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    What’s New at the Winery on Biltmore Estate?

    IMG_2304If you visit the largest house in America at the Biltmore Estate, you’ll be a few miles from another experience worth taking time for, that being the Winery at Biltmore Estate, located in Antler Hill Village.? It is the most visited winery in the country, and on a busy day they can deliver ten thousand tastings.? That number is difficult to get your head around.? They produce over 1.5 million bottles of wine a year here, and on a single shift actually bottled 26,121 bottles, another difficult to fathom number.? This is not a small operation.? We visited the winery about five years ago, and were pleasantly surprised at the quality of the wines.? This trip was a chance to see what had changed.? There were several significant changes, and they were all for the better, making our visit an even more enjoyable experience.

    The Biltmore makes wine from both estate grown grapes as well as California sourced fruit.? Some of the California grapes find their way back to North Carolina, and are vinified there.? These will carry an “American” designation.? Others are made completely in California and then shipped back.? These wines can carry their original American Viticultural Area (AVA) designation, so you can find

    The tunnel from Antler Village entrance

    The tunnel from Antler Village entrance

    wines designated as Napa, Sonoma, Russian River Valley, Dry Creek and Rockpile.? Spoiler alert: most of the California AVA designated wines are pretty excellent.? There were excellent wines from the estate portfolio as well.? All of this is crafted by the winemaker, Sharon Fenchak, along with the Assistant Winemaker, Tina Slagel. ? The women are in charge, and that is working well.

    Complimentary Tasting Area

    Complimentary Tasting Area

    The answer to how they can do so many tastings in a day is the layout of the tasting rooms.? These are huge, with multiple bar areas at each of the many stations located in the spaces.? We were impressed with the efficiency of the operation last time.? This time, we were amazed at the transformation.? Previously they were nicely laid out and functional, now they all look like a high end wine bar.? Solid surface counters stand in front of vertical wine libraries.? Everything is top notch, and creates an elegant atmosphere which lends itself to the overall experience.? We can’t say enough about the makeover.

    From a production standpoint, little has materially changed.? Some new equipment has been brought in, and there was a little space reallocated during the tasting room makeover, but essentially the operation remains as it was on our last visit.? They are growing Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Chardonnay onsite.? Other grapes are, as described previously, brought in.? You’ll find Tempranillo, Sangiovese, Petite Sirah, Riesling, Syrah and others.? It’s a fairly large portfolio, but we soldiered

    The Wine Bar

    The Wine Bar

    through it and found the quality good across the board, with some standouts.? We’ll highlight those below.

    Throughout our visit the exceptional hospitality of the Biltmore staff was evident.? Gabriele was our guide through a tour of the new features, and then hosted an initial tasting.? She was very knowledgeable and obviously passionate about wine.? Spencer checked in on us throughout our winery experience, and obviously

    A LOT of wine ready to ship.

    A LOT of wine ready to ship.

    was very cognizant of how the visitor experience unfolds for guests.? At the new wine tasting area, where you can explore the complimentary tastings, Dan poured the wines and shared facts and his own personal impressions.? It was fun to compare notes, and see how different palates interpret the same wine.? Finally, at the new Wine Bar located just outside the main winery shop, Lori took us through the premium wines, which was another fun hour spent on one of our favorite subjects.? The staff is experienced, well trained, and very, very good at what they do.

    You can taste all of the same wines if you visit the winery.? You’ll find the premium wines at the Wine Bar very affordable in a tasting format, and as we said, the regular tastings are complimentary with your estate ticket.? Let’s take a look at some of the wines we tried, and our impressions.

    Biltmore makes several series of wines, including Biltmore Estate Wines, Limited Release (available exclusively at Biltmore), Reserve Wines, Antler Hill Wines (their super premiums) and Sparkling Wines.? The sparkling wines are, across the board, exceptional.? More details on that later.

    Biltmore Estate Wines

    There are so many choices here.? For whites, we tasted the 2017 Pinot Grigio, which was nicely balanced and bright, as well as the 2017 Riesling, which was well made and quite sweet on the palate.? The 2018 Gewurtztraminer was very aromatic, with floral notes, honeysuckle, spice and melon.? On the red side, the 2017 Cabernet Sauvignon was a very pleasing wine, and very affordable as well.? One of their best sellers is the Cardinal’s Crest, which is a non-vintage red blend.? It will year to year, and the previous blend included Merlot, Sangiovese, Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon and Petite Sirah.? This wine is smooth and a crowd pleaser.

    There were a few that stood out in this range, and they are highlighted below.

    2017 Biltmore Estate Chenin Blanc – semi-sweet, and while the sugar was certainly noticeable, the wine was very clean and beautifully balanced by some cleansing acid.? We really enjoyed this one, and it would make an equally appealing aperitif or dessert wine.? Very well done, and a bit different.? Great value here at $13.

    2017 Biltmore Estate Sangiovese – we ordered this at dinner one night at The Bistro restaurant in Antler Hill Village.? It is

    Sangiovese

    Sangiovese

    medium bodied, with black cherry fruit, and a well integrated structure.? While easy drinking, it stood up to dinner very well.? Drink this with food or by itself.? It’s under $20, and less with volume discounts or if you are a Biltmore passholder.? Very good wine.? $19

    2017 Biltmore Estate Syrah – a medium red color combines with a complex nose of red fruit, spice, balsamic vinegar.? On the palate you get a little caramel and there are vanilla hints.? This is medium bodied, interesting and complex.? Another well balanced wine you can open with dinner or just sip a glass.? Also a very good wine at $19.

    Biltmore Limited Edition Wines

    The Limited Release series is available exclusively at the Biltmore Estate, and is a large part of the reason that the Biltmore winery does one third of their retail sales onsite.? The 2017 Limited Release Sauvignon Blanc has lime and citrus notes, is clean and crisp, and is not grassy at all. ? The 2017 Limited Release Tempranillo is dark red, with fig and raisin notes, along with a spicy finish.? This was an interesting red, as was the 2017 Limited Release Malbec, which featured violets, blackberry, and raspberry.? The 2017 Limited Release Zinfandel had strawberry jam and spice in its medium bodied profile.? Also, the 2017 Limited Release Dry Rosé had all the qualities you look for in a good quality Rosé.

    Some of our favorites from the Limited Release series follow:

    2017 Limited Release Muscat Canelli – this is almost clear, with a perfumed nose of flowers and melon.? It is off dry, and clean throughout.? A perfect aperitif, we really liked this.? $17

    2017 Limited Release Dry Riesling – we sampled this from a newly opened, and chilled, bottle at the Wine Bar.? It was

    Limited Release Dry Riesling

    Limited Release Dry Riesling

    outstanding, and really one of my favorite wines of the day.? Light straw in color, this had citrus which came across as Lychee fruit to me, as well as pear and apple.? You get just a touch of a petrol quality, it is clean, crisp, long and just delicious.? Serve this chilled.? $19, and a really good value there.

    2017 Limited Release Merlot – a purple/red wine, this has berry and cherry flavors, with a bit of vanilla and caramel, and some spice at the finish.? It is aged in 100% French oak.? $20

    Biltmore Reserve Wines

    These are the best of the best, and include North Carolina wines as well as others from California fruit.? In general, the California wines here will retain their origin AVA designations.? North Carolina grapes become Biltmore Reserve wines, California grapes become Vanderbilt Reserve wines, and there is also an Antler Hill series and another Bordeaux blend simply called The Hunt.? As a group they represent wines that are equal in quality to pretty much anything else out there.? We’ll include more detailed notes on all of them.

    2017 Biltmore Reserve Chardonnay North Carolina – very light straw in color, this has a pretty strong buttery component on

    North Carolina Reserve Chardonnay

    North Carolina Reserve Chardonnay

    the nose.? It leaves you expecting the same on the palate, but that never asserts itself.? The oak is restrained, and the result is a medium to light bodied wine with tropical fruits.? It is very elegant, and very well done.? $24 and excellent value.

    2017 Biltmore Reserve Cabernet Franc North Carolina – a medium red color wine, this has a nose of red fruit with some spice.? It is medium bodied, and on the lighter side.? Pleasing, with good length.? From estate grapes.? At $35 this is a bit pricey.

    2016 Vanderbilt Reserve Pinot Noir Russian River Valley – a rich red color in this wine, and a nose full of cherry with caramel notes.? This has beautiful fruit.? It is medium bodied, but still rich.? The cherry and caramel come through on the palate as well, and the wine finishes long.? A very smooth wine, this is an excellent example of Russian River Valley Pinot Noir.? $30 and worth it.

    2016 The Hunt – this was almost sold out everywhere on the estate, so we include it for reference and as a reminder to look for futureIMG_0062 vintages.? It is a Bordeaux style red blend, in 2016 comprised of 43% Cabernet Sauvignon, 29% Merlot and 28% Cab Franc.? That will certainly change in other vintages. ? It is very dark purple red, with a berry focused nose, along with savory components and a touch of oak.? This wine is integrated and seamless, rich and full bodied.? It drinks like a well aged Bordeaux, when all the pieces are just where they should be.? Very well done, and a good value at $40.? Look for the 2017.

    2016 Vanderbilt Reserve Merlot Dry Creek Valley – this is a very dark red wine, with a nose of dark fruits, a hint of caramel and spice.? There is also a touch of either phenolic or rubbing alcohol on the nose, but just a tiny bit and it is not off putting.? It is rich, full bodied, focused on the fruit and quite long.? This is a good value at $30.

    2016 Vanderbilt Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon Dry Creek Valley – another very dark wine, there is rich fruit on the nose with berry and cherry.? The fruit is also front and center in the mouth, along with some caramel and a little oak.? This is full bodied, very smooth and long.? It is an excellent Sonoma Cabernet for $35.

    2016 Antler Hill Zinfandel Rockpile – from a small Sonoma County AVA known for Zinfandel, this is dark purple red, with an

    The Amazing Rockpile Zinfandel

    The Amazing Rockpile Zinfandel

    intense nose of dark fruit, bacon fat and anise, along with tobacco nuances.? This is a big wine, but focused, with caramel and spice joining the palate party.? At the end, we tasted just a hint of candied lemon (interesting and pretty cool).? While complex, full bodied and rather unctuous, this is one of those wines that has a pure core of fruit which shines through from beginning to end.? It is, simply, a superior wine.? Compare this to any old vines Zinfandel anywhere.? Beautifully made, and very good value at $50.

    2014 Antler Hill Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley – a dark red wine with a nose of caramel, blackberry, plum and meaty undertones.? This has a big nose, is rich and full bodied, but not overly extracted or jammy.? The finish is seamless and very long.? All around, this wine is a classy example of a top notch Napa Valley Cabernet.? As such, the $75 price tag is reasonable.? This is a world class wine.? They still have a small amount of this left.

    2015 Antler Hill Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley – a good example of how vintages of the same wine can vary, when

    2015 Antler Hill Cabernet

    2015 Antler Hill Cabernet

    compared side by side with the wine above.? This wine has dark fruit, savory notes, tobacco and mint on the nose.? It is leaner and more edgy than it’s older brother.? I would give this some time and wait for the harmony between all the elements to arrive.? Very different than the 2014.? An excellent wine to be sure, but we prefer the 2014 in a unanimous decision.? Also $75.

    Sparkling Wines

    One consistent element between our visits, five years apart, was the quality of the sparkling wines.? They do a fabulous job with bubbles at the Biltmore.? We tried three, and bought the one which eluded us to try at home.? Here they are:

    Biltmore Estate Blanc de Noir NV –? 100% Pinot Noir with light but saturated salmon color, and a stream of fine bubbles in the

    Blanc de Noir

    Blanc de Noir

    glass.? On the nose it is toast with raspberry jam.? The fruit component is central, and comes through beautifully.? It is dry, light on the palate and long.? Overall a delightful sparkling wine that is very well made and screams quality.? $25 (we bought some of this as well)

    Biltmore Estate Blanc de Blancs NV – 100% Chardonnay, and equally delightful.? Here there is apple and lemon.? It is clean and crisp with good length.? Another quality wine.? Also $25.

    2015 Chateau Reserve Blanc de Blancs

    2015 Chateau Reserve Blanc de Blancs

    2015 Biltmore Estate Chateau Reserve Blanc de Blancs North Carolina – this is from estate Chardonnay grapes, and is only made when they have an outstanding year.? The next most recent vintage was 2011.? This had a toasty nose as well, with apples and pears providing the ample fruit.? This is an excellent Méthode Champenoise style wine, and a house specialty.? $50

    Well, that was a lot of wine.? There is much to do and try at the Biltmore Estate, and you can read a little more about that here.? The winery is much more than a leisurely, complimentary tasting.? They take wine very seriously, and make many wines worth your attention and your cellar.? We brought several home ourselves.? Try their full range and judge for yourself.? Do go to the Wine

    Champagne Bubbles Cieling!

    Champagne Bubbles Ceiling!

    Bar and sample the premium wines, as they are very impressive.

    You can read more about the winery on their website at?https://www.biltmore.com/wine.

    We’re going back in November.? Should be just in time for the new vintages!

    A votre santé!

     

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