A Traditional Thanksgiving with Biltmore Estate Sparkling Wine

Biltmore Estate Blanc de BlancsOh man, I just love Thanksgiving because it is distinctly American in so many ways. I can think of no better way to honor our early American settlers than by serving a completely traditional meal with an all domestic menu, including American wine.

This year I’m celebrating exactly like the Puritans did in the first Harvest Feast in 1621. I’m taking a cue from none other than the grand-daddy of all pilgrims, George Vanderbilt, who established Thanksgiving by pouring Jeroboams of Biltmore Estates sparkling wines for his guests from India at his palatial manor in Asheville, North Carolina.

OK, so I’m not exactly an expert on all things antiquity. Never the less, I’m good enough at geometry to know that North Carolina is part of New England on the east coast next to Plymouth Rock. Like me, what you might not have known is that there are excellent wines made in the Thanksgiving state of North Carolina. Living in another non-traditional wine growing state, Texas, I’m completely not surprised by it though.

I had a little chat with Sharon Fenchak, the winemaker at the Biltmore Winery, to learn about the wine industry in North Carolina and about the wine she makes. Wine has been made in the state since the 17th century and there are now more than 100 wineries and more than 400 vineyards. There are diverse and distinct growing regions in the North Carolina with mountain and coastal areas as well as three American Viticultural Areas (AVAs).

Growing vinifera grapes in the North Carolina climate can be tricky business. Fenchak explained, “Our vineyards were originally planted in 1971 and the present vineyard was planted in 1985. The life of a vine in North Carolina is around 20 years and our harsh winters impact their longevity. The weather also dictates what grows. Viognier grows well here in some years and not in other years. We wouldn’t plant Pinot Noir here because it would fall apart in the humidity. Last year was a dry year which is great for the grapes and drove the sugar up to make bold red wine.”

Biltmore Estate has 80 acres of vineyards in the mountains with a humid, rainy and cool climate well suited for growing Chardonnay and Cabernet Franc. The area sees wide swings in temperatures from day and to night that gives the wine zippy acidity. In addition to growing its own grapes, the winery buys grapes from other North Carolina appellations, like Viognier from the southern part of the state. It also gets about 25 percent of its fruit from California to round out its needs.

Fenchak was fascinated by science and fermentation at an early age. She tried making her first wine when she was 9 years old, and as expected it was horrible. She later lived in Vicenza, Italy while in the military and fell in love with wine and food pairings and the romance of wine making. She pursued her passion by earning a food science degree with research in wine for her Master’s thesis. “I fell in love with the idea of winemaking and then realize how hard the work is and how dirty you get,” she said.

Biltmore has only had three winemakers since it opened in the early 1970s. That longevity leads to consistency in the style of wine. It’s also lead to steady growth. The winery is expanding from 90,000 cases made per year to 170,000 cases. It is now sold in several states and they plan to go national soon.

Fenchak shares winemaking responsibility with Bernard Delille, who joined the winery in 1986. She described the synergy in their working relationship, “Bernard is French and I’m from Pennsylvania. He has a European palate and I have an American palate. We have different approach to wine, but we have been working together for so long we have agreements on styles of wine. We think about what the consumer wants and make wine that is ready to drink and taste good right away and for the next couple of years.”

Making wine from all North Carolina fruit is both challenging and rewarding. Fenchak believes that making wine with grapes from different areas has made her a better wine maker. “What’s going on in Monterey is not the same as what’s going on in Sonoma and definitely not what’s going on in NC. Making an American appellation is fun.”

The sparkling wine that I’m having with my Thanksgiving dinner is made with Chardonnay grapes grown in the Russian River Valley of California. This elegant wine is fermented in stainless steel tanks, and then it undergoes a second fermentation in the bottle. Here is what it’s like.

Biltmore Estate Blanc de Blancs, Methode Champenoise Brut, 2008    

Look This star-bright, pale yellow wine is almost liquid platinum in the glass with an inverted shower of bubbles frothing into an ample mousse. It shimmers like a holiday.
Smell The Blanc de Blancs has a delicate scent of bread dough, green apples and nuts.
Taste Made with all Chardonnay grapes, it has apple blossom, green apple, lemon zest and tart Bartlett pear flavors. It has racy acidity and a lively mouth feel. The acidity and lively fruit make it versatile enough to pair with anything you serve in a traditional Thanksgiving dinner from green bean casserole to smoked turkey to oyster dressing.
Price $25


2012 Christmas at Biltmore Wine While I joked about the origins of Thanksgiving tied to George Biltmore, legend has it that Mr. Vanderbilt first opened the doors to the amazing estate on Christmas Eve, 1895. The dude threw down with a bad-ass party with tons of  holiday foods and sick amounts fine wines. Today the winery commemorates that bash by releasing The Christmas at Biltmore, a limited release wine. This aromatic blend of California Riesling, Gewurztraminer, Muscat Canelli, Muscat Orange and Chenin Blanc is slightly sweet to pair well with holiday dinner classics like roasted turkey, baked ham and pumpkin pie.  I’ve got a bottle tucked away in my stocking ready for Christmas dinner.

Whether you choose a white blend, Pinot Noir or sparkling wine to enjoy with your holiday meal, consider buying a domestic wine from an up and coming region like North Carolina. Just make sure you have enough on hand to satisfy your thirsty guests. If you serve them enough, maybe they’ll start to believe silly stories about the origin of Thanksgiving.

Biltmore provided samples of the wine for review.  

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Escape F1 madness with a Hill Country getaway to the Texas Fall Fest & Wine Auction

The Horseshoe Bay Resort MarriottThis weekend the exotic Formula 1 racing cars will roar into Austin for the first time ever. Out of the crush of traffic and blare of the lights, another elegant event is happening in Central Texas. The 8th Annual Texas Fall Fest & Wine Auction brings together 18 wineries and 14 chefs from the Hill Country on Nov. 16 – 17 at the Horseshoe Bay Yacht Club.

Texas wine pioneer and co-owner of Fall Creek Vineyards, Susan Auler, helped start the Fall Fest as a way to focus attention exclusively on Hill Country food and wine.

“The beverage director of the Horseshoe Bay Resort Marriott asked me to create a festival to raise the profile of Texas wine,” Auler explains. “I was chosen because of my work to start and run the larger Texas Hill Country Wine and Food Festival in Austin (the precursor to the Austin Food & Wine Festival). We wanted a more intimate event that didn’t compete with the larger festival, and was easier for the winemakers to attend.”

Susan and Ed AulerNot only did the event help shine a spotlight on Texas wine, but it also played a role in putting the industry on the map. Literally. Auler says, “At the time we started the festival, we were working on gaining an official American Viticultural Area (AVA) designation for the Texas Hill Country wineries. One of criteria to establish an AVA was to have a region known as having a wine culture. Holding an event right in the heart of the Hill Country and focused the importance of Texas wine and food by bringing together some of the best wines, foods, chefs and restaurants in the Hill country did just that.”

Fall Fest has a decidedly different format and feel than its sister festival held in tents in a park in Austin. Spread over two days, Fall Fest has three main events taking place at the Horseshoe Bay and in the city of Marble Falls.

The casual Sunset Stroll Farm to Market Wine Fair will be held on Friday, Nov. 16, featuring wine and food tastings in a marketplace of Hill Country wineries and Central Texas restaurants. Nibbles from restaurants like Cabernet Grill, Café Josie, Jack Allen’s Kitchen, Navajo Grill, Quality Seafood Market, River City Grille and Siena Restaurant Toscana will be served with wine from local vineyards such as 4.0 Cellars, Cap-Rock Winery, Inwood Estates Vineyards, and many more. For the second year, specialty food and merchandise from 17 artisans will be available for purchase.

Chef Josh WatkinsFall Fest resumes on Saturday afternoon with the Formula 1: Texas Wine & Food Trail on Historic Main Street in Marble Falls with appetizers paired with a selection of Texas wines poured by a dozen winemakers. This event started as a nod to the trailer food craze with food served at five various shops in a three block stretch of Main Street. This year the stroll has been turned into a mobile F1 watch party, with the race being shown in the participating shops.

For those of us that want to sit down and enjoy an elegant meal, the event has a Wine Dinner and Auction with four-courses prepared by Chef Josh Watkins of the Carillon and Chef Gilbert Moore of the Horseshoe Bay Marriott on Saturday night. Between main course and dessert there will be a short and sweet live auction with several wine-themed lots.

“I’m excited for the dinner. We have a wonderful menu planned, and the auction is always fun. We hold the auction to raise money for CASA of the Highland Lakes area, which supports child foster care, and Texas wine and grape research,” says Auler.

What are you drinking?


Tickets for the Texas Fall Fest are available for the full weekend for $110 or sold separately for each event. Sunset Stroll Farm to Market Wine Fair tickets are $40; Formula 1: Texas Wine & Food Trail down Old Main Street is $25; Reception, Dinner and Live Wine Auction and the Saturday afternoon trail package is $75.

This article was previously published on CultureMap.

The art of ceramics, food and cocktails at Make. Eat. Drink.


It’s pretty obvious that I’m a huge fan of well-made, hand-crafted wine, beer, spirits and cocktails. I’m also an art lover and get a rush for wandering through exhibits and galleries. Fortunately Beautiful Wife shares these passions.
Why not combine the two loves?

Could there possibly be a better way to enjoy the artistic creation of craft cocktails and food than having it served in artisan-made cups and plates? Probably not. You can find out just how good it is at Make. Eat. Drink., a featured event of the East Austin Studio Tour (E.A.S.T.), on Tuesday November 13 at the  East Side Glass Studios, 507 Calles Street (the same building as Hops & Grain).

Here is your chance to sample delectable eats lovingly made by Andrew Francisco, chef of Bridget Dunlap’s soon to be opened place, Mettle East Side Bistro. Elegant libations, courtesy of Contigo, will be served at a bar custom-made for the event by Petrified Design. The hottness is that the goodies will be served in ceramics made by E.A.S.T. artists, Keith Kreeger of Keith Kreeger Studios, Leigh Taylor Wyatt and Shara Funari of Eastside Glass and Ryan McKerley. You get to keep your handmade cup at the end of the event.

McKerley TumblersEast Side Glass Studios owners Shara Funari and Leigh Taylor Wyatt are excited to host the event. Funari said, “We are thrilled to have the opportunity to showcase the Boom Gallery space of East Side Glass Studio for Make. Eat. Drink. Joining forces with other artists/concepts of design allows me to utilize the medium of hot glass with purpose and intention.”

Ceramic artist and event organizer, Keith Kreeger says “I’m a firm believer that food and drink loving culture that is prevalent in Austin has the same affinity for fine things that craft lovers culture has. I’ve never met a craft lover that doesn’t go to the farmers market for fresh ingredients to cook their own meals. This event let’s foodies and drink aficionados appreciate how much more they can enjoy their fantastic food on hand-made functional art. The rituals and experience of hand-crafting food and drink is more complete when combined with the craftsmanship of a handmade dish. The details of a cup and how it feels on your lips can be as important to your experience as flavors you taste in a drink.”

Kieth Kreeger Studios
Kreeger continued, “Pottery and craft is moving more to the luxury goods market which is connected with the foodie movement. Our generation understands that the things we have in our homes should be of the same quality the food we serve on it.”

Grab you tickets for $100, and eat, drink, admire art and get a handmade cup by a Make. Eat. Drink artist. A portion of the proceeds will benefit Big Medium and the East Austin Studio Tour.

Sponsors include: Big Medium, Contigo, Mettle, Mockingbird Domestics, Keith Kreeger Studios and East Side Glass Studios.

What are you drinking? 

Feeling bubbly at Big Reds & Bubbles

Last night was the 10th Annual  Big Reds & Bubbles hosted by The Wine & Food Foundation of Texas. If you want the full story about the event, here is my preview of the bash. Beautiful Wife and I eased our way through the bubbly crowd to sip on a lovely array of sparkling and red wines, nibbling on excellent food from several local chefs and talking with dozens of friends. As always, it was a well organized event packed with beautiful people and overflowing with incredible wine.

My favorite nibble was from Barley Swine. I have no idea what it was, but it was fantastic.

My favorite wines were the Ruinart Champagne and the Adelsheim Pinot Noir.

My favorite surprise was seeing Jack Gilmore with short hair.

My favorite shadow was Marshall Jones’ attempt at a Movember mustache which was slightly more prominent than Drew Peterson’s.

My favorite moment was when Amber Demure photo bombed me by biting the ass of a hottie. Or when we stole a bottle of rose at the end of the night and passed it around to be drained in 5 minutes (sorry Marshall).

My favorite conversations are too many to recount. It was great to talk with so many wonderful people.

Thank good someone brought a big bag of breakfast tacos to the office this morning.

Here are some photos of the festivities.

What are you drinking? 

Fine time at Wine & Swine

Wine & SwineThis Sunday hundreds of people gathered in the sun to chow whole hog prepared in dozens of ways. The second annual Wine & Swine event hosted by the Austin Food & Wine Alliance pitted 17 chefs against each other in a competition of unrationed rashers. It was a truly Texan event with more roast meat than you can imagine and plenty to drink.

Many of the chefs stayed up all night roasting whole pigs in various ways. Of course the chefs needed high octane fuel to keep themselves awake. John Bates of Nobel Pig drank plenty of Jester King beer. Josh Watkins of the Carrilon listed a litany of drinks including tequila and vodka. Fortunately the event had plenty of drinks on hand for guests like me to enjoy.

Before we get to what I was drinking, congratulations to the chef’s who won the Greenling Fan Favorite Award. The Grand Champion went to chef Josh Watkins of The Carillon with his Cuban pork dish. In second place was chef Jason Dady of Bin 555 and Jason Dady Restaurants with his maple bourbon-glazed whole pig (I understand it was a very close finish) and third place went to Andrew Wiseheart of Contigo with his pork with smoke tomatoes and arugula.

OK, back to the drinks. I strolled about the grounds of Pioneer Farms slugging back cocktails made by David Allen, the Tipsy Texan, local beers from Hops & Grain and Jester King, cider from Argus Cidery, Texas wine from Pedarnales Cellars and rum from White Hat. Here are a few photos of the wonderful things I enjoyed while there.

This event was a hell of a lot of fun. If you missed it, make plans to go next year to pig out and drink your fill. Where else can you see well-dressed beautiful women sucking the meat off a rib bone without a care in the world?

What are you drinking?


Exclusive reds and fine champagnes: Big Reds and Bubbles returns for tenth annual fete

Lamarca ProseccoAustinites love a good party, and Thursday, for the tenth year, hundreds of people will pack into the Driskill Hotel to sip some of the world’s finest champagne and exclusive red wines at Big Reds & Bubbles hosted by The Wine & Food Foundation of Texas.

At this year’s annual fête, Nov. 8, guests will be greeted with a glass of bubbly served by the bubble girls, wearing little more than strategically placed bubbles. Who could ask for a better way to start a party?

“There is no other wine event like this in town,” says the foundation’s president-elect, Mark Shilling. “Big Reds and Bubbles is elegant and festive, it’s held in a beautiful location, it has high-caliber wines and incredible food that reflects Austin’s foodie movement. Let’s face it — it’s your gateway party to the holiday season. People get dressed to impress for Big Reds and Bubbles and that sets the tone for the cooler weather parties.”

The star of the show is definitely the wine. “Big Reds is a good way to experience several wines in an approachable, non-snooty way,” Shilling says.

Suzanne and Matt McGinnis  Big Reds & Bubbles Well, there is a little touch of snooty wine drinking. The event starts off with a sold-out, private VIP pre-party hosted by June Rodil, Wine & Spirits Magazine’s Best New Sommelier in 2011, featuring 10 big reds and sparkling wines. Rodil will describe the highly sought after wines and then give her recommendations on the must-have wines poured at the rest of the event.

Don’t worry if you didn’t get a VIP ticket, there will be plenty of excellent wine for us. Principle sponsor Glazer’s is arranging for approximately 130 wines from 60 producers to be poured at the party.

“Glazer’s is deeply involved in and committed to the food and wine industry in Texas,” said Stephen Hansen, portfolio marketing manager of Glazer’s Texas Fine Wine Division. “Our commitment aligns well with the Foundation’s mission of improving the wine and food community with education and scholarships. Food and wine are inextricably linked and are absolutely essential to our culture, to who we are. Big Reds and Bubbles is an excellent way to experience the culture of food and wine.”

Bryce Gilmore and Jack Gilmore Big Reds & BubblesThe “big” will shine through in glasses of California Cabernets like Miner Oracle, Chappellet Mountain Cuvee and Sterling Vineyards Platinum. Well known wines like Beaulieu Vineyards will be poured next to wineries that are new to the event, like Donati Family, Lange Winery and Gerard Bertrand.

Bubbly conversations always flow better with a flute of champagne. This year’s bubbles come from stand-out wines from Louis Roederer, Laurent Perrier and Beau Joie as well as a phenomenal selection of Prosecco from producers like Montesel, Nino Franco, La Marca, and Cava from Juve y Camps and Segura Viudas.

20 of Austin’s acclaimed chefs will serve inventive nibbles to pair with all of those fantastic wines. I’m looking forward to trying a preview of Bridget Dunlap’s new place, Mettle. Another new joint serving up the goods is Guests LaV Austin, which will be opened by Chef Allison Jenkins in fall of 2013. There will be plenty of good eats from the likes of The Carillon, Jack Allen’s Kitchen, Barley Swine, Max’s Wine Dive, Noble Pig, Wink and Swift’s Attic.

Chef Brad Sorenson

Returning as emcee this year is Chef Brad Sorenson of The Next Food Network Star fame. He’ll give us the inside scope on his soon to open Nova Kitchen & Bar on Rainey Street, while rallying the crowd to spend big on the silent auction. He’ll have plenty to sell with desirable auction items like a three liter bottle of Miner Family Wines The Oracle 2007, three cases of exquisite Spanish wines and a private tasting for 10 at the Red Room Lounge hosted by Advanced Sommelier, Bill Elsey.

Proceeds from the event benefit The Wine & Food Foundation of Texas’s education and scholarships which promote excellence in the culinary and viticulture arts.

Tickets for the event are available online for the price of $85 for foundation members and $100 for the general public. The Foundation reports that ticket sales are ahead of schedule and they expect the event to sell out with 400 people in attendance. 

This article was previously published on CultureMap.

What are you drinking? 

icenhauer’s makes a drink for Movember

I’ve been a strong supporter of the Livestrong Foundation and have raised more than $15,000 over the past few year’s to help people fight cancer. So when I saw that icenhauer’s has created a drink called The Hair Raiser  and will donate $1 from every one sold in Movember  to the  The Livestrong Foundation, I got pretty excited. Here is an easy way to support an important cause, doing something I love.

Movember is a fantastic movement that encourages men to grow a furry caterpillar on their upper lip to raise awareness for prostate cancer. If you weren’t aware that this is going on, its the reason you see otherwise clean shaven dudes trying to sprout “porn stars,” “handlebars,” and  the occasional “fu man shu.”

I did it a couple years ago and just can’t bare the disgusted looks I get when people see how ugly I look in a mustache. I’m glad I can lazily support Movember by drinking The Hair Raiser. icenhauers says the spicy, simple and fresh drink is sure grow some hair on your face.

The Hair Raiser

  • 1.5 ounce of Belvedere Bloody Mary Vodka
  • Cucumber slice
  • Jalapeño slice
  • Muddle both the cucumber and the jalapeño
  • Add simple syrup and fresh lime juice
  • Shake and strain over ice

What are you drinking?