Last week I made my annual visit to the Gruet Cellars on the edge of Albuquerque. Ever since a Cincinnati wine steward recommended a Gruet Brut as an aperitif some dozen years ago, I have been a regular consumer and pleased eventually to count Nathalie Gruet a friend. Nathalie has recently retired, but her spirit is still a presence, and her sparkling wines have joined the ranks of America’s finest sparkling wines.
Tasting room hostess Kendra led me through samples of twelve different sparklers and six red wines to assure me that the Champagne style of various vintages and blends of traditional Champagne grapes are all worthy of their national rankings and to prove to me once again that the desert soils of New Mexico can produce noteworthy Pinot Noirs, Cabernets, and Syrahs. They should be capable; after all, those soils have been producing wines since 1629 when the Spanish explorers began recognizing the need for Communion wines, something not yet realized at the time by their brethren in what is today California and when the Pilgrims had only begun to hunker down around Plymouth Rock. The Sonoran Desert was home to the very first vineyards in North America.
The Gruet story is an interesting one. The family still produces more than a million bottles of Champagne a year in Bethon, about twenty miles south of Epernay. The strict Champagne laws governing expansion caused them to seek opportunities in the New World so they sought property in California but heard of the 17th century vineyards in New Mexico. After careful homework, Nathalie and her brother Laurent moved to the Land of Enchantment in 1984 and within three years produced the inaugural bottles of their now renowned sparkling wines.
The different sparklers are blended from different sites to allow for a variety of complexity and subtlety. Proportions of Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Meunier are varied to achieve a particular flavor or style.
It may seem strange that traditional Champagne grapes, which enjoy a northerly climate, could thrive in a desert climate. The Gruet vines are high in altitude near the town of Truth or Consequences and do well in warm sunny days and chilly to cold nights. The family has succeeded in reproducing a Champagne experience in the United States — without, I hasten to add, calling their sparklers Champagne.
It’s good when a wine man comes calling. A long-time friend from California wine country showed up this week with, among other things, a bottle of 2010 Myriad Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa Valley’s Spring Mountain.
Had he not made it known to me, I might never have heard of it, because Myriad distributes only by direct shipping and through California restaurants. It is produced by a young couple who learned their craft by working with some of Napa’s most prestigious wine people and who source many of their grapes from some of the Valley’s best known vineyards. Mike Smith sums up his wine-making philosophy quite simply: “Sometimes success is as simple as hearing your inner voice.”
His inner voice caused him to blend this Myriad from appellations in Rutherford, Calistoga, St. Helena, as well as Spring Mountain to bring forth a Cabernet perfectly integrated with tannins and acidity, emitting a shiny ruby color, and releasing what he calls a “forever” finish. The 2010 Myriad I just attempted to describe is sold out, but the estate’s 2013 single vineyard Cabernets and Syrahs will be shipping during the first week of November, weather permitting.
Myriad, of course, is Greek for “Ten Thousand” or more frequently “Countless,” so I pass along a myriad thanks to my friend. You can find information about the wines and the Smiths at www.myriadcellars.com or reach them directly at firstname.lastname@example.org. They are worth knowing about. A myriad thanks to my friend.
Though I cut my wine teeth in Germany as a G.I. in the Occupation Army, my palate over the years gravitated to France and Italy, not without reason but also without ever losing my loyalty to German wines. I can also point to a couple of decades of life in Germany establishing friendships with many German producers and a continuing taste for specific wines. For a time in the 1970s, I, along with a great many others in my wine circle, were finding the wines from different German regions starting to taste more and more alike, losing some of the identity that we had come to appreciate.
As Germans felt the full effects of post WWII recovery and started vacationing along the beaches of Spain, Italy, and France in the 1960s and 70s, they re-discovered the joy of wine at meals, especially red wine, and market share of their home-produced wines dropped dramatically. To counter the trend, growers began vinifying increasing numbers of grapes that ripened more rapidly than their traditional king Riesling, and German laws began to prescribe just how wine should be made, causing vintners to joke about becoming chemists instead of wine makers. More and more wines were coming to market as sweet or half dry in an effort to attract younger consumers and to set themselves apart from the rest of Europe.
While those missteps have been largely corrected, our U.S. importers still insist on stocking the sweeter German wines, mostly from the spectacular Mosel River Valley and neglecting almost entirely the wines of Baden and Franken and bringing in only a few from Rheingau. I hasten to add that the Mosel wines are elegant, pleasing on the palate, and generally light bodied, but they do not represent the range of wines from Germany.
I thought much about this recently when I came across some bottles of Riesling from Schloss Vollrads, considered by some the oldest winery not only in Germany but quite possibly anywhere. The Vollrads Castle overlooking the Rhine not far from Wiesbaden is the ancestral home of the Greifenclau Barons who began producing wine commercially in the 13th century. Vollrads, in spite of all the changes in grape production in the Federal Republic, remained always true to the Riesling, the Rheingau’s signature grape. The family ownership ended in 1997 with the death of Count Ernwein, but his spirit lives on in the steely, crisp Rieslings, today made from updated equipment in a tastefully modernized thousand-year-old winery.
My wife and I were privileged to know Count Ernwein and to host him in our home and he us in his ancient castle, where we occasionally dined in a room from which it is said Charlemagne stood when he pointed out where the first snows melted in the spring and suggested that the Greiffenclaus plant vines there. For some 800 years the Vollrads wines have been ranked among the most prestigious in Europe, but I seldom see them in our retail stores. And when I do, I take advantage of them. They are not inexpensive but not real budget busters either. Depending on the vintage and the specific Vollrads vineyard of origin, they will run from $25 to $35 a bottle. Zum Wohl!OLDER POSTS »