Biltmore Blanc de Blancs 2011, North Carolina
Cost: $29-31
C hristmas came early for me this year, so we celebrated with this delightful sparkling wine.
My son returned home after a prolonged detour in Atlanta, giving me the best present I could imagine. He came back to get his degree at Augusta University, starting in January, we hope. So we had to celebrate. And what better way to celebrate than with a sparkling wine?
The Biltmore sparkling wines often surprise people because they don’t expect such high quality. I am not surprised because I have been drinking their wines since the winery opened 30 years ago, and the sparkling wines have shown consistently high quality.
The Blanc de Blancs is made from 100 percent Chardonnay grapes. (Blanc de Blancs means “white from white grapes.” Blanc de Noir, the pink companion to this wine that I especially love, means “white from dark grapes.”
Biltmore Blanc de Blancs.
Biltmore Blanc de Blancs.
It is a beautiful light golden yellow in the glass, with tiny bubbles that never quit. There is a nice aroma of honey and orange blossom, with a whiff of fresh bread. The tastes are lemon, tropical fruit, lime and a touch of honey. The crisp acidity makes this a great food wine.
The bubbles will continue until you finish the bottle, if you reseal it with a Champagne stopper. If you don’t have one, you need to get one to keep your sparkling wine fresh all night long. They work well to keep the bubbles fresh overnight, so you can finish your bottle of sparkling wine the next morning with a Mimosa (sparkling wine and orange juice).
Biltmore harvests its grapes for sparkling wine at a high acidity and ferments the grapes at low temperatures. This is a Methode Champenoise Brut, which means it is relatively dry and is made the same way Champagne is made, with a second fermentation in the bottle that produces the bubbles.
After the bottles are sealed they are aged 12-24 months, allowing natural bubbles to form. The bottles are gradually turned upside down, with the sediment collecting in the neck of the bottles. The sediment is flash frozen and disgorged. Then a small amount of wine is added to the bottle to fill it, and it is corked and sealed.
The holiday season is a great time to celebrate with sparkling wine, so I always have several bottles on hand. I also have long advocated opening a bottle of bubbly any time. You don’t need a reason to have a sparkling wine. Just opening the bottle puts you in a festive mood, and this wine from Biltmore is delicious. Serve it well chilled.
Winery: Biltmore Estate is celebrating the 30th anniversary of the opening of its winery this year. Located in the historic estate in Asheville, N.C., the winery is the most visited in North America.
Though the 250-room chateau on the estate is more than 100 years old, the first grape vines weren’t planted until 1971, by George Vanderbilt’s grandson, William A.V. Cecil.
Cecil brought in a sixth generation French winemaker, Philippe Jourdain, to help find the right grapes for the property.
The vineyard was expanded to 150 acres in 1981, and in 1985 a winery was opened in the estate’s former dairy barn, which had been designed by Richard Morris Hunt, the architect of Biltmore House.
The current winemakers are Bernard Delille, and Sharon Fenchak, a University of Georgia graduate.
The winery is a great place to visit, with a self-guided tour that leads straight to the tasting room, where you get a good sampling of the Biltmore wines. Some of the grapes are grown on the estate, including Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Riesling, Chardonnay and Viognier.
I think their best wines are the sparkling wines, using grapes grown in the North Carolina mountains. But some of the other North Carolina wines also stand out. The winery produces about 15 varieties of wine each year, about 120,000 cases. It made 1,200 cases of this Blanc de Blancs.
The winery also makes some reserve wines using west coast grapes, and they generally are very good.
Activities at the winery throughout the year include barrel tastings, cooking demonstrations, food and wine pairings and jazz and blues performances. The winery is definitely worth a visit.
Both the Biltmore and the Don Melchor were great with steak.
Both the Biltmore and the Don Melchor were great with steak.
Goes with: When my son Michael returned home I went looking for a fatted calf to slaughter, but finding none, settled on thick, juicy steaks. It seemed like a fair compromise.
Michael helped with the meal, sauteeing onions in butter while Teri made the salads and baked potatoes. It was a grand celebration feast.
The wine was superb for toasting. We also sipped it while we cooked. We saved a little to have with the meal, and it was fantastic. I highly recommend steak and sparkling wine for a special occasion.
The Biltmore Blanc de Blancs also would pair well with Oysters Rockefeller, scallops, shrimp and Dungeness crab. It also goes well with spicy food or even dessert. I can’t really think of a food that doesn’t pair well with this wine.
Because we were celebrating we finished the first bottle of wine long before dinner was over, so we opened a hearty red to stand up to the steaks.
We chose 2011 Don Melchor Cabernet Sauvignon from the Puente Alto Vineyard in Chile. The spectacular wine made by Concha y Toro sells for about $125 a bottle. It is deep, dark, rich, full of silky tannins.
The powerful blend of fruit and crisp acidity makes a perfect match to steaks and all kinds of red meat. I opened the bottle an hour before we drank it, and it continued to get better all night. Flavors of blackberry and raspberry dominate, with notes of chocolate and tobacco. This is a wine that will continue to get better in the bottle for decades.
Michael cooks onions in butter.
Michael cooks onions in butter.

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