WHAT: I try not to make a big deal out of Valentine’s Day because, like New Year’s Eve, it’s amateur night. If you need a special day to show your love for someone, you have a problem.
But if you want to make a gesture on this day, nothing says romance quite like bubbles in a wine. If you still haven’t bought your Valentine’s Day sparkler, this Biltmore Sparkling Pas de Deux NV would be a good bet.
The name and the label are a nod to the classic ballet term that means “steps of two,” or a duet. I suppose it hints that the wine is good for a couple. But the label and the bottle are misleading and do little to sell this gem of a wine. With pink foil and an unappealing pink label, you think this might be a sparkling rose. It isn’t. It is a well-made, refreshing sparkling wine made the same way the French make Champagne. (Remember, you can’t call it Champagne unless the wine is made in the Champagne region of France.)
The wine is a gorgeous yellow/green in the glass with plenty of tiny bubbles. The delightful aroma is full of floral notes with some hint of tropical fruit. Strawberry and lemon flavors fill your mouth in a smooth, creamy style. I would call it an off-dry style, with just the right amount of sweetness.
The wine comes from the beautiful Biltmore Estate in Asheville, N.C., but the grapes are from California. Biltmore still grows grapes on its estate, but they bring in a lot of California grapes for their better wines. These are Muscat Canelli grapes from Monterey and Arroyo Seco in California.
The grapes are fermented in stainless steel at cool temperatures. The wine then spends another six to 12 months in the bottle undergoing a second fermentation that produces the bubbles.
Serve this wine well chilled, about 45-50 degrees.
WINERY: In the historic Biltmore Estate in Asheville, N.C., the winery is one of the most visited in North America. Though the 250-room chateau on the estate is 118 years old, the first grape vines weren’t planted until 1971, by George Vanderbilt’s grandson, William A.V. Cecil.
Cecil brought in a sixth generation French winemaker, Philippe Jourdain, to help find the right grapes for the property. The vineyard was expanded to 150 acres in 1981, and in 1985 a winery was opened in the estate’s former dairy barn, which had been designed by Richard Morris Hunt, the architect of Biltmore House.
The current winemakers are Bernard Delille and Sharon Fenchak, a University of Georgia graduate.
Grapes grown on the estate include Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Riesling, Chardonnay and Viognier. Grapes also are sourced from California and Washington. The winery produces about 15 varieties of wine each year, about 120,000 cases. The locally grown wines can be very good (especially their sparkling wines) and the program using West Coast grapes has some outstanding wines. One of my favorites is the Blanc de Noir, a rose sparkling wine.
Activities at the winery throughout the year include barrel tastings, cooking demonstrations, food and wine pairings and jazz and blues performances. The winery is definitely worth a visit.
GOES WITH: My wife, Teri, and I had this with homemade chicken noodle soup. The sweetness in the wine was a perfect balance to the rich chicken flavor and the thyme and parsley I used to season the soup.
We also loved having a little bubbly to brighten up a mid-week meal. It felt like a special occasion. The wine never got flat, as the bubbles kept coming for the whole bottle.
The Pas de Deux is versatile, working as an aperitif, with fresh fruit, chocolate-covered strawberries, cheesecake, coconut shrimp, lobster bisque or even a weekend brunch.