Sunday, November 29, 2009

Tasting Notes & Winery Reviews: Three Sisters & Blackstock (North Georgia)

Happy Thanksgiving to my U.S. readers! I hope everyone had a wonderful holiday and is having a great weekend. My assignment was to bring apple pie and macaroni & cheese. Both turned out really good:

I'd like to declare a mulligan for November, please. The month started with a thrown-out back, then a hurt neck, then a stomach virus, then back out again, and now a cold. Yeah, I'm so ready for December! With all the crap that's happened this month, I haven't had much time or opportunity for blog-worthy stuff, and I didn't really think y'all would have much patience for my whining. I do intend to write a review of the Iberian Pig, especially since I think that the "professional" reviewers have been unnecessarily harsh, but I want to go back and try the entrees first. I've also gotten a new laptop, and it's been fun trying to get everything moved over.

Let's go back to the end of October, when Hubby, my parents, and I checked out a couple of the North Georgia wineries. For those who haven't been following me on Twitter and who don't know, my parents got a second/retirement home in Blairsville, and Hubby and I got a key. Yes, we're very excited. Here's the view from the porch that weekend, when the leaves were nearing peak color:

Impressive, no? Just as impressive was the lunch I fixed us for our five-year wedding anniversary, stuffed lobster tail with Caprese salad and an unoaked Chardonnay (don't remember which one -- got something cheap-ish since I was cooking with it):

We first tried to stop at Frogtown, but they had moved their tasting outside due to a wedding. My father is allergic to yellow jackets, and it was cold for my mom, so we decided to try them another day and go over the hill to Three Sisters Vineyards (not on the list). This is a winery that prides itself on not taking itself too seriously. You'll often see the owners, one of whom wears overalls, in the tasting room.

They have two levels of tasting. The "Vintner's Tasting" costs $12, and you get to keep the glass. It includes tastes of six wines, four from the top tier, all dry wines (price points $14-$28) and two from the lower tier. The "Complimentary Tasting" is free and includes three tastes from the lower tier, which range in description from "Off Dry" to "Dang Sweet" (price points $8.99-$15.99) and no glass. We went for the "Vintner's Tasting" because the cabin needs wine glasses, and we wanted to try a full range of wines. Here's what I tried:

Top Tier:

2004 Chardonnay (No Oak!):
Has the "Georgia wine" nose with a hint of muscadine, but mostly citrus. The palate is a nice balance of vanilla, lemon, and melon.
Rating: Very Good

2004 Cabernet Franc:
A lighter-bodied Cab Franc, this one had a spicy, oaky nose but ended up being a little cough-syrupy.
Rating: Okay/Good

2004 Cab/Merlot:
Bing cherry nose, medium-bodied and fruity.
Rating: Good

2004 Cynthiana: Norton grape
Black cherry nose, but otherwise unremarkable.
Rating: Good

Lower Tier:

Chestatee Red: Cab/Merlot blend
Berry and plum
Rating: Good

Blood Mountain Red:
Smells like a real red, jammy and a little viscous in texture
Rating: Good to Very Good

We got a bottle each of the No Oak! Chardonnay and the Blood Mountain Red, which pairs well with Cheetos, as they demonstrate during the tasting, and should go well with barbecue.

I did take a picture of their vineyards, but went for the vineyard view over the Three Sisters mountain view, for which the winery is named:

Our next stop was BlackStock, which is close by Frogtown and Three Sisters. Their tasting is eight wines for $10, and they'll comp a tasting if you buy four bottles. Hubby and I each got a tasting and passed back and forth, so that's how I have notes on more than eight. They also have the beautiful views:


From the tasting room:

Here's what we tried:

2007 Chardonnay:
Mineral and citrus with a melon finish; wants cheese
Rating: Very Good
Wow, two Chards I liked in a day!

2008 Chardonnay:
A little smoke on the back of the palate.
Rating: Good

2007 Viognier:
smoky/earthy nose, a little grassy
Rating: Good

2008 Reserve Viognier:
A little oaky with a lot of stone fruit.
Rating: Good

2006 Sangiovese Rosé:
Dry with mild oak, just short of syrupy with nice strawberry notes
Rating: Very Good/Excellent

2008 Sangiovese:
Italian-style with big fruity nose and a dry, spicy finish
Rating: Very Good

2005 Merlot:
Dark fruit nicely balanced with oak
Rating: Very Good

2005 ACE Family Reserve: reserve Merlot, Mourvedre, and Touriga
Liked the previous vintage better
Rating: Good

2006 Cabernet Sauvignon:
Fruit and leather nose, tannic but smooth
Rating: Very Good/Excellent

2005 Reserve Merlot:
More full-bodied than the non-reserve with more oak and darker fruit.
Rating: Very Good/Excellent

NV Touriga Dulce:
Can smell the alcohol on the nose, but not bad with berry and caramel notes.

Blackstock's tasting room also offers a limited array of wine munchies such as a cheese sampler, chocolate port cup, and French baguette. Additional pours are $1.00, and they also offer wines by the glass. Price points on bottle go from $10.99 to $26.99.

We came home with Sangiovese, Sangiovese Rosé, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Merlot.

For information on Georgia wineries, the area, and an almost full list of wineries and tasting rooms, go to

Tasting Tips:

1. Before you go, check websites for tasting room hours. Also consider calling ahead, especially during the week off-peak and on weekends during peak due to closings for events. For example, we tried to go to Montaluce on the way up that Saturday, but by the time we got there, they weren't accepting any more walk-in tastings because they were clearing the place for a wedding.

2. As Hubby and I did, consider getting a tasting for each person and passing glasses back and forth if you're sure neither of you are sick and you feel comfortable doing so. Most of the pours are 4-6 sips' worth, so you should have enough to get an idea of the wine.

3. Ask questions about where the grapes are grown, how the wines are made, etc. The people there are more than happy to answer questions and talk, and they're a little more laid-back than in other regions. There's no point in pulling a snobby wine attitude EVER, but especially here.

4. Remember where you're staying in relation to the wineries. For example, if you've got to drive back to Atlanta or go over Blood Mountain, take it easy or bring or hire a driver.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Tasting Notes: Beaujolais Nouveau Release Party at JavaMonkey

One of my major professional conferences is always the weekend of Beaujolais Release. It was off by one weekend last year, and this year I skipped it because it was in New York and I decided to put those funds toward a new laptop instead. I'm already close to getting my CEU's for this biennium. Yes, it would have been fun to eat and Tweet my way through NYC, but wow, it was going to cost a lot just for the hotel! Having second thoughts now.

So this past Thursday brought me to JavaMonkey for the fifth annual Beaujolais Nouveau release party and Beaujolais tasting. All the wines were from the Georges DuBoeuf winery.

The 2009 Nouveau got mixed reviews. Hubby said it was better than last year's. I found it to be pomegranate-scented cranberry juice with wimpy tannins. Yes, I just said wimpy tannins; that means that there just wasn't much to it for me. Others said raspberry.

I skipped the Beaujolais-Villages and Chardonnay and went to the 2008 Brouilly Flower Label, which is a Cru, or French for "better stuff." The Brouilly had tart cherry notes and some bitterness on the back of my tongue.

Next was the 2007 Juliénas "La TrinQuée." According to the DuBoeuf web site, which has amusing tidbits about the names as well as the wines themselves, this is a favorite among writers and should also be "served with early spring barbecues." I got a little smoke on the nose as well as the palate, but it dissipated as the wine opened. It was again dark berry with some eucalyptus (but in a good way).

The last one I tried was the Domaine de la Tour du Bief Moulin-a-Vent. That was a cruel one to put last on the list -- who can say all that after five glasses? -- but funny to hear everyone stumble their way through the name. This one was the closest to the reds I normally like with some body and nice cherry notes. I didn't get to finish it, however, because...

...disaster struck! We were sitting with some friends at one of the high top tables near the windows in the wine bar, and one of them got up to take a client phone call (lawyer). He bumped the table, and the Beaujolais took the opportunity to escape. The wine in the three glasses on the other side of the table curled up and out like so many small ruby waves and crashed all over Hubby and one of our other friends, but mostly him. We ended up leaving early because although the wine wasn't at cellar temperature, it was a lot of cold liquid on a chilly night in some very uncomfortable places. Let's just say he didn't appreciate my "Is that Beaujolais in your pants, or did someone try to murder you?" comment. I do have to give Jess and the JavaMonkey staff credit for being very apologetic and accommodating even though it wasn't their fault.

Yeah, maybe I should've gone to New York.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Tasting Notes: Six Blind Tastes at JavaMonkey

Apologies for the delay between my last post and this one. I should've figured something was up when I was super irritable on Thursday and was nearly in tears over trying -- and failing until late in the day -- to buy a new laptop. Then I almost threw my Blackberry down the parking deck steps when my attempts to call Hubby ended in multiple, okay two, dropped call fails. Normally I'm a pretty even-tempered gal, but I was being stalked and didn't realize it. I should've given up that evening when a wave of profound fatigue hit me while I sat at dinner with Hubby, but I wasn't paying attention. But I knew Friday morning that my stalker, the one that had turned me into superb*tch on Thursday, was a stomach virus.

Of all the cruddy things to get... It's keeping my from joining my parents and BabySis at the North Georgia cabin. The worst part? I don't even feel like drinking coffee or wine, and chocolate? Ugh, no thanks! Yeah, that's how I know I'm sick.

So, enough about me and my whining. On to the fun kind of wine...

Hubby and I decided that, since I was going to be done with work early on Thursday, we could actually go to dinner before the tasting instead of grabbing something quick at JavaMonkey like we usually do. I'll post a full review of Pharm House later, like when I can think about food again, with my first impressions of Iberian Pig. I just want to make it clear that I was already getting sick when we were there, and my tummy bug has NOTHING to do with the restaurant or the food.

We didn't know what the tasting would be, and I actually had a premonition with a thought, "I hope it's not a brown bag tasting!" Imagine my dismay when it turned out to be just that. I'll admit to not putting my full oenophile effort into guessing the wines, but I do have full notes and ratings.

Wine #1 was very fruity with a floral melon (someone else said pear) nose, dry finish, and mineral backbone. Our guesses included Albarino, Viognier, and Oregon Pinot Gris. We were closest with the last one. This was an incredibly hefty and fruity Italian (Venezie) Pinot Grigio, the 2008 Zenato.
Rating: Good (maybe should be Very Good since it's an Italian Pinot Grigio that Hubby actually liked)

The most obvious characteristic of Wine #2 was its toasty oaky nose and flavor. It also had a strong floral gardenia overlay and a crushed flower petal finish. Yep, it was the 2008 Mark West Chardonnay (Central Coast, California -- duh!).
Rating: Meh, but I'm not an okay chard fan

The question about number three was not so much what, but from where. We ruled out France right away because it didn't have enough acidity. Classic Pinot Noir flavors of cherry with a little vanilla on the finish. Hubby and I found the 2008 Lucky Star Pinot Noir from California to be very smooth and drinkable.
Rating: Very Good

Okay, so this is where I kind of gave up. I have to give kudos to famous violinist Kirsten Browning* props for picking out the next one as a Tempranillo. Lots of dark fruit, but again with smooth tannins and nicely balanced acidity, the 2005 Sierra Cantabria Crianza (Rioja, Spain) was another favorite.
Rating: Very Good

No one at the table got #5, the 2008 Saint Cosme (Cotes-du Rhone, France), which is 100% Syrah. Barnyard funk (yes, really!) on the nose, chewy and fruity with good acidity. Yeah, that's what I get for not studying my French wines this year like I had intended.
Rating: Good

The last one was another obvious one, the Alvear's Amontillado (Montila, Spain), a 100% Pedro Ximenez sherry. Okay, I didn't get all the fancy stuff, but I did pick it out as a sherry. Oaky cedar nose and not too sweet, this was another one that Hubby liked, and he usually turns his nose up at sherry.

We're looking forward to this coming Thursday's Beaujolais Release party at JavaMonkey. Wine, food, more wine, and prizes! I came away with a corkscrew, beret, and scarf last year. The scarf got incorporated into my Random Oenophile costume for the Decatur Book Festival, and sometimes I wear the beret just for fun because I look good in hats. Hope to see you there!

*She's really good, and she teaches lessons!

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Decatur Wine Fest: The Good, The Bad, and the Warmish

When I first heard that the Decatur Wine Festival was always held the first full weekend in November, I was shocked. "Are you crazy?" I thought. "The weather is going to be terrible!"

I've now attended the Wine Fest three years in a row, and each time, the weather has been fantastic, although the beginning and end of the day last year were chilly. The forecast yesterday was for a high of 67 and sunny, so Hubby put on our jackets and walked to downtown Decatur, where the entrance was indicated by a line of people snaking along the sidewalk and over by the old courthouse. While we waited, I spotted something that one rarely, if ever, sees in Decatur -- available parking:

It stayed empty for a good five minutes, too!

I also got a picture of the big wine grapes on top of the tents juxtaposed with Christmas decorations, which Decatur puts out after Halloween:

Merry Winefest!

The jackets came off quickly. The deceptive thing about "67 and sunny" is that on the square on top of the MARTA station, it ends up being about 78 and sunburn-inducing. I'm actually a little concerned about Hudson of Two Friends Imports (aka "The Macedonian Wine guys"). He was looking seriously pink by the end of the day, but then, like me, he was wearing black. While speaking with his business partner, I revisited the Popova Kula Merlot and Cab, which I'd reviewed before, and found that I liked the Cab better this time.

Side note: I got lots of comments on my "Drinks well with others" t-shirt. So if you were there and told me you liked it, thanks for the compliment!

Hubby and I started in the sun because last year, we noted that some of the reds had become undrinkably warm. My plan: focus on reds and try some of the more interesting-sounding whites

The first stop was Angeline/Pernod-Ricard at Table 26. I rated the Campo Viejo Crianza as Very Good, and the Graffigna Malbec was Okay due to its odd finish.

Then we stepped to Table 27, Freixenet. This wine holds good memories for me because when I graduated with my M.S. degree in 2002, I had a small party (didn't want to celebrate too hard when the Ph.D. was the final target), and I could afford the Freixenet sparkling on my graduate student budget. We've found their wines to be consistently good through the years. Here's what we tried:

Freixenet Cordon Rosado: Very Good -- don't let the pink color fool you; this is an excellent sparkling

Segura Viudas Aria: Good

Gloria Ferrer Va de Vi: Very Good to Excellent: bubbles with elegant dry citrus flavor

Tapena Verdejo: Good

Tapena Tempranillo: Meh to Good, a victim of the sun already

Tapena Garnacha: Good to Very Good with interesting sweetness on the edges of the palate

A brief stop at Table 28, Gruppo Mezzacorona, found another heat victim, the Righetti Valpolicella. I'm going to try that one sometime when it's not been overheated.

Hubby wanted to go to Table 30, Legacy Sales, because of the Soprano's wine line. One of the volunteers told us it was part of a promotion for an upcoming movie. I tried the Pinot Grigio, which was very good. Hubby said the reds were okay, but already warm.

Speaking of interesting labels, I'm a sucker for wine with dessert names, so we shifted to Table 31, Concannon. The wines:

Cupcake Chardonnay: didn't try, but Hubby said it was an "over-the-top oak bomb" Yeah, he liked it.

Cupcake Sauvignon Blanc: Good. It's a Marlborough. 'Nuff said.

Cupcake Merlot: Meh, had a funky structure and flavor profile

Cupcake Riesling: Very Good and Very Dry, just how I like my Rieslings

Table 33, M Imports, looked like they had some interesting Portugese wines, so we skipped the Pacific Southern (Kenwood, NO, Firesteed) and went there. The NOPA inho Verde was Good to Very Good but wanted food. The Qinta do Portal Grande Reserve Duoro was also Good to Very Good with an interesting cherry nose and very dry finish.

Table 35, Avanti Fine Wines, apparently had not monitored the amount poured by their volunteers. They were already out of the Villa Granda Prosecco, and it wasn't even 2:00 yet! The Alba Rosa Albarino was Very Good, and the Sombrero Rojo Crianza rated a Good to Very Good.

Catamarca Imports at Tables 38 and 39 had noted the heat problem and was taking care of the reds. Intrigued by the blend, I had the Eguren Shyraz Tempranillo, which was Very Good to Excellent.

Back to the interesting names, Hubby and I went to Table 42, Unique World Wines, for the Big Red Monster, a blend of Syrah, Zinfandel, and Petite Syrah. It was big and fruity, as promised, and rated a Very Good to Excellent. Norman "The Monster" Zin, another fruit bomb, was Very Good.

We did stop by the Sherlock's table to find Warner and Darryl. Most of the wines looked familiar to us, so we only tried a few:

Chateau Marjosse Blanc: Good to Very Good

Chateau Lescours St Emilion: Meh

J Sanders Nuit St George Vaucrains: Meh

By that point, it was time for a food break and the first raffle. The food went better than the raffle, although there were long lines at all the tables. I tried some pasta from Zucca and renewed my intention to try that place out soon. The Pharm House had run out of chicken salad sandwiches, and I just didn't feel like vegetable soup, although I heard it was very good. I did try one of the sandwiches later, and it was okay, but a little bland. Hubby got a meatball from the Iberian Pig. Cake Cafe Atlanta (warning: web site has cheesy music) had brought something, but it was gone by the end of the first hour, and people were scraping up caramel icing off a board with forks. As much as I love icing, I didn't want to kill my palate so early. FIGO similarly ran out quickly. Later in the afternoon, I had some Praline Pecans, but I'm not sure from where, and The Grange was dishing up excellent wine munchie food: mashed potatoes, gravy, and sausages. The most perfect food for the afternoon? Definitely Parker's on Ponce with their fancy cheeses and bread and/or crackers.

Okay, back to the wines.

Hubby and I enjoyed stopping by the Mad Housewife table (#1). We tried the Merlot and the Cabernet, which were both Very Good, especially at their $7 price point. They're not fancy examples of what they are, but I think they're great "training wines" for beginning oenophiles as well as good "pop open on a weeknight" wines. No, I have not received any freebies or other endorsement compensation from the Mad Housewife or Rainier Wines.

Table 2 brought us to the Pacific Rim/Oregon wines. I tried the King's Ridge Oregon Pinot Gris, which was Good but not great. We tried to skip around the crowd and go to Quality Wine & Spirits at Table 15, but the crowd caught up with us. The Crios Rose of Malbec was good, and the Malbec itself would have been very good had it not been warm. Quality W&S also poured from Table 16, and I tried the Evodia Old Vine Garnacha, which was Okay but had an odd herb taste.

Still in the shade, Table 20 (Delicato) poured the 181 Merlot, Very Good and fruity, and the Brazin Old Vine Zin, which was Good but lacked brazenness and body. We tried a couple of Pinot Noirs at Table 21, Georgia Crown. The Redtree was Good. The Veramonte was Meh. Finally, we visited Artie at Table 22, Georgia Crown, and Table 23, Banfi--Italy. The Zaca Mesa Z Cuvee was Very Good, and the Banfi Rosso di Montalcino was Very Good. I was disappointed to find that they were all out of the "Rosa Regale." Maybe I shouldn't have mentioned it in my previous post because Feast had also run out of the bread pudding, which was my suggested pairing.

By the end of the Wine Fest, we had a serious case of the Wine Munchies, so we headed to the Brick Store, where we sat in the Belgian bar and enjoyed some beer and frites:

Finally, thank you to Dan Browning and Artie Macon of Banfi for their tips in the comments section of my last post! I did take your tips to heart, and it seems that several others did as well. Thanks also to Hudson of Two Friends Imports, who was turning pink (see above) and pouring some good Macedonian Wines at Table 47, for his comment. Also, thank you to the Decatur Metro and inDecatur blogs (see right) and Inside Access for re-posting my Wine Tasting survival tips.

Disclaimer: All opinions expressed in this post are my own, but I am not responsible for what others say in the comments section. I'm still not getting any freebies for my reviews. Bite me, FTC.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Decatur Wine Festival: Survival and Etiquette

For those who don't know, the Decatur Wine Festival is a fundraiser for the Decatur Arts Alliance. The event takes over the Decatur Square from the area behind the Old Courthouse (where the Bandstand is) to the part of the square on top of the MARTA station. Last year there were fifty tables, each from a different winery or distributor, lined up around the edges of the designated area.

One of the best parts of the festival is that several Decatur restaurants offer samples of items from their menus. A full list of participating restaurants is on the Decatur Wine Festival web site. Often they bring signature dishes; for example, Feast usually has a big pot of their famous white chocolate bread pudding (great especially when paired with the Banfi Rosa Regale).

Of course it's impossible to taste every single wine. First, the festival is only a few hours long. Second, a lot of tables start to run out toward the end of the day, especially the ones from popular or well-known wineries. Third, even if you have phenomenal tolerance, you've got to pace yourself.

Here are some survival and etiquette tips:

1. Bring a bottle of water and/or avail yourself of the ones there, if offered. Even though there are jugs with water at the table, an occasional glass of water is not going to be enough to stay hydrated while drinking wine, especially if it's hot and dry outside. Try to consume equal parts water and wine, ideally more water than wine. Hopefully they will continue to have the fancy portable bathrooms. Also, avail yourself of the food and keep something in your tummy. I'm looking forward to trying the samples from Pharm House and Iberian Pig because I haven't been to either yet (will likely try one or the other on Thursday).

2. To keep things moving, get a pour and move to the back of the line. Sip as you move forward again. There's nothing more frustrating than waiting forever for someone to go through four or five tastes while they block the entire table.

3. Rinse between tastes, especially if you're going back and forth between reds and whites.

4. Try to save the sweet wines for the end. They'll burn your palate. They also tend to have higher alcohol content, and really, who wants to be sick by 2:30 on a Saturday afternoon?

5. As I mentioned above, pacing is everything. Hubby and I have a "two sip, three strike" rule: If the wine isn't good after two sips (two to allow for the interference of previous tastes), it gets dumped. If you try three wines at a table and don't like any of them, move on. Don't try to sample everything!

Disclaimer: all of the content of this post is mine. I didn't get any perks or freebies from the Decatur Arts Alliance or any of the festival sponsors. No wines were harmed in the writing of this material, although I can't make any guarantees for later.