Take a tour of Biltmore wines

February 13, 2013 

When thinking of which winery in the United States has the most visitors annually, my thoughts first turn to California's Napa Valley -- but surprisingly the Biltmore Winery in Ashville, N.C., takes center stage with more than 600,000 visitors each year.

Although the winery was only founded in 1985, the Biltmore Estate was constructed in the late 1800s by George Vanderbilt. The house took more than six years to build and contains 250 rooms. It is situated on a 125,000 acre estate that is also the home to formal and informal gardens designed by the famed landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted. Olmstead is known for developing the landscape for the U.S. Capitol Building grounds and he also designed Central Park in Manhattan.

The Biltmore Winery produces more than 45 different wines and, on the estate, the winery grows six different varietals -- Chardonnay, Riesling, Viognier, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. In addition, the winery purchases grapes from the Russian River, Napa, and Sonoma Valleys of California.

For those who enjoy spicy Asian fare, look no further than the Biltmore Riesling NV American. This Riesling is not too dry, nor too sweet, with flavors or citrus and pear. All of the grapes used to produce this wine were grown in California and Washington. The Riesling grape is probably the most overlooked varietal by consumers in the United States, because so many people have the misconception that these wines are extremely sweet. In reality, Riesling wines range from dry to sweet which

makes for good wines to pair with a variety of different types of food.

The Biltmore Century White Wine is a very interesting blend of Gewurztraminer, Muscat Canelli, Riesling and Malvasia that allows this wine to also complement spicy dishes.

This slightly sweet wine contains tropical flavors, with a hint of honey on the finish.

The 2008 Pas de Deux is just one of several sparkling wines that Biltmore produces.

This sparkling is made using only Muscat Canelli grapes -- all of which were grown in California. I found this sparkling to be somewhat sweet and quite aromatic with the flavor of freshly picked strawberries.

The Pas de Deux pairs well with coconut shrimp, but would also be nice with cheesecake.

The winery prides itself in using the "Methode Champenoise" in producing their sparkling collection.

This is the traditional method that is used in the Champagne region of France where after primary fermentation -- conversion of sugar into alcohol -- the wine is bottled and the winemaker causes a second fermentation to take place in the bottle by adding a small amount of yeast and sugar before capping the bottle. This method creates the bubbles in the bottle instead of in a tank.

During the fermentation process, carbon dioxide gas is produced by the yeast devouring the sugar and this gas is what causes the bubbles to jump to the surface upon opening the bottle.

Jim Rawe, a family attorney in Bradenton, is an avid collector of fine wines. His column appears weekly. He can be reached at jimrawe@gmail.com.

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