Friday, December 30, 2005

Happy New Year

Happy New Year! I hope everyone can look forward to a great year ahead, or at the very least a great champagne or sparkling wine tonight. We'll be ushering in the new year with a terrific sparkler made all the more enjoyable by the fact that it's inexpensive and it was a discovery all our own. Can't beat that.

Six or seven years ago, my wife and I toured parts of New Mexico on a business trip that morphed into a mini-vacation. I'm a big believer in trying the wines wherever we go. In New Mexico, that led to a few scary encounters -- anyone for chili cabernet? It tasted just like it sounds! But our pioneer spirit eventually yielded an incredible discovery. On the outskirts of Albuquerque is an absolutely outstanding maker of sparkling wines called Gruet.

You could almost call their product champagne because the family that runs the place has a lot of experience making the real deal in France. Still, wine this good in New Mexico? Gruet sparklers are so good because they use the time-honored methode champenoise, a hands-on, labor intensive production method that is the proven formula for success in making great champagnes/sparkling wines.

When we first tasted a range of Gruet sparklers I had to remind myself that we were in New Mexico. It really was like finding a taste of Europe in the desert. Our tasting portions were poured by the lovely Nathalie Gruet. OK, I'm a sucker for a feminine French accent. But that did not alter the fact that we were tasting well crafted wines showing wonderful toasty aromas. My favorite was the blanc de blanc, an all-chardonnay sparkler with a rich, creamy mouthfeel and aromas of pear and almonds.

I carried back a couple of bottles, but those have long since disappeared. Sadly, it was not something we could get back East. Imagine my euphoria, then, when I spotted a local wine store a year or so ago suddenly featuring Gruet sparklers...and singing their praises. I was delighted that Gruet had finally made its way to Connecticut, but I was also vainly satisfied that our judgment had been validated. I bought a bunch, and have one last '99 blanc de blanc left for tonight's celebration.

Of course, there's a multitude of great sparkling wines and champagnes available with which to ring in the new year in style. If you have $40 or so, the NV oldies-but-goodies are still reliable and delicious, such as Bollinger, Pol Roger, Deutz and Veuve Clicquot. And, if you want to enjoy a terrific sparkler cheaply, you can. Try Segura Viudas or Cristalino from Spain.

But if you want to add an extra dimension to your glass, pour something brimming with warm memories. It could be something you shared with a special someone on a previous special occasion. Or, it could be something you found for yourself on a great trip, without any help at all from Wine Spectator. Tonight we'll be celebrating the dawning of 2006 but also recalling a great time in New Mexico. Next time you travel, be on the lookout for local treasures. Trust your tastes to tell you what's good, and you'll never look back with regret, only extra pleasure.

Premier Vintage

Walk the Wine may be a shameless play on a popular film and the music of the “man in black,” but it really seems appropriate. . .to me, anyway. Walk the Wine is about the quest for those things in life with the power to transform the routine and ordinary into memorable, life-affirming events.

If you have any luck at all in this life, then you know already what a great wine can do for a simple gathering of friends around a dinner table. The chemistry crackles, the food blossoms with enhanced flavors, worries are diluted to insignificance in an expansive setting of rich sensations.

Sound like hyperbole? Maybe a little. But I can’t tell you how many times my liberal and conservative friends have smiled at each other with genuine warmth while riding the fragrant wave of a Williams-Selyem pinot noir or while succumbing to the earthy pull of a Chateau Beaucastel Chateauneuf-du-Pape. Even the most humble of snacks can become manna when you are sitting with friends on a winery patio sipping a quality vintage while looking out at acres of vineyards.

Obviously, truly great wines can lift our spirits in just such a way. But what many fail to appreciate is that far less expensive wines, chosen wisely, can surprise and delight – plugging us instantly into the good life for which we yearn. It doesn’t require a lot of money, but it does require a little bit of work. You’ve got to hunt for it; talk it up with friends who know wines; make friends with a wine proprietor who knows his or her stuff. You’ve got to Walk the Wine.

In this blog, I will share news of my finds while also conveying, I hope, some of the fun and consummate joy to be found in the Walk. I hope others will share as well. I welcome all comments...that are not horribly off-topic or spam. Like corked wine, these offenses will go right down the drain.

My other pledge is to never promote or push a wine in which I or an acquaintance has any kind of financial interest (I wish I had such financial interests!). I did work (as a second job) in a wine store for several years, and it did help me learn a great deal. But I sometimes feel that chiefly I learned how much I did not know about wine. This blog, then, is part of a continuing journey of discovery. I hope you’ll join me for the Walk.