Friday, August 10, 2012

Georgia Wineries: Visited, Revisited, and Reviewed

Mountains Pair Well with Wine
In anticipation of this year's Wine Bloggers Conference, Hubby and I drove through Georgia wine country last weekend to pick up a few bottles to share and more to drink ourselves.  We had been to several of the wineries before and decided to try out a few new ones. 

I wrote in my last post about expectations, and a lot of people have doubts about the ability of Georgia winemakers and growers.  It's time to put those aside.  Of course, the opinions expressed here are mine and Hubby's, and everyone's tastes are different.  Still, Georgia wines are worth a try, or another try depending on if you've had them in the past, for the following two reasons:

1)  Georgia wineries have been doing better with eliminating or minimizing the sweet leathery overtones that creep into the reds.  I suspect this has been a big factor feeding the skepticism about the wines here, and I bet a lot of people will be pleasantly surprised.
Note the red clay in the pond.  That's terroir, baby!

2)  Each tasting room has its own character and charm.  More about that below.

We started at Wolf Mountain Vineyards, where we're in the wine club.  The exposed wood and high ceilings give the lower tasting room, which was filled with boxes due to them just having bottled, a mountain resort feel.  We tasted in the cozy upstairs tasting room.  The highlights here are the bubblies and the rosé, but they have good reds, too.  Try the Howling Wolf Red and Coupage, both blends.  Our current favorite sparkling of theirs is the Blanc de Syrah Brut, and a friend of ours cannot get enough of the Plenitude white blend.

Grapes at Blackstock
Another place where you could easily kick back with a glass of wine in a rocking chair is Blackstock Vineyards and Winery, where we're also in the wine club.  These guys supplied grapes to a lot of the other wineries as they got started, so they've done well with figuring out how to make the finicky vinifera play nicely in Georgia's climate, and they were one of the first to figure out that Sangiovese does well here.  They have a fun vibe, both because of the wines and the tasting room staff, often local college kids.  If you're looking for a fantastic Georgia Viognier, often touted as the Southern white wine grape, try this one.  We also really liked their Sangiovese and Cabernet Sauvignon.

In the past, Frogtown Cellars seemed to have the most West Coast attitude, but it's mellowed, and I was really impressed with the wines this time.  They seem to have reduced the number of wines they make with a corresponding increase in quality.  Highlights of this trip included the Steel Chardonnay, Touché (Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Tannat), Sangiovese, Shotgun Second Reload (NV blend of Tannat, Touriga Nacional, Cabernet Franc and Merlot), and Cabernet Franc.

Go just up and over the hill from Frogtown to Three Sisters for a winery experience that's about as opposite from snobby as you can get.  There are overalls, Cheetos, and other things you just have to see for yourself, but that you're definitely not going to find in California.  What you will discover are great authentic Georgia wines.  The UnOaked Chardonnay is a fruit bomb of a white.  It's been a favorite of mine year after year, and I'm not usually impressed by Chards.  The dry reds are a little on the sweet side, but don't let that deter you; they're still well-balanced and won't kill your palate.  I liked the Merlot, and Hubby and I both liked the Cynthiana, which is really well done.  It's worth trying just to see how a native grape varietal holds its own with the imports.  We didn't so much like it with the optional chocolate pairing, but as I mentioned above, your tastes may differ.

It pains me to say so, but the best parts remaining of Montaluce under their new ownership are the restaurant Le Vigne and the gorgeous view.  We tried the wines and weren't bowled over this time around.  The rosé and chardonnay weren't bad, but not good enough to warrant buying a bottle this trip.  We'll wait and check out their next vintage.

Wine with a View at Montaluce
The wineries above are all featured as part of the Dahlonega Wine Trail Weekend.  We didn't visit Cavender Creek this time but have enjoyed them in the past.

On Saturday, we got adventurous…  Helen, Georgia's faux-German town that hovers between parody and peculiar, seems to be a natural hub for wineries, but Habersham, which we didn't visit, has been getting all the attention.  Frogtown has also opened a tasting room, so if you're not going to visit the Dahlonega one, you can still sample their wines with your bratwurst.  My suggestion is that you venture out a little further and try these two:

Sautee Nacoochee Vineyards feels like you're tasting wine in someone's house, and you can pull up a chair and have a glass or even a wine slushie on the back porch.  It felt the most relaxed of all of them.  Hubby is typically very picky about the pink stuff, but we both liked the White Merlot.  Also, their website has some entertaining tasting notes.  About the White Merlot:  "How do we make White Merlot? By making red grapes blush of course. That's just what happens when proper southern grapes are undressed."  Oh, my.

Go further down the road to Sautee-Nacoochee Village, where you'll find the Yonah Mountain Vineyards tasting room.  It's in a little strip, and the best way to find it is to look for the purple Wine Tasting sign:

The inside of the tasting room is elegant, and they had live music, which was nice and not intrusive .  They're still getting their vineyards going and are sourcing some grapes from elsewhere, but still doing fairly well with what they've managed to grow or get locally.  The Serenity Cellars Bianco Bello is a lovely white blend with a nice fruit/dry balance.  The Sangiovese and Harmony (blend of Sangiovese, Merlot, and Syrah) were also quite nice.  

We headed north to Tiger Mountain, which we'd enjoyed in the past, but the current vintage didn't do much for us.  The best ones were the Mourvedre and Tannat, but the price point was too high for how we felt about them. So, we'll check back with them after their next vintage is released, which will give us a chance to try out the brand new Stonewall Creek Vineyards, which wasn't open yet.

Kudos to Le Caveau  in Atlanta for carrying the Yonah Mountain Traminette.  Yes, I had to get a plug in there to show my excitement for Georgia wines becoming more widely available.  It would be nice to get even more of them down here in the city.  Until then, they're definitely worth the drive.

1 comment:

TNWT said...

Lovely article on NE Georgia wines. I'm glad you mentioned Norton (Cynthiana) grapes/wines available. Though in year's past we were not impressed with Georgia's offerings, time is correcting those sentiments. For the most part, Georgia Norton wines age well which is mandated by Norton grapes. We have examples of 2004 Three Sisters and 2007 Crane Creek (Young Harris, GA) Norton wines that are as good as some of the best MO, VA & TX Norton wines we've tried. We visited Cavender Creek Winery (what a hoot) recently and think for the time being their Norton blend wines should be described more as a 'drink now' Norton wine owing to their young vines. Please note that all Norton wines need to breathe an extensive time before tasting (40+ minutes), so don't be put off at a winery with freshly opened Norton wines. As for your comment on wines from Tiger, GA, in years past we would have rated this winery in terms of black holes rather than stars, but three years ago we upped that to one star and this year three out five stars. Things are looking up for the Clayton-Tiger community. I eagerly wait your comments on Boutier Winery's Georgia grown grape wines.