Thursday, January 3, 2008

Last Night's Tipple

Over the past thirty years or so, many of the big producers in Champagne have ventured across the Atlantic and the North American continent to California to buy up land, plant grapes, and build wineries capable of making first-rate Champagne-style sparkling wine. It's a natural strategy for expansion given the extremely limited vineyard acreage legally able to produce grapes that go into Champagne. Members of the Gruet family, Champagne producers since 1952, made this trip in the early 1980s and didn't like what they saw. The California vineyards that they toured were so different from those in Champagne that they didn't think that they were appropriate for making Champagne-style wines. And so they planted grapes in New Mexico instead. That's right. New Mexico, 170 miles south of Albuquerque in vineyards at an elevation of 4300 feet. Sure, it gets plenty hot there during the day, but the cold nights help keep the grapes' acidity up. And the low humidity retards the formation of rot, which increases yields, which makes the winery more economically viable. Gruet first produced wine in New Mexico in 1987, and since that time, they have developed a reputation for making excellent sparkling wine at bargain basement prices.

Although Gruet does make some vintage offerings, their only bottlings that are widely distributed are all non-vintage: Brut, Blanc de Noirs, Rosé, and Demi-Sec. All of these have good reputations, but the best-known one is the Blanc de Noirs. Blanc de Noirs is defined as a white wine made from the juice of red grapes, meaning that the wine is pressed off of its skins almost immediately after being crushed. A lot of Blanc de Noirs sparkling wine has a bit of copper or pink in it, but not this one. It's a deep gold. I believe that despite its name, it has a small amount of Chardonnay in it (the regulations for Champagne allow three grapes: the red grapes Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier and the white grape Chardonnay; Blanc de Noirs should be exclusively Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier, and Gruet doesn't grow any Pinot Meunier in New Mexico), but that's okay. It's really tasty. I get a lot of berries in this, and I like berries. It's pleasingly highly bubbly, and it doesn't have the nasty sourness that so many cheap sparkling wines have. Very good, and a real bargain at less than $13 a bottle.

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