Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Georgia Wine Highway Weekend

Friday March 19th to Sunday the 21st was the fifth Wine Highway Weekend sponsored by the Georgia Wine highway. For a $20 passport, you could visit 10 wineries in the North Georgia area to taste some of their wines and also receive a souvenir wine glass to take around to each winery. Since I have started to like wine more, but am still not sure what exactly I like, I figured this would be a great time to visit North Georgia. We only made it to 5 of the wineries, but still had a great time. And even with sharing the tastings, it was still a lot to drink!

We started off at Wolf Mountain Vineyards and Winery in Dahlonega. I had heard of this winery before and wanted to go for either their weekend lunch and tasting or Sunday brunch but it just hadn't happened yet. So I made sure this was the first stop on the trip. It is a beautiful place. The small parking lot near the main building was full, so we drove around to the other side to be the second car in that parking lot. We walked through the restaurant and down the stairs to the cellar. Evidentally the cellar had been redone sometime in the recent past and they did a perfect job. The cellar led out to a deck with a gorgeous view, the kind of place you could sit outside and just enjoy everything around you.

So on to the Wolf Mountain wines: We tasted Chanteloup 2008 to start ($24 a bottle). I loved this wine, it just fit my taste buds perfectly. Per Wolf Mountain's description: 'this is a medium-body dry white wine with rich melon and apricot notes'. With this being the first wine at the first winery, I worried that I would fall in love with every wine. Next was Instinct ($26), 'a full bodied Rhone style red wine representing the best from our Family Estate. After aging for 12 months in new French and Hungarian Oak, the individuals varietals are blended together and then re-barreled for 10 more month to encourage the integration of the jammy fruit flavors of Syrah, the earth tones of Mourvedre, the bold structure of our Cabernet Sauvignon and the complexity of Touriga Nacional.' My husband enjoyed this wine, even more so than the Chateloup. I liked it alright, I do not usually like many red wines, but I could drink this one and be very happy. We also tasted Cabernet Sauvignon from the barrel. This was also good, but not quite as much as the Instinct.

Out by the bar, we tried Claret 2007 ($28) and Delicieux ($38), which is a Port-style red dessert wine made from 100% Cabernet Sauvignon. The Delicieux was the best red wine I tried all day, by far. I loved it and the other wines we tasted at Wolf Mountain. My husband and I discussed buying bottles, but decided to wait until we visited other wineries. Then we could come back later in the day or another weekend. It was only an hour and a half from our house, so that isn't out of the question. We left Wolf Mountain, which by this time had become very busy, to go to Frogtown Cellars.

Frogtown Cellars was very very busy. It felt like everyone was getting herded through the building. We tried 2008 Vineaux Blanc, 2005 Touche, Shotgun: first reload, 2005 Thirteenth Colony Merlot. The prices for the bottles were lower than Wolf Mountain, ranging from $15 to $25. We shared each small tasting, as at all the wineries and actually did not take more than one sip each for all of the wines. The taste could not have been more different. Until recently, I have not liked much wine and this wine tasted like those wines I did not like. None of the wines were appealing to either of us. By this time we were getting hungry and checked out the panini bar offered behind the bar, but that didn't seem to be appealing either. The only thing about Frogtown that we liked was their cheesebox. This cheese spread had a kick to it, perhaps from horseradish. It was pretty good and could have made a meal of just the cheese and crackers.

Very close by was Blackstock Vineyards. Surprisingly, this winery was not overly crowded. The grounds had a family-owned feeling to it, which Frogtown had lacked. I didn't write down the names of the specific wines we tasted here. The 2008 Viognier, which hasn't been released yet, was fairly decent. Something we would drink if it was available. Of course I liked the 2007 Rocking Chair Rose ($7), I seem to gravitate towards white and rose wines more than reds. My husband didn't like this one quite as much as I did, but said it would be something he would drink. We tried two other red wines, one was a Cabernet from the barrel. We also tried a port-style dessert wine, NV Touriga Dulce ($23). This one was not quite as good as the dessert wine at Wolf Mountain, but it was still something we would drink. It turns out that the person pouring our wines was on her first day, so many of the questions that people asked went unanswered.

We tried to visit Sautee Nacoochee Vineyards next and I am pretty sure we were right by it and missed it. But the GPS couldn't find the address and we weren't up for driving around the area. So we went on to Yonah Mountain Vineyards. Finally, there was a decent selection of appetizers, there was plenty of fruit, bread and cheese. I think my husband wanted to stay here just to munch for a while! Like all the wineries, except for Frogtown, this was not too crowded. The Serenity Cellars Radiance Rose ($16) tasted good to me, but my husband wasn't overly thrilled. I think the only wine all day long he said it really liked was the Instinct from Wolf Mountain. The 2008 Chardonnay ($28) and 2006 Genesis were both alright. Drinkable and good, but not our favorites. The best wine we tasted here was the Bearly Sweet White. I enjoyed this wine since it was sweet and tasted smooth.

Our final winery of the day was Habersham Winery in Helen. Habersham does free tastings of up to 4 wines in their shop, which is different from the other places who usually charge for tastings. While waiting for the Wine Highway Weekend tasting, we tried the Chalet White ($12) and Belle Blush ($11). Both sweet wines that I enjoyed. The 2006 Chambourcin Dessert wine ($22) was very good as well. I wanted to try the White Riesling, but they were sold out. The bartender was very nice and even washed our wine tasting glasses for us. The tasting consisted of library wines, most of which were from 2002 and were no longer available for sale. The also paired the wines with a salmon dip, olive tapenade and a chocolate truffle.

Next we walked around Helen for a little bit, trying to find a place to eat. Nothing really seemed to fit my mood at the moment. I wanted something that really stuck out to me and though the options seemed good, nothing was just right. We started to drive back towards Habersham winery and stopped at the Nacoochee Village Tavern and Pizzeria. Their two specials were corned beef and beer braised cabbage and chicken and ricotta crepes with a roma tomato cream sauce. Both of these sounded good to me and my husband will never turn down a pizza place, so we sat down outside on the small patio facing the road and the river. We ordered garlic bread topped with mozzarella and marinara and peppers on the side for an appetizer. Then my husband ordered a calzone while I went for the chicken and ricotta crepes. Both specials sounded really good to me, but the crepes were something new to me while the corned beef was something I could get around here. Other than a few bugs near the end of our meal, everything was great. It was nice to sit and relax outside and enjoy the food and the weather.

The wineries that were a part of the Wine Highway weekend, but we didn't get to visit include: Crane Creek Vineyards in Young Harris, Persimmon Creek Winery in Clayton, Sautee Nacoochee Vineyards in Sautee, Sharp Mountain Vineyards in Jasper, and Tiger Mountain Vineyards in Tiger. There was only so much time in the day and some of the wineries were a bit further away, plus I think we had had plenty to taste in one day!

So overall, here is our impression of the various wineries:
- top of the list is Wolf Mountain. Even though it is more expensive than the others, I have never had wine that I enjoyed so much. It was too late to go back to buy any of the wines we tasted, but I believe we will have to make a trip up there sometime to pick those up.
- next would be Habersham winery. The wines we tasted out at the bar area were actually much more appealing than the library wines. Next time we can try a few others and will likely come home with a few bottles.
- Blackstock had a great family-feel to it, which for us is more appealing than a commercial feel.
- There wasn't much of an opinion either way with Yonah, the wines were good, but not great.
- Frogtown Cellars was by far our least favorite. My husband couldn't stop saying bad things about the place. I am not quite that vehement in his sentiments. It is just a place we will not visit again, especially when we know we personally like other places in the area.

Hopefully we will do the Wine Highway Weekend again next year, it was so much fun and a great way to explore the area. $20 a person for all those tastings was very reasonable. Maybe next year we will be making enough money that we can hire a driver for the day so we don't have to share the tastings! Then maybe we could also visit more of the wineries that we missed.

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