The story: Who knew that the most visited winery in the United States is not in Napa, or Sonoma, and not even in the second place state of Washington (not a dig WA, just a fact). My next guess would be that it is in Temecula, because I have been there on days when it seems like every bachelorette in San Diego is at the same tasting room, but that was wrong also. In fact the most visited winery in the lower 48 is The Biltmore Estate in North Carolina. Here's the twist to that little fact, many visitors are not primarily there for the wine. But based on what I tasted below, maybe they should be.
The winery is producing wines from California juice as well as their own vineyards, and with over a million visitors a year they are selling it rather well. I tasted a couple of their sparling wines, which were quite impressive. I know it gets said on wine blogs everywhere, but if we didn't repeat/copy each other I believe it would indicate either:
1) We think for ourselves (which I never want you to believe)
2) What we are saying is not true (which it always is)
So here goes the dogma - you should not save sparkling wine for special occassions. It is delicious, it is fun, it is great with a huge variety of food, and there are some great examples that are priced very well.
The wines: The Biltmore Estate Blanc de Blancs Brut is made from 100% chardonnay juice purchased from Sonoma's Russian River Valley. This wine is made in the champenoise method and bottled aged for 24 months before disgorging. It has quick tiny bubbles in a nearly clear juice, a pleasant nose of apple and hints of yeast, and drinks of lemon, citrus pith, and a touch of creaminess. The finish is a bit sour but overall it is rather tasty.
The Biltmore Estate Chateau Reserve Blanc de Blancs North Carolina is also 100% chardonnay, but the fruit is all from North Carolina. This wine gets 30 months before disgorging and is a deeper golden yellow. The nose is a bit richer with riper orchard fruits, primarily pears, distinct yeastiness and a slight nuttiness. The wine drinks with a beautiful balance between rich and crisp, has nice beady bubbles, a big hit of crisp acidity, and continues with the apples, pears, nuts, and hints of more tropical fruits.
The verdict: The first bottle retails for $19.99 from the winery and while slightly ordinary in profile is well balanced and fun, with a score of 3/5. The Chateau Reserve bottle is really excellent and sells for a bit more of a premium at $23.99. The four dollars is well worth the upcharge, first to branch out and try a wine grown in North Carolina, and second because it is truly delicious and very deftly balanced. This wine is a great example of a domestic sparkler and will make any event (including a night-in with a simple dinner) that much more fun.
Disclaimer: The wines were provided as media samples.