50 States Project: New Mexico

In tackling the tasting of America, it seems right to start with a state which’s wine production is relatively unknown in the East Coast, but which is making a heck of a lot of wine. Good wine. What makes New Mexico even more appealing as a developing wine region is that these wines are cheap: the Gruet sparkling wine we tasted for this challenge was less than $20. (Tell that one to your wine store charging you $50+ for a Crémant de Bourgogne.)

New Mexico has been growing grapes for over 400 years, beginning with Spanish colonialists who made their own Holy Communion wine. (No doubt those priests were enjoying more than a few sacred sips after mass…) New Mexico actually produced more wine than New York state until the beginning of the 20th century, when following New Mexico’s incorporation into the United States, it was upturned by Prohibition. For half a century, New Mexico’s vineyards floundered – a situation made worse by the region’s warm climate and the flooding of the Rio Grande.

By the late 1970s, New Mexicans began to reconsider their languishing vines and small wineries opened their doors. These wineries proved particularly strong at growing French-hybrid grapes, earning the attention of European producers eager to buy cheap land that was no longer available in California. The Gruet siblings, Nathalie and Laurent, first planted their world-renowned vines in 1983, taking advantage of their area’s cool evening temperatures to yield the lovely acidity you find in their wines. The Gruets, part of the Gruet et Fils champagne family in France, took their sparkling wine traditions to the New Mexican terroir, where they grow pinot noir and chardonnay grapes.

(I will say, I was totally floored to learn that pinot noir could actually grow somewhere like New Mexico, which Breaking Bad convinced me is all desert, although it only takes looking at a basic map to realize Albuquerque is basically in the same latitude as Monterey.)

Today, the most promising areas of New Mexico’s wine industry are the Mesilla Valley (from Las Cruces to El Paso) and the Mimbres Valley (from Deming to Lordsburg). Wineries which are really stepping out include: St. Clair, Blue Teal, Vivac and Casa Rondena 

Verdict on the 2013 Gruet Brut (Sparkling):

This is a very dry, very yeasty wine with piercing acidity. If you are a sparkling fan who wants to find that perfect sweet spot between Cava and Champagne, this will kiss you all over. Lemon peel is the dominant citrus note, with a little nuttiness. The finish is lacking, but you’ll be already two glasses deep before you notice.

State Value? A-

Difficulty to find outside of the state? Gruet is pretty much everywhere now, but challenge your local wine merchant to source a few wines from the above mentioned wineries!

Where to find Gruet in New York: This wine was wonderfully gifted to us by Alison Gootee, who purchased it from Dandelion Wine Greenpoint.

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