Thursday, March 24, 2011

WINE COUNTRY: NORTH CAROLINA


Biltmore Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2008 North Carolina

The North Carolina Winegrowers Association had only about 20 members in North Carolina in 1994.  Today their membership numbers about 350, so the growth in winemaking in North Carolina has been fairly explosive.

Winemaking actually goes back to the early days in North Carolina's history, according to the NCWGA, but it wasn't until the 1970s that Muscadine growers formed an organization and got serious about it.  A decade later, interest in European wine grapes - vinifera - really brought North Carolina's winemaking efforts to the forefront.

Biltmore Estate Winery is one of the big names in North Carolina wine.  Most wine estates have grapes figuring prominently.  At Biltmore Estates - due to its size, splendor and history - wine takes a plush backseat to the mansion itself, a structure built by George Washington Vanderbilt II.

Located in the Mountain Region, in the western part of the state, Biltmore grows a number of different vinifera varieties and produces about 75,000 cases of wine each year.  Head winemaker Bernard Delille oversees the winemaking operation, which is housed in what was once the estate's dairy.  He was schooled in Lyon, France and did his internship in the Bordeaux region - pretty good credentials.  He's been with Biltmore since 1986.  Winemaker Sharon Fenchak, a Pennsylvanian, joined their ranks in 1999.

Biltmore joined the Now And Zin Wine Country series when they sent three of their wines for me to sample.

Biltmore Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2008 North Carolina

Biltmore does make a Cabernet Sauvignon using grapes from California's Alexander Valley.  This Cab uses 89% homegrown North Carolina grapes and 11% California fruit.  The wine is composed of 96% Cabernet Sauvignon, 2% Cabernet Franc, 1% Syrah and 1% Malbec.  The alcohol content is a moderate 13.9% abv.

The juice of the grapes is fermented in stainless steel, on the skins, and then transferred to French and American oak barrels, where it ages for 14 months. It retails for $19.

The color of the wine is quite dark fruit on the nose along with an herbal note.  The flavors are dark, too, with plum and blackberry riding on very pronounced tannins.  It's dry, and seems to become drier after sitting awhile.  An earthy minerality is the kicker on a very pleasant drink, which will perform well with any kind of meat you are serving.

Biltmore Reserve Chardonnay 2009 North CarolinaBiltmore Reserve Chardonnay 2009 North Carolina

North Carolina fruit is 83% of the Chardonnay's makeup, while California grapes account for 17%.  Chardonnay grapes comprise 97% of the wine, with a 3% smattering of Viognier.  The alcohol is restrained, at 13.7% abv, and the retail price is $15.

The Biltmore Chardonnay is barrel fermented in French and American oak, with about half the wine undergoing malolactic fermentation.  This process is what creates a creamy texture from the more acidic malic acid.  The wine is aged for 6-8 months before bottling.

Its golden-green hue is pretty, and some fine bubbles formed on the sides of the glass.  There is a lot of oak showing on the nose, reminiscent of the big California Chardonnays.  There are some tropical notes, as well as a citrus scent.  On the palate, the fruit shows better than I thought it would, with pears and mangoes taking the lead.  The big, buttery play is there, for sure, but so is a surprising citrus zing.  I didn’t expect such a zippy acidity, and it's a pleasure to find.

Biltmore Estate Château Reserve Blanc de BlancsBiltmore Estate Château Reserve Blanc de Blancs 2008 North Carolina Méthode Champenoise Brut

This sparkling wine is 100% Chardonnay, with 88% of the grapes grown in North Carolina, 12% in California.  At 12.4% abv, it's quite drinkable and it sells for $35.

Fermented in stainless steel, the wine undergoes secondary fermentation in the bottle and ages 12-16 months before disgorging.  It's a lovely golden straw sparkler with a yeasty nose showing nutty aromas.  Orange and pineapple flavors on the palate are topped by a touch of yeast and a bit of toasty almond on the finish.  The bubbles are festive and plentiful, leaving a frothy beard on the glass.

The Biltmore Estate wines can be found in stores throughout the southern and eastern U.S., or from their online store.