We have sparkling wines and Champagnes galore, from the wretched to the sublime, available for celebrating the arrival of 2009, but one of the best and most attractively priced has nowhere near the following it deserves.
The wine is Gruet Methode Champenoise Brut NV (about $14 to $19 at wine shops and big box stores), a truly superior nonvintage sparkler made by a French house transplanted to New Mexico. Yes, New Mexico. At its Albuquerque winery, Gruet crafts seven classic methode champenoise wines from chardonnay and pinot noir grapes grown at high altitudes in southern New Mexico. There the growing season days are hot, but the temperature of the dry desert air drops as much as 30 degrees when the sun goes down, allowing the fruit to ripen at a pace that ensures development of maximum flavor. But that's only the first half of the story.
Grapes are harvested in mid-August and moved north to the winery, where the juice is extracted and undergoes primary fermentation for six months in stainless steel vats before being blended with wine from other harvest years into a new nonvintage bottling. Now comes the expensive step that produces the toastiness and tiny fine bubbles that characterize the best sparkling wines. The new blend is aged a minimum of 24 months en tirage, the French term for aging a sparkling wine during secondary fermentation in the bottle "on the yeast."
The Gruet nonvintage displays the two classic traits in abundance, and adds green apple and citrus notes as well as a bit of flinty minerality drawn from the mineral-rich soil in which the grapes are grown. The finish is every bit as rich and complex as it should be and lingers happily on the tongue. This is a full-bodied, laser-focused sparkling wine that delights the eye in the glass and the palate sip after sip.
Colette and John Bancroft. Colette Bancroft is the Times' book editor. John Bancroft is a freelance writer specializing in food, wine and travel.