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Uncorked: Great sparkling wine from an unexpected place

The finest sparkling wine in the country comes from the most unexpected location.

Nestled at extreme altitudes in the high desert of New Mexico, Gruet has produced wines that defy belief when it comes to location. An experiment by Gruet et Fils, a Champagne house in Bethon, France, has all the right components to excel in the most unlikely of places. 

Winemaker spotlight

Temperature swings in the New Mexico high desert are drastic.

During the growing season, the Gruet vineyards broil under intense temperatures that can exceed 100 degrees at 4,300 feet elevation in sandy, loamy soil. There’s no humidity in the desert and at the high elevation levels night-time temperatures drop more than 30 degrees, which slows the fruit’s maturation process.  

Just as important, the lack of humidity and elevation combine to keep pests and mold that can plague some growing regions away. The oldest vines are 25 years old, and every year five to 10 new vines are planted. Still, it’s a rare-for-the-area water source that allows second-generation winemaker Laurent Gruet to maximize the potential resources of the vineyard. 

“We’ve got limited access to water with Lake Elephant Butte,” Gruet sales and marketing manager Lori Anne McBride said. “The vines get very stressed in the summer, but that’s a good thing. We make great wine because the terroir and climate add to its characteristics.”

What started as a trial vineyard with plantings of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay in 1984, has blossomed into one of the top sparkling wine houses in the United States. Gruet makes 120,000 cases of wine with fruit from its vineyards, which are about 150 miles south of Albuquerque near the town of Engle, and is exported to all 50 states.  

Gruet doesn’t come from the glamorous domestic wine regions. It has largely remained a small family operation and its prices and stunning quality make it a must buy for the upcoming holiday season.  

“It’s definitely different that we make wine in New Mexico,” McBride said. “We’ve been around for a while, but there’s still some sticker shock when people see where we are from. We joke that if this wine was made in Champagne or a more well-known wine region we’d all be rich.”

That isn’t a joke. The wines are that good.

What to buy

Gruet, Grand Reserve 2005 ($42.99): An unbelievable price for a sparkling wine of this high quality. Seven years in the bottle have brought out all new flavors. The seven-year reserve was my introduction to the Gruet portfolio at a Champagne tasting several years ago and prompted my interest in a rare New Mexico wine. 

Gruet, Blanc de Blanc 2007 ($24.99): A great pairing with turkey dinner this Thanksgiving – I paired it at mine last year – at another spectacular price. 

Gruet, Extra Dry ($14.99): Several bottles were served last year at my New Year’s festivities. Beautiful peach and honey apple notes highlight this pleasantly crisp domestic sparkler. An unbelievable value. 

Wine 101

The only sparkling wines designated as Champagne comes from the actual French region. Everything else is labeled as a sparkling wine.

• James Nokes writes a bi-weekly wine column for the Daily Chronicle. He’s been tasting, touring and collecting in the wine world for several years. Contact him at news@daily-chronicle.com.

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