Since its mid-17th century beginnings, sparkling wine has inspired poetry.
Dom Perignon, a monk and pioneer in the Champagne industry, said upon his first sip, “I am tasting the stars!” American writer Oscar Herford wrote, “Some take their gold in minted mold, and some in harps thereafter, but give me mine in bubbles fine and keep the change in laughter.”
We, on the other hand, become hopelessly ditzy when a cork’s popped. We are like the dim-witted fish in Finding Nemo who screams “Bubbles! Bubbles! My Bubbles!” every time the treasure chest in his aquarium opens.
While Champagne (as in that wine made in the French region by the same name) remains the benchmark for sparkling wine, these days virtually every wine-producing nation offers an affordable sparkler. Stateside, Gruet Winery in the unlikely locale of New Mexico, makes one that celebrates just like a bottle of Champagne at a fraction of the cost. We’ll toast to that!
But first, how in the world did Champagne-quality wine end up being produced in America’s Southwest? Well, when a Champagne-based family that’s been in the bubbly biz for 30 years takes a vacation to the States, chances are that along with the typical touristy stops, they are going to scope out the domestic winemaking scene too.
This is exactly what happened in 1983 when Gilbert and Danielle Gruet happened upon European winemakers growing gorgeous grapes in Engle, a town 170 miles south of Albuquerque. Gilbert promptly planted an experimental vineyard in this new frontier that had elevations, soils and breezes similar to Champagne’s, and enlisted two of his four children, Laurent and Nathalie, to move out West and manage it. Nathalie also had a toddler, son Sofian, to manage – oh, and a new language to learn (which she did in large part by watching Little House on the Prairie), but the younger Gruets still managed to release their first wines in 1989. By 1993, demand necessitated a move to a bigger facility in Albuquerque and Gruet has been bubbling away (and winning awards) ever since. Sofian’s all grown up now, working as assistant winemaker to uncle Laurent.
Gruet Winery makes méthode Champenoise wines - just like they’re made in Champagne where a second fermentation is incited in the bottle, naturally producing carbon dioxide. Gruet Sauvage ages in the bottle, on its lees (winespeak for the yeasts and other funky yet flavorful stuff that precipitates after fermentation) for two full years. Hence, a name that means “wild” in French. Rawrrrr.
Blanc de Blancs, or “white of whites,” tells us that the wine is made with 100% Chardonnay grapes. And each sip tells us is that the wine is 100% delicious. Its acidity and minerality is as clean and bracing as fine Champagne and its fruit – lemon, tart apple and grapefruit - is softened by the slightly bready, savory quality imparted by the lees (remember that winespeak?) aging.
Marilyn Monroe dunked potato chips in Champagne (we’re all in). Napoleon drank it after victory and defeat. Lilly Bollinger said, “I drink Champagne when I’m happy and when I’m sad. Sometimes I drink it when I’m alone. When I have company I consider it obligatory. I trifle with it if I’m not hungry and drink it when I am. Otherwise, I never touch it – unless I’m thirsty.”
Bubbly diehards don’t reserve bottles just for weddings or launching ships, so why should we? We can’t find anything – from crispy chickpeas to cheesy puffs – that doesn’t positively sparkle next to a glass of Gruet Sauvage. And we tried! We really did.
Drinks like the real deal but priced for a weeknight? Bubbles! Bubbles! Our Bubbles!