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Wine: Celebrate February with a few weird whites
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Wine of the month

The wine: Ghost Pines Zinfandel 2009

The grapes: 100 percent zinfandel

The source: 85 percent Sonoma County, 15 percent San Joaquin County, Calif.

The verdict: I normally give a red wine at least a year to age before sampling it. But when I found this one about two months ago, I could not wait. I've had other Ghost Pines wines in the past and have been impressed. In the interest of total disclosure I will say this wine was terrific ... but with another year in the bottle I'm sure it will be even better. I love zinfandels, especially when they are as rich and fruity as this one is, with lots of dark fruit flavors and a hint of coffee in the finish. Tannins need some time to develop, but that's not a problem. It's a product of the Louis Martini Winery, one of my favorites for decades.

The price: About $20

February is the shortest month of the year, but often the most brutal. About mid-month we begin to sniff the vague scents of spring a few weeks away. Then February smacks us with just one more "wintry event."

February, I have decided, is weird.

Which allows me to segue into this month's topic: weird whites. Everybody knows chardonnay, pinot grigio and sauvignon blanc. But what about picpoul, albarino and petit manseng? Ever heard of them? If not, read on.

I was browsing in my favorite wine and cheese shop recently and picked up a bottle of French white. Nothing on the back label told me anything about the wine.

"I wonder what grapes are in this," I mused to the owner.

Subtly, he pointed to the word "picpoul" on the front label. "That's the grape," he said.

"Oh," I replied. He suppressed a snicker.

So, after I unscrewed the top (no, that's not a bad thing!) and sampled the wine, I did some researching. The picpoul grape seems to be a native of France's Rhone Valley, but is being grown quite successfully in the French Mediterranean growing region known as Coteaux du Languedoc, neighbor of the Pays d'Oc, or Languedoc Roussillon, known for producing large amounts of generally palatable juice.

According to some writers, the Coteaux du Languedoc is an up and coming region. And picpoul is destined to be its star white. Translated from the French, picpoul means "lip stinger," for the high levels of acid in the wine. Picpoul produces a crisp, acidic wine with hints of mineral and lemon. It really is a fine seafood wine; I served it with my scallops picante and the pairing was terrific (he says modestly).

Look for picpoul wines from California in the near future.

Albarino is another little-known white that's moving up the charts. It's the premier wine from the Galicia region in Spain, near the Atlantic Coast. Here's another fine mate for shellfish or fin fish. It's crisp and dry, and if you suspend disbelief you can almost smell the salt from the sea.

Petit manseng comes from southwest France, near the Pyrenees. Said one source I found, "In southern Aquitaine near the Pyrenees, petit manseng is the grape variety of choice for producing quality white wines."

But it truly has found a home in the eastern United States, including Northeast Georgia. Tiger Mountain Vineyards in scenic Rabun County (more below) produces an explosive petit manseng.

Take a sip of this fruity but dry wine and you'll feel the burst of flavors in your mouth. Tasting this for the first time with Tiger Mountain owners John and Martha Ezzard, I was embarrassed at how I praised the wine. But it deserves it. Tiger Mountain's version is a bit pricey, but the wine does get a lot of tender loving care in the vineyard and in the winery.

Tiger Mountain Vineyards scores

The Ezzards recently announced winning five awards in the prestigious Jefferson Cup Invitational, a national contest limited to 400 wineries. Tiger Mountain took home the only gold medal awarded a Georgia winery. You get invited to the Jefferson only if your wine is known to be very good.

TMV's 2009 Petit Manseng took that gold. Four others won silver medals: Norton Reserve 2006; Cabernet Franc 2007; Tannat 2008, and the Tiger's first Rose from the 2008 vintage. Foundation grape for the rose is cabernet franc.

The winery also is celebrating a silver medal recently awarded — its First Harvest Stonewall Creek Rabun Red in the American Wine Society Competition. Stonewall Creek Vineyards is owned by Carl and Carla Fackler, who process their grapes and make wine produced and sold by Tiger Mountain Vineyards.

I send congratulations to TMV and the Ezzards. Let this news remind us all that Georgia does produce world-class wines. And if we manage to survive this winter, make plans for a spring visit to one of the many wineries that dot the landscape of Northeast Georgia.

Randall Murray is a Gainesville-area resident. Have a question about wine? Contact him at