$20 Above

$20 Above: Ridge Geyserville, Gruet Reserve Sparkling Wines, Handley Cellars Pinot Noir, et al.

Ridge California Geyserville, 2008

Date Tasted: 5/17/12

Price: Suggested Retail is $35.00 (Purchased for $26.00)

From The Winery: 14.8% alcohol, 72% Zinfandel/20% Carignane/6% Petite Sirah/2% Mataro. Ridge has made the Geyserville as a single-site zinfandel in every year since 1966. Vineyard Location is the western edge of the Alexander Valley in Sonoma County.

Impressions/Notes: Medium purple/ruby in color. On the nose, layers of sweet spice, rich blackberry and blueberry, eucalyptus, and black cherry and licorice. Medium-bodied and incredibly smooth in the mouth, with black cherry and moderate oak presenting before the long finish. Remarkably balanced, with sufficient acid and tannin to handle the high alcohol content, which was pushing 15%, with no feeling of heat in the throat. A pleasant, lingering aftertaste tided me over from sip to sip. As close to a stellar wine as any I’ve reviewed so far this year and another example of the amazing values that can be found with California Zinfandel.

Rating: Highly Recommended


Gruet Grande Reserve, 2003

Date Tasted: 4/28/12

Price: Suggested retail is $43.00

From The Winery: 600 cases produced.

Impressions/Notes: The current release of Gruet’s flagship sparkling wine. Complex and attention-grabbing, with pronounced layers of fresh baked bread, vanilla and hazelnut, and rich melon. Crisp but sensual and a strong value at $43.00.

Rating: Highly Recommended


Gruet Grand Rose, 2007

Date Tasted: 4/28/12

Price: Suggested retail is $33.00

From The Winery: 90% Chardonnay/10% Pinot Noir, 280 cases produced

Impressions/Notes: Apparently I have at least one thing in common with Oprah–we are both fans of this sparkling wine. On the nose, presented with a dominant aroma of strawberry creme, with a bit of roasted almond in the background. In the mouth, the pinot noir continued to exert it’s influence, adding an interesting smokiness. The Grande Reserve was certainly of higher quality, but this was my favorite Gruet wine. It reminded me a lot of New Mexico, the state from which it hails–beautiful with a rustic edge.

Rating: Highly Recommended


Handley Cellars Pinot Noir, Anderson Valley, 2007

Date Tasted: 5/4/12

Price: Suggested retail is $29.00

From The Winery: 14.2% alcohol, 100% Pinot Noir

Impressions/Notes: Deep ruby in color. Enticing aromas of raspberry, pine, cinnamon, and tar danced around on the nose. In the mouth, approaching medium-bodied with solid acidity and generous oak shining through amongst the cherry vanilla cola flavors. A really solid pinot and nicely priced.

Rating: Recommended


Alexander Valley Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon, Alexander Valley, 2009

Date Tasted: 5/15/12

Price: Suggested retail is $22.00 (Purchased for $17.00)

From The Winery: 13.9% alcohol, 92% Cabernet Sauvignon/4% Cabernet Franc/2% Merlot/1% Malbec/1% Petit Verdot

Impressions/Notes: Featuring all five Bordeaux grapes, this cab oozed Asian spice and black cherry right from the get-go. Upper medium-bodied and graceful in the mouth, with flavors of cherry, vanilla, soy sauce, and noticeable bitter tannins that dissipated within thirty minutes after opening.

Rating: Recommended


La Crema Chardonnay, Sonoma Coast, 2009

Date Tasted: 4/21/12

Price: Suggested retail is $22.00 (Purchased for $17.00)

From The Winery: 13.8% alcohol

Impressions/Notes: Golden in color, with lovely aromas of creme brûlée and ripe grapefruit. Oak certainly makes an appearance but still allows for the fruit to shine through. A solid wine and a nice value at around $20.00.

Rating: Recommended


Markham Merlot, Napa Valley, 2009

Date Tasted: 5/5/12

Price: Suggested retail is $23.00 (Purchased for $16.00)

From The Winery: 14.2% alcohol, 93% Merlot/3% Cabernet Franc/3% Petite Sirah/1% Cabernet Sauvignon

Impressions/Notes: A wine of dignity, with ripe plum, maple fudge, clove and caramel macchiato intermingling on the nose and palate. For those adamant of avoiding overly ripe, overly oaken wines, you’re safe with this one!

Rating: Recommended

Posted on by Nick in $20 Above, Cabernet Sauvignon, California, Chardonnay, Merlot, New Mexico, Pinot Noir, Sparkling Wines, Zinfandel 2 Comments

$20 Below: Gruet Brut Non-Vintage and Brut Rose Non-Vintage

Gruet Brut Non-Vintage

Price: Suggested retail is $14.00 (I’ve seen this one for $11.00-13.00)

Impressions: Dominant aroma of granny smith apple, complimented with light yeasty notes. Dry and crisp in the mouth, with an enticing minerality. One of the better sparkling wines that you will see at this price.

Score: 19.5/20




Gruet Brut Rose Non-Vintage

Price: Retails for around $14.00 (I’ve seen this one for $11.00-13.00)

From the Winery: 5000 cases produced

Impressions: Fruit-forward, oozing ripe strawberry aromas, with a touch of cranberry. Much more rich than the Brut and lacking the crispness.

Score: 17.5/20

Posted on by Nick in $20 Below, New Mexico, Sparkling Wines 1 Comment

Gruet Winery: A Sparkling Oasis in the High Desert

Viticulture never ceases to amaze me. I had plenty of time to entertain this thought yesterday while making the drive from Albuquerque to Denver. As I glanced upon the beautiful but desolate landscape of New Mexico, it was hard to imagine any crop surviving in these harsh conditions. It was even harder to imagine that Gilbert Gruet, the founder of Albuquerque’s Gruet Winery, recognized that this was the land that would provide the grapes for his future wine venture.

Antique bottle corker in Gruet's tasting room.

Gilbert Gruet, born in France in 1931, produced Champagne for over thirty years before searching for a spot in the United States to produce sparkling wine in 1983. Gilbert found the land in Sonoma County and the Napa Valley to be rather pricy. While visiting New Mexico, he came across some European winemakers growing grapes in the southern part of the state, near the town of Truth or Consequences. Gilbert was impressed with the quality of the grapes and property in the area was very cheap. He purchased some land near the sparsely populated town of Engle and planted a vineyard of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.

From its humble beginnings, Gruet Winery has evolved into a thriving business, producing approximately 120,000 cases with distribution to all fifty states. Gruet’s already strong reputation continues to grow. One of the more exciting events in the winery’s history occurred just this past winter, when Wine Spectator rated Gruet’s Blanc de Noirs Non-Vintage as number 43 on its Top 100 Wines of the Year for 2011.

I discovered Gruet when reading the Wine Bible several years back, as the winery was mentioned as a top American sparkling wine producer. My initial reaction was probably similar to many who have heard about Gruet but have not tasted their wines, something along the lines of, “New Mexico sparkling wine? How good can that really be?” My brother chose to attend Physician Assistant’s school in Albuquerque, so I was fortunate to have the opportunity to visit Gruet on a couple of occasions. My most recent visit was this past Saturday, April 28th. Lori Ann McBride, Gruet’s Sales and Marketing Manager, showed us around the facility and proved very knowledgeable when describing the steps taken to conform with the Methode Champenoise.

The Facility

Gruet is located just off of Interstate 25, which runs North-South through Albuquerque. There are no rolling vineyards surrounding the winery. To no doubt appease those that might be taken aback by the urban location–I’m certainly not one of them–there are a few rows of vines growing out front. The winery is large, 45000-square-foot large, and features a very nice tasting room with cool displays of antique wine corkers. A short walk through the doors in the back of the tasting room reveals immense stainless steel tanks, the enormous grape press, and of course, countless bottles of aging, sparkling wines.

One of three grape presses imported by Gruet from Champagne.

The Grapes

Gruet’s vineyards are located just a few hours from the Mexican border. It gets very hot in the summer, with average temperatures in the low to mid-90s. With an elevation of 4000+ feet, there are drastic cool downs at night, with the temperature fluctuating as much as 30 degrees in a day. It’s extremely dry, but the nearby Elephant Butte Reservoir provides the irrigation crucial to the vines’ survival. The sandy soil found in the area has proven very suitable for Gruet’s grapes. In the early years, the Gruets sent a sample of the soil to Champagne for testing and were encouraged by the results.

A majority of Gruet’s vineyards are planted to accommodate its sparkling wine portfolio, dominated by Pinot Noir and Chardonnay plantings. There is also some Chenin Blanc and Syrah planted for Gruet’s smaller still wine production. As soon as the grapes are harvested, they are shipped by refrigerated trucks to the winery.

The Wines

So how good can New Mexico wines really be? When it comes to Gruet’s wines, I find myself using “great” just as often as I use “good”. The Non-Vintage Sparklers range in price from $14.00-17.00 and there are some phenomenal values on the list. Stylistically, I would classify these wines as crisp and fruit-forward. The super-valued Blanc de Noirs, which I discussed in a past post, has received the most acclaim. I retasted the Blanc de Noirs and the Brut, Gruet’s best seller, and I actually prefer the Brut. They also make a nice Brut Rose. Stay tuned for tasting notes on the Brut and the Brut Rose in Thursday’s $20 Below post.

Gruet’s Vintage/Reserve wines were a real treat and I can’t wait to write up the tasting notes for my next $20 Above post. Without revealing too much, the 2003 Gruet Grand Reserve was beautifully complex, but the wine that I kept talking about on the drive back was the Gruet 2007 Grand Rose, a truly unique effort. These wines are priced nicely, ranging from $24.00-42.00.

Gruet also produces some still wine, including a Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Syrah, Chenin Blanc, and a Barrel-Select Pinot Noir. I tasted the Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Syrah. The Pinot Noir was definitely my favorite of the still wine group, featuring notes of black cherry, earth, and a peppery spice.

The Wrap

At first mention, it might be surprising to hear that wines from New Mexico are being sold in all fifty states. A taste or two of Gruet’s solid portfolio should remove any surprise. They make some very serious wines. Fortunately for wine drinkers, they’re well-priced and readily available.

Posted on by Nick in New Mexico, Pinot Noir, Sparkling Wines, Wine Column, Winery Visits Leave a comment

$20 Below: Blind Tasteapalooza #1 Cabs and Gruet Non-Vintage Blanc de Noirs

Gruet Non-Vintage Blanc de Noirs (New Mexico)

Price: Suggested retail is $14.00 (I’ve seen this one for $11.00-13.00)

Impressions: Attractive golden color with yeast, pear, and apricot on the nose. Light to medium-bodied with a shade of sweetness and a steady, lingering finish. An absolute killer deal at this price.

Score: 19/20




Rodney Strong Cabernet Sauvignon, Sonoma County, 2009

Price: Retails for around $17.00 (I’ve seen this one as low as $12.00)

Impressions: Toasted coconut and ripe, dark berries with notes of sweet spice on the nose. Fruit and oak blend together seamlessly with this wine.

Note: Wine 2 from Blind Tasteapalooza #1
Score: 18/20




B. R. Cohn Cabernet Sauvignon, North Coast, Silver Label, 2008

Price: Retails for around $20.00 (I’ve often seen this one in the $14.00-16.00 range)

Impressions: Aroma of red cherries, followed by tar and tobacco. One of the lighter-bodied cabs that I can recall, with generous acidity. A very interesting and distinctive wine.

Note: Wine 1 from Blind Tasteapalooza #1

Score: 17/20



Gnarly Head Cabernet Sauvignon, California, 2010

Price: Retails for around $12.00 (commonly priced around $10.00)

Impressions: Strong tea leaf aroma dominates the nose, with bing cherry and freshly chopped wood in the mouth. Heavy and lacking in acidity.

Note: Wine 3 from Blind Tasteapalooza #1

Score: 13/20


Posted on by Nick in $20 Below, Blind Tasteapalooza, Cabernet Sauvignon, California, New Mexico, Sparkling Wines Leave a comment