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Good, very good and great wines in Georgia
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WINE OF THE MONTH

William Hill Estate North Coast Sauvignon Blanc 2013

The wine: Crisp, dry white table wine.

The grapes: 97 percent Sauvignon Blanc, 3 percent other white varietals.

The source: California’s North Coast, mostly Russian River Valley.

The verdict: Wow! If I had tasted this without reading the label, I would have sworn it was one of those classic Sauvignon Blancs from New Zealand’s Marlborough region. Maybe even one of the new-era Chilean SBs. This is as restrained a California Sauvignon Blanc as I have tasted. It does not mask the firm fruit flavors with oak. It has semi-sharp corners to it with just-right levels of acidity. I will try my next bottle with a plate full of shrimp since it’s a real seafood wine. This is William Hill Estate’s first Sauvignon Blanc. I want to see if they can make it better.

The price: About $17.

I’m channeling Ray Charles this month. I’ve got Georgia on my mind — Georgia wine, that is.

Last month, I offered a tasting of a wonderful quartet of Georgia-made wines at an event sponsored by a group working to set up a new transportation network for Hall County seniors. It’s called ITNLanier, part of the national organization Independent Transportation Network.

Listening to the group behind ITNLanier I was impressed with what they plan to do. If you want to learn more check out itnlanier.com.

I agreed to do a wine tasting for the movers and shakers invited to the event with one condition. I wanted to feature Georgia wines.

The Peach State has a long association with wine. Spanish explorers in the 16th century sampled wine made by the Native American tribes they encountered.

James Oglethorpe, founder of the Georgia colony, insisted his residents raise silkworms and European grapevines. He wanted Georgia to be known for silk and fine wine. He was a little slack on his due diligence, however. The worms and the vines all died.

In the 18th and early 19th centuries little commercial wine was produced in Georgia. But by the 1880s Georgia was the sixth largest wine producing state.

Georgia then passed a statewide prohibition law in 1907, 13 years before national Prohibition. When the federal ban was axed in 1933, Georgia held out for another two years.

In the 1970s, some winemaking pioneers began experimenting with European (vinifera) wine grapes in North Georgia. In the early 1980s, the state passed the Georgia Farm Winery Act, allowing people to grow grapes, make wine and sell it at the same place.

That opened the gates, and beginning in the 1990s dozens of wineries began producing wines served with food.

Today, Georgia has 35 licensed wineries, contributing an estimated half billion dollars annually to Georgia’s economy.

I told you this to tell you: Georgia is making good wine, very good wine and great wine. Let’s explore the four sampled last month.

To open we tasted Wolf Mountain Vineyards Plenitude. Plenitude is French for “all the best.” It’s a lovely, balanced blend of Chardonnay and Viognier grapes, both vinifera. I’m really fond of this wine, produced in a beautiful setting north of Dahlonega. It wowed the guests.

Plenitude gets a light whiff of apricot from the viognier grape, and a touch of viscosity from the chardonnay grape.

Wolf Mountain, owned by the Boegner family, makes its wine in the European style by blending different grapes to achieve high quality and intriguing flavors. Wolf Mountain also produces what I believe is the only Champagne-style sparkling wine in the state.

Next came the Green Label Chardonnay from Yonah Mountain Vineyards. Yonah Mountain, owned by Bob Miller and his family, produces some of Georgia’s finest wines. And the winery complex, south of Cleveland, is stunning.

This chardonnay is their “regular” bottling. Yonah Mountain does produce a more complex and more expensive Chardonnay. But the Green Label offers just about all you could ask for. There’s a bite of crisp apple, surrounded by other fruit flavors. It’s a dry wine, suited for seafood, veal and light chicken offerings. This wine is just one of the hits produced by winemaker Joe Smith.

As a change of pace we sampled Cherokee Rose from Habersham Vineyards and Winery near Helen. Habersham is Georgia’s largest winery and oldest commercial operation. General Manager Emily DeFoor agreed with my choice of the bright pink Cherokee Rose.

“It’s our most popular wine,” she told me.

It’s a blend of three French-American hybrid grapes: seyval blanc, vidal blanc with a splash of red chambourcin for color. It’s off-dry, with bright fruit flavors and aromas. Sip this one, nicely chilled, on a hot Georgia summer night. Also consider it with spicy Asian fare or a big, juicy ham.

Last wine of the evening was The Cottage Vineyard and Winery Merlot. Made from grapes brought in from out of state — because The Cottage’s vineyards are still too young to bear usable fruit — this big-bodied red truly impressed.

The Cottage, a few miles north of Cleveland, was established in 2012 by Jim and Sandra Penner. They, and winemaker Nathan Beasley, have established this young winery as a real comer on the Georgia wine scene. This merlot is a fine example. People at the event expressed amazement at how full and supple this wine is. It’s a red wine that needs to be partnered with red meat.

Georgia wines are truly good and getting better. And Georgia winery folks are, almost exclusively, good, generous and caring people. And they love to share.

Get to know more about Georgia wines and wineries. Hop in the car and go visit. It’s worth the trip.  

Randall Murray is a Gainesville-area resident. Have a question about wine? He can be contacted at murrwine@aol.com. His column appears on the first Wednesday of the month and on gainesvilletimes.com/life.

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