• Two Thumbs Way Up
• Subtle aromas of raspberry, strawberry and toasted walnuts with a creamy/talc-like quality. On a background of red and dark berry notes, it had flavors of toasted almonds, sour dough bread, green apples and creamy vanilla with a kiss of appetite-inducing bitterness.
• Two Thumbs Way Up
• Aromas of strawberry, black raspberry, cassis and cream soda. It offers a ton of berry flavors along with sour dough, lime, watermelon and bright, clean mineral notes. It is
Inexpensive wines that drink like a million dollars are a sommelier’s best friend. Let me tell you why:
This past New Year’s Eve, I was part of a catering team at a wine-themed party for about 40 revelers. Naturally, I was in charge of picking the wines and the host gave me a $15 average bottle cost to work with.
The onion tart appetizer fairly dictated that I have a riesling from Alsace, France, and I really wanted to show off a particular cabernet I found from Napa Valley that would go splendidly with the beef tenderloin. Both wines were in excess of $20.
It being a New Year’s party, I would necessarily have to put a number of sparkling wines into the shopping cart. This is typically not an area where you can whittle down your average cost, unless you are familiar with a little sparkling winemaker from New Mexico.
Gruet Winery has been making wine New Mexico for more than 25 years. I’ve been drinking and recommending them to Atlanta wine lovers for nearly 10 of those years. By now, I would have figured that most people would be aware of Gruet and this little slice of Champagne in the high desert. While the wine savvy New Year’s crowd oohed and ahhhed over the riesling, the Chablis and the Napa cab I selected, they were most fascinated by the Gruet, which shouts “Champagne” with a capital “C,” but for a quarter of the price. Most of them were incredulous at the idea that wines can come from New Mexico.
I’ve long contended that you can drink well for not a lot of money. This is not a condemnation of expensive wines. If by guile, quality or scarcity, you can get a hundred bucks or more for a bottle of wine that you make, more power to you. I’m partial to sparkling wines and absolutely adore the wines of Champagne. Unfortunately, Champagne for much less than $40 does not exist. There’s no shame, however, in buying the next best thing: a wine made by a Champagne native, whose family has been making bubbly in that famous French wine region since the 1950s.
After a trip through the southwestern United States in 1983, Gilbert Gruet got a crazy idea. He would plant chardonnay and pinot noir grapes (“the” grapes of Champagne) on a parcel of land 170 miles south of Albuquerque. To the amusement of many, he said he would produce sparkling wines like those of his hometown in Bethon, France, located in the southern part of the Champagne region. Along with his son, Laurent, daughter, Nathalie, and friend, Farid Himeur, he realized that dream in 1987 by producing 5,000 bottles.
Amazement replaced amusement as critics and consumers heaped praise on the wine from the unusual winemaking locale. It’s natural to think that New Mexico is too hot for grape production. With vineyards located nearly a mile above sea level, however, temperatures typically fall 30 degrees or more every night in the summer. This allows plenty of time for the grapes to ripen to their fullest potential.
Gruet passed away in 1999. Laurent Gruet has taken over winemaking responsibilities for the winery, which now produces more than 100,000 cases a year. The winery makes a fleet of different sparkling wines: a brut, a blanc de noirs (the one I picked for the New Year’s event), a rosé, a demi sec (amazing with gooey cheeses or spicy Thai food), an exquisite extra dry blanc de blancs and a sauvage blanc de blanc, in addition to several vintage and reserve bottlings. Laurent has also ventured into the world of non-bubbly wines with his interpretations of pinot noir, chardonnay and syrah.
All the sparkling wines are available in Georgia, but some may be a little tricky to find. Fortunately, the brut and the blanc de noirs are widely available and you should have no trouble locating them…and speaking as a guy who selects wine with a budget in mind let me say: “Thanks a million, Gilbert Gruet!”
Note: Wines are rated on a scale ranging up from Thumbs Down, One Thumb Mostly Up, One Thumb Up, Two Thumbs Up, Two Thumbs Way Up and Golden Thumb Award. Prices are suggested retail prices as provided by the winery, one of its agents, a local distributor or retailer.
Bubblies By Many Names Don’t Taste As Sweet
As with so many things in wine, sparkling wine terminology is rampant, confusing and often not in English. Sparkling wine comes in varying degrees of sweetness. Each degree has its own name—from “brut sauvage” with the least amount of residual sugar to “doux” on the sweet side. The guide below translates the lexicon from the land of bubbles.
BRUT SAUVAGE, EXTRA BRUT, BRUT NATURE, BRUT ZERO—While no wine can possibly be completely absent of sugar, this one is as close as it gets. (less than 0.6 percent sugar)
BRUT—Winemakers add a bit of sugar into the finished bubbly to offset the searing acidity common to most sparkling wines. This is the most popular style of sparkling wine. (0.7-1.5 percent sugar)
EXTRA DRY—Here’s where the confusion starts. Extra dry has a bit more sugar added to it than brut, giving it a tad more body. You’d never call these wines sweet, but remember that extra dry sparklers are not as dry as those that are in the brut category. Got it? (1.2-2.0 percent sugar)
DRY, SEC—These wines have slightly more sugar than extra dry and tasters may notice a subtle sweetness in these wine. In many cases, this additional sugar is covering up a lower quality wine’s rough edges. (1.7-3.5 percent sugar)
DEMI-SEC—Most people would find this category (French for half dry) sweet, but not overly so. These wines make great companions to mildly sweet desserts and fruit. And there may be no better accompaniment to seriously spicy cuisine. (3.3-5.0 percent sugar)
DOUX—This is French for sweet. We’re most definitely in dessert wine territory here. While it’s hard to generalize, these wines often match well with poached pears and citrusy desserts, such as lemon squares. (more than 5 percent sugar)