If you’re having a conversation about New Mexico wines, Gruet is doubtless the first name that will come up. The family-run winery, which traces its lineage back to 1952 in Bethon, France, is internationally acclaimed for the quality of its traditional Méthode Champenoise wines. Seven of their wines regularly rate 90 points or above in Wine Spectator, and some have even said Gruet is making “America’s Best Sparkling Wine,” Napa be damned. The Gruet tasting room and winery, sitting in a little brick castle just off I-25 next to an RV dealer, definitely looks a bit out of place. But step inside and the traffic suddenly fades into the background—instead, there’s a gleaming white marble bartop and the sound of corks popping. It’s relatively empty when I visit the tasting room on a Wednesday afternoon, but on weekends and during the summer it can fill up as much as any other bar in the city. Helpfully for those of us seeking to expand our palates, Gruet has friendly tasting room associates like Matt Smith, who was pouring when I visited recently. They also offer wine flights and curated daily tasting lists to introduce you to their repertoire. Each of their flights serves two ounce pours of four of their wines ($16), and the daily tasting gives you an ounce of five wines ($12) that have been specially selected by the tasting room staff. I tasted the daily five with Matt leading the way: Sauvage Rosé, Blanc de Noirs, Grand Blanc de Noirs 2015 Limited Release, Extended Tirage Rosé and the Merlot 2014 Reserve. “This is kind of a Blanc de Noirs tasting, so it’ll feature the Pinot Noir grape all the way through the end,” Matt says as he pours a small glass of the Sauvage Rosé.Sauvage Rosé: “Sauvage is actually drier than Brut, which most people are more familiar with,” Matt tells me. This rosé is indeed very crisp and dry, with the fine-textured bubbles that Gruet and their traditional Champagne method are known for. The 100 percent Pinot Noir contents make for a gorgeous grapefruit color with very little lingering sweetness but plenty of fruit notes, most distinctly strawberry and raspberry.Blanc de Noirs: One of Gruet’s best known wines—a sparkling white wine made from “black” grapes (namely, from 75 percent Pinot Noir and 25 percent Chardonnay). The Blanc de Noirs is dry and peppery, with a soft, creamy texture. Minerally and perfectly balanced, it’s a great party wine to appease most palates.Grand Blanc de Noirs: This was the MVP of the lineup, to my taste. Definite notes of toasted almond and fresh bread: a very savory wine with a round, rich texture. Extended Tirage Rosé: The extended tirage (more time sitting on the yeast—36 months, to be exact) lends a surprisingly bready note to this sparkling rosé, but it’s certainly not unpleasant. Still plenty of notes of strawberry, with a little extra complexity as compared to the Sauvage Rosé.Merlot: A bit of a shock after the much lighter (and all sparkling) wines, but a bold note to end on. There’s plenty of tannins in this and some earthy notes of maple and dark fruit. A smooth, full-bodied red for sipping slowly.As I’m getting ready to leave the tasting room with a bottle of the Grand Blanc de Noirs in hand, a woman at the bar who’s visiting from the Bay Area says, “Gruet beats all the California winemakers,” echoing some of the aforementioned embattled wine critics. It’s impressive to me that, as nationally well-known (and well-loved) as Gruet has become, they’ve still managed to keep the operation pretty small—all their wine is still made in their New Mexico winery, and the staff working in the winery is only between 15 and 25, depending on the time of year. If you talk to wine people anywhere in New Mexico, they’ll get a glassy look of pride in their eyes when they talk about Gruet. It feels good to have such a prestigious gem in our underdog state, and being able to taste some of that underdog terroir—the desert dryness, the crisp air—in the finished product makes it all the more enchanting.
You can buy Gruet wines at just about any wine or liquor store in Albuquerque, as well as at their tasting room at 8400 Pan American Freeway NE. Visit gruetwinery.com to see all their wines and learn more about their traditional winemaking methods. Laurent Gruet gives public tours of the winery every Saturday at 2pm.