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Image: Brut gruet champane
Gruet Winery
By Wine columnist
updated 12/16/2007 11:11:05 PM ET 2007-12-17T04:11:05

I knew about Gruet’s sparkling wine by word of mouth and had tasted it at least once before, although I’m puzzled now over why I wasn’t more excited about it.

That’s because a recent tasting revealed that this unlikely wine from an unlikely place is one of the best American sparkling wines around, especially when you consider the price of just $14 or so (I’ll reveal just where it comes from in a moment).

Gruet makes a range of wines; this one is the basic brut, or dry, sparkling wine, which is a blend of 75 percent chardonnay and 25 percent pinot noir. It’s important to remember that it’s not Champagne; the only wines that can take that name are from the Champagne region of France. Fortunately, the practice of “stealing” the Champagne name and putting it on American wines has largely stopped.

While there is nothing quite like Champagne in style and complexity, there are  outstanding American and other sparkling wines, as Gruet’s Brut demonstrates. For Gruet, in fact, it all began in Champagne, where Gilbert Gruet (pronounced grew-EH) started making bubbly back in 1952. In the early 1980s the next generation planted its flag in this country with high-altitude vineyards in southern New Mexico. That’s right — New Mexico.

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At an elevation of 4,300 feet on mountain plateaus, the days are hot but the nights are cool, conditions conducive to growing good chardonnay and pinot noir, the main grapes of Champagne and most American sparkling wines.

Gruet’s Brut is “simple, clean and delicious,” I wrote in my tasting notes. It’s very dry with fine bubbles and is dominated by lemon and pear. Many sparkling wines have a touch of bitterness at the end, and some people like this style, but I didn’t detect it in Gruet’s Brut, which is altogether pleasing and could have fooled me into thinking it was a more expensive wine.

The Brut and a Blanc de Noirs, which is mainly from pinot noir, are Gruet’s most popular and widely available wines (they are made with the Champagne method, by the way), but there are several other more limited-production sparkling wines, as well as small-production pinot noir, chardonnay and syrah.

The 2006 Barrel Select Chardonnay, $22, was superb — crisp and acidic with notes of pear, pink grapefruit and lime and just the right touch of oak. It all combined into a wine of great balance and finesse that was quite Burgundian in style. The 2005 Syrah is exceptional as well, with intense aromas of dark berry, clove and cinnamon followed by dense notes of blackberry and cassis in the mouth and a touch of black licorice. It, too is a  bargain at just $18.

While the sparkling wines are widely available in stores, the chardonnay and syrah are probably best ordered through Gruet’s Web site at gruetwinery.com. Great wine from New Mexico — who knew? Enjoy it for the holidays.

Edward Deitch is the recipient of the 2007 James Beard Foundation Journalism Award for Best Multimedia Writing. He welcomes comments from readers. Write to him at edwarddeitch@hotmail.com

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