Sip on This

The Cosmopolitan’s private-label sparkler is just the right amount of right

There are those stoic, buttoned-up sommeliers who flinch at the slightest mispronunciation of Meritage (“It’s ‘MER-i-tij’ like heritage, not ‘mer-i-TAAAHZH’ like camouflage …”). Then there are guys like Bretton Lammi. Oh, sure, the Cosmopolitan’s resort sommelier knows his Côte de Nuits from his Côte de Beaune, but he’s the kind of guy for whom this column is named: a bona fide grape nut. From his wine-themed tattoos (and he has many, he says temptingly) to the secret wine meet-ups he organizes to his experiments with wine Jell-O shots (the correct ratio is 3:1 water to wine), Lammi goes to extremes to honor Bacchus. What was left but to commission a private-label sparkler for the property that champions polish over pretense?

When Lammi was hired to create the Cosmo’s opening wine lists, he hadn’t yet gotten the “right amount of wrong” indoctrination. It came after he had presented some California sparkling wine that met with a resounding “Eh.” Too expected, too safe. “All right, I’ve got the perfect wine!” he declared, next presenting a zippy ’06 Methode Champenoise blanc de blancs. Only after it was declared the winner did Lammi reveal that the bubbly hailed from … New Mexico.

The Cosmo bought the next vintage almost in its entirety.

The 2007 Gruet (Grew-AY) quickly became the Cosmo’s No. 1 selling wine. Owned and operated by a small family of French winemaking origin, Gruet’s vines pull incredible flavor from the sandy, loamy earth just outside Truth or Consequences, N.M. At 4,300 feet, these are among America’s highest vineyards, where the arid climate and vast temperature swings stretch out the growing season for Gruet’s chardonnay and pinot noir. “Warm days and cool nights help preserve the acidity that’s crucial when making sparkling wine,” Lammi says.

Then, last September, Lammi realized the Cosmo’s cache of ’07 would run out by this month. Gruet didn’t make a ’08 or ’09 vintage, and the ’10 won’t be ready for another year. Uh oh. So, Lammi hied himself to Albuquerque and, nearly 50 sample blends later, the Gruet Blanc de Blancs “I.V.V. S.O.T.” American Sparkling Wine was born. It landed in Vesper, Chandelier, Bond, Book & Stage and other Cosmo-owned bars and restaurants on March 21 ($12 glass, $60 bottle).

The non-vintage sparkler is brut, but, Lammi says, right in the middle of brut. “There’s a reason it’s the No. 1 seller on property: You can see through the incremental sales how many people have a second glass.” He attributes this not so much to staff sales techniques but to the quality of Gruet. Ten percent Washington State chardonnay beefs up the 90 percent estate chard in the Cosmo blend. Almonds and green apple dominate, as well as a nice yeastiness, silky creaminess and bubbles that do not overwhelm. “I like the smaller bubbles and something that lets you taste a little more of the fruit and not just the effervescence,” Lammi says. The medium finish makes it approachable for both bar and restaurant use. Lammi suggests picking up a few cheeses and a bottle from Eat Drink ($38 retail) for an urban picnic on one of the Cosmo’s wraparound terraces.

Don’t expect the bottle to be custom-wrapped like a Las Vegas taxi, either. “The wine’s really about Gruet; it’s not about Bretton Lammi or the Cosmopolitan.” All labels with giant C’s were rejected. In fact, there is little distinguishing it from non-vintage Gruet save for those letters “I.V.V. S.O.T.” on the back. “We wanted to be as subtle as possible,” he explains. The letters, by the way, stand for “In Vino Veritas, Sip on This.” The Latin phrase meaning “In wine there is truth” is also one of Lammi’s aforementioned tattoos. “And it’s pretty big, too,” he says, eyes sparkling.