One of the sexiest things we could do as diners is get into the real enjoyment of drinking wine. I say so with the admission that I’m not a bona fide connoisseur of wines. Nor am I the biggest lover of them (bubbly being a huge exception). I’ll take a white before a red, but that’s changing. I’m diligently (though at a slow pace), doing research, experimenting and getting to know the intricate details of both making wine and pairing them with food.
Drinking wine is one thing, but pairing it with complementary foods takes the experience to another level of appreciation.
The same goes for eating chocolate in all its divineness.
While passing up wine during dinner is fair game in my life, overlooking dessert, especially when it involves any dose of chocolate, is criminal activity. Most times I have the urge for wine, a sweet something is part of the equation.
To that end, let’s chat a bit about pairing wine and chocolate. Because that equation only makes sense, riiight! I hosted a fête of the decadent marriage of the two a couple of years ago to much attention and excitement. As the evening developed, guests took notes on what their palate tasted when sipping and nibbling at the same time. There was a process to the magic.
The evening was so luscious and opened up a new conversation of how wine can be incorporated into just about any facet of our dining experiences, that I’ve sought out similar experiences since.
While I’ve not found anything similar in Atlanta (and nil research done in D.C.), I found something equally exquisite in Asheville, N.C. If you’ve read David’s restaurant review of our dinner at The Inn at Biltmore last year or the recap of my attendance of the Truffle Fest, then you know I’ve grown to love that town. Not only because the famed House is erected there, but also because of the diverse food culture and initiatives they’ve expanded to make food in the Piedmont region more accessible and more approachable. But, more on that way later.
It deserves a whole lot of rambling.
Just two weeks ago, I was sitting in the ambient tasting room of the Biltmore’s winery in the homey Antler Hill Village. I hopped in my car at the wee hour of dawn and drove through the mountains to make a noon tryst with Susan, a wine and tour expert. I checked into my suite at the Inn faster than I could change two outfits and strolled by foot to the winery.
The day was balmy and I was anxious to be back indoors.
Naturally, I was 5 minutes late and the group of three others had started the private tasting. My table was set with 4 glasses and 4 chocolates…. and this helpful wine sheet which helps the taster understand what they’re supposed to look for or what notes and flavors should be extracted while swirling, smelling and tasting — three important components to enjoying wine.
While Susan explained the details of each particular red in front of us, I took notes of each of the wines listed on the sheet….keeping in mind that I’m not the biggest fan, I was deeply intrigued by the floral, herbal and perfume-y characteristics each of the wines has. That made them more appealing. But, I say the same about food: If you know the origins of food and how they get on your plate, the more you’ll appreciate the dish.
The selected wines we tasted were paired with rich truffles from Bern, Switzerland (ahhhhhh!). The point of the pairing was to enjoy the full body of the wine based on the taste of chocolate. The flavors are supposed to complement each other. Of interesting note, and one we should all be conscious of — not each pairing is going to yield the same yum or “wow” factor for every taster. A lot is based on ones palate. Of the four I had, the Sangiovese was my favorite. The Italian-inspired red, loosely on par with Chianti, was lined up with a raspberry-filled chocolate bonbon. Divine, of course. I had two full glasses of that red. By then, I was feeling a tad oozy (yes, yes, I was), so I passed on finishing the Reserve Pinot Noir, which for my personal taste was on the bitter side, yet robust.
While, we didn’t have whites or sparklings to try, the general tasting room has the entire collection available. I made my way there after a one-on-one behind-the-scenes tour of the facility.
What makes Biltmore wines special is that they’re mostly made from local and native grapes. If not from N.C., the grapes come from Napa. Outside of that only off-premise variable, the entire catalog of wines are pressed, fermented and bottled right on the property. They boast four main labels, including The Biltmore Collection, The Century Collection, The Reserve Collection and The Sparkling Collection, all bearing different styles and flavors.
My honest and quite coy tour guide took me to the area where the grapes are dumped and crushed. We went to the big and somewhat intimidating room where the wines are stored, chilled and fermented and finally bottled and cased. I learned about the different temperates a certain blend has to be set to, vs. the amount of times another has to be turned in the massive stainless steel drum.
After an hour, we started making our exit which takes us to the barrel room. There I saw the different varieties of wood barrels used for different wines… each is perfectly stamped with the date it was processed. That date determines what you and I see on the finished label. We couldn’t have completed the tour without getting a glimpse of the smaller yet impressive “Champagne” production, which follows the traditional méthode champenoise. One medium-sized room holds tilted and upside down bottles of bubbly. An even smaller area, visible to the general public taking the tour, houses the machinery where sparkling wine is bottled and corked.
Had there not been a huge group of onlookers through the glass window, I would have attempted a heist of at least one bottle! I’m just sayin’! Who wouldn’t be tempted!
I ended my 4-hour experience with 45 minutes in the big tasting room. I scanned my wine list and went for the Chenin Blanc, the Christmas at Biltmore (though sold out due to popularity, so I had the rosé) and the their single dessert wine, the Malvasia, which is sweet enough to pass on dessert.
There are so many choices, but having had the equivalent of four bottles (way, way too much for my petite frame), I couldn’t hold anymore. I trusted the exciting reactions from neighboring visitors.
Wine and chocolate tastings or seminars at Biltmore are unique and the perfect way to enjoy a lovers’ weekend…. ahem, as in this Valentine’s! Thought the tastings are available year round at noon, 2pm at 4pm, and a great addition to your fabulous itinerary, enjoying it this weekend (or even next week) is like the homemade icing on the carrot cake. Think outside the box and visit a lovely town with endless things to do! Honestly, it’ll take more than four hours to learn all about the Biltmore’s wines, how they’re made, taste what you prefer, and get a look at the factory. At minimum you’ll fall in love with the Inn, the House, the winery and you’ll be tickled with a good amount of vinos sold in the huge retail store. All of the wines are available for purchase on premise.
In fact, you’ll leave with reservations for a second visit within the year. A healthy slice of heavenly decadence awaits you.
And, you’ll walk away with a bottle or two. Or three. If some for some crazy reason, you can’t muster time to make it to Asheville or the Biltmore, I highly recommend you check out their national retailers. No reason not to enjoy their wines; even if it means passing up a personal visit… the time will come.
And, a sneak peek into my customized 7 course lunch at Bistro, which was spent divinely with the Executive Chef of the entire Biltmore and the Estate’s winemaker, a quiet Francophile named Bernard Delille, should keep you intrigued enough to read the forthcoming review!