Carpe Vino, but there is still room for our prix-fixe on Friday and Sunday evenings). Essential for creating a perfect evening is the perfect bottle of bubbly to pair with the romance, and we’ve got some amorous solutions. What you will find most remarkable is all of this juice is sourced from the unlikeliest of places: Gruet Winery in Albuquerque, NM, launched 25 years ago by a family of French champagne makers. (Note: all tasting notes in quotes below are provided by Gruet.)
2007 Gilbert Gruet Grande Reserve Vintage Sparkling Wine, $40. This is Gruet’s premium sparkler, and just 250 cases were produced (normally sold only at the winery and through its wine club). An homage to a family pioneering winemaker, this sparkling wine is 90% chardonnay and 10% pinot noir, fermented in oak barrels and kept “en tirage” for five years (refers to time a sparkling wine has rested in the bottle in contact with the yeast sediment from the secondary fermentation). “Rich and creamy; toasty almond notes and a lemon cream middle body. A long, lingering finish is highlighted by bright mineral acidity.”
2010 Gruet Grand Rosé Sparkling Wine, $33. Same program as the wine above, but even though it is “salmon pink” in color, it is equally dry and just 250 cases were produced. “The taste is brilliant—complex with a wonderful, rich pinot noir nose—and at the same time buttery elegant chardonnay texture. The dominating aromas are cherries and apple peel; the taste is soft and creamy.”
NV Gruet Blanc de Noirs, $16.99; $14.99 on six or more. This is Gruet’s basic dry sparkler, and at this price, you can enjoy whenever you wish (40,000 cases produced annually). “Aged for two years minimum. Amazing berry aromas and creamy texture; aggressive mousse and a lovely palate give this wine plenty of immediate charm and tasty aromas.”
NV Gruet Rosé Brut, $16.99; $14.99 on six or more. Roughly 10,000 cases of this entry-level rosé were produced, and it’s a winner! “This beautiful garnet-colored wine has a delicate, fine mousse and rich, fruity flavors. Floral and berry aromas with hints of cherry, raspberry and lots of wild strawberry on the palate; bright flavors, lingering finish.”
2010 Gruet Pinot Noir, $21.50. This wine was a total surprise, though it shouldn’t have been. . .because who would be better equipped to vint an outstanding pinot than a French winemaker? This one is definitely Burgundian in style. . .a lighter color than the fruit bombs produced in California. . .more subtle, greater minerality, elegant and profoundly drinkable. Just a few hundred case made and great pricing, too! From Gruet: “Ripe and complete with focused notes framed by light oak. Finishes with a pretty berry and mineral edge; combines ripe, supple polished plum, black cherry and berry flavors for a wonderful, lingering aftertaste.” This is now one of my favorite pinots in the Friendly Confines.
The Back Story:
We’ve sold the NV Gruet sparklers for a number of years, and visiting there has been a back-burner ambition for me since my first taste. Besides satisfying my curiosity about how such wonderful wine could be produced in New Mexico. . .in Albuquerque no less. . .I had an ulterior motive: up until a couple of weeks ago, there were only two states I had not visited—Alaska and New Mexico. Now I just need to check the Alaska box, perhaps next year.
My BFF was out of town for nearly a month, so rather than sit at home and bay at the moon, I organized a 12-day, 3,000-mile, independent road rally across California, Nevada, Arizona and New Mexico. During my only full day in Las Vegas—my first stop—I did a “History Channel tour”, visiting the shooting locations for three TV shows: Pawn Stars, American Restoration and Counting Cars.
Then it was off to a box-checking excursion at the Grand Canyon, where I stayed two nights at the El Tovar Hotel (little brother of the Yosemite’s Awani) and did an eight-mile hike of the canyon rim (frickin’ amazing!). From there, it was off to Albuquerque, where I did a customized, seven-stop Breaking Bad tour (ask me about it next time you see me). Then two nights in Santa Fe at the Four Kachinas Bed & Breakfast (Walt and Wayne are awesome), Georgia O’Keefe and a nasty snow “event”.
Before turning home via Phoenix (where I spent three nights with a former co-worker and checked another box—visited Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin West) I stopped for a couple of hours at Gruet Winery in Albuquerque (the spelling of which I am now fully confident) and chatted with owner Laurent Gruet.
The best way to access the Gruet Winery and Tasting Room—which is located on the north side of the city—is from an onramp to I-25. From the accompanying photo, you get the impression of a prototypical winery structure set in the middle of a vineyard in wine country anywhere. What you don’t see is the winery fronts an interstate freeway sandwiched in between a Tuff Shed sales office on one side and Aloha RV on the other. Very odd, indeed, but this is actually a prime example of an early urban winery. Gruet owns it own vineyards near Truth or Consequences, about 170 miles south of the winery (water has to be pumped up to the site).
Five years ago, the New York Times did an excellent feature on the winery and family, which you can read by clicking here (which I just discovered shares my Tuff Shed observation). The short story is, however, the Gruets first started making champagne in France in 1952, and unable to expand there, sought new vineyard sites in the United States. In 1984, Laurent and his sister, Nathalie, after researching locations to establish a winery, selected T or C because of its affordability and familiar terroir.
Now, more than 25 years after producing their first vintage, the Gruets have built a formidable wine business with a reputation for making wonderful and affordable sparklers. Production is about 125,000 cases a year, with cash cows of entry-level NV rosé, brut and blanc de noirs. They also produce reserve sparkling wines in very limited quantities, as well as a range of white and red still wines, the 2010 Gruet Pinot Noir being my preferred of the lot.
Regina Wilson, who has managed the Gruet tasting room for a decade, poured through all of the wines for me (I spit, of course) before hooking me up with Laurent for a tour of the facility. I’ve visited a hundred+ wineries in my career, but this one is different. There are three million bottles resting in huge racks as part of the lengthy méthode champenoise process to make sparking wine (and Champagne, of course). There are 20 people employed by Gruet, a seemingly tiny number based on the fact that they can bottle up to 1,000 cases per day.
Time to Stock Up:
Gruet distributes its products primarily to restaurants and retail wine shops, but its entry wines are more readily available. The Gilbert Gruet Grande Reserve and the Gruet Grand Rosé (no typos here with “grand and grande”), as mentioned, are only available directly through the winery, so this is a grand opportunity to acquire these limited wines.
Just click on the Buy Now buttons above to stock up or come on into Carpe Vino. . .that special person in your life will certainly show you some reciprocal love!
Wine Clubbers: Gruet Tasting is Saturday
This Saturday’s Wine Club tasting is going to be something special: we’re featuring all of the Gruet wines highlighted in this email. They’ll all be open for tasting, and we’ll have a representative from the winery’s broker on hand to answer any of your really tough questions.
I’ll be in da house too, so I’ll look forward to seeing everyone from noon to 3 p.m. If you need a special bottle for Valentine’s Day, your search is over. Are you feeling the love?