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Randall Murray: Why the Dahlonega Plateau designation is a big deal
Randall Murray
Randall Murray is a Gainesville-area resident. Have a question about wine? He can be contacted at His column publishes monthly.

A brand new wine child was born recently in Northeast Georgia. It was christened Dahlonega Plateau American Viticultural Area, or AVA.

And that’s quite a fancy feather in the caps of a number of wineries and winemakers in those areas in Lumpkin and White counties anointed as such by the federal Alcohol, Tobacco and Trade Bureau.

An AVA is a geographic area defined as having unique attributes when it comes to producing wine. The federal agency reviews a petition for AVA designation, pores over much documentation about rainfall, soil, overall climate, and decides whether the region in question is so special as to warrant being given its own identity.

What does that mean? Not much to the average wine consumer. But to winemakers in the new AVA it’s like the difference between putting “California” on their labels or putting “Napa Valley.” It’s conventional wisdom that the more narrow the definition of where the grapes are sourced, the better the quality — such as the example of “California” vs. “Napa Valley.”

So expect the wineries and vineyards within the 133-square-mile Dahlonega Plateau to begin blowing their horns about this new prestigious distinction. As well they should. But there are conditions applied to boosting the new AVA on wine labels. The wines must contain at least 85 percent grapes grown in that AVA.

That last requirement will pose a problem for wineries that produce wine made from grapes from out of this region, and even from out of state. And there are several in that category.

Existing wineries included in this new AVA are Cavender Creek Vineyards & Winery, Montaluce Winery & Estates, Three Sisters Vineyards & Winery, Wolf Mountain Vineyards & Winery, Kaya Vineyard and Winery, Frogtown Cellars and the Cottage Vineyard and Winery.

The AVA represents only a small portion of the overall Dahlonega Plateau, a geographical feature that stretches through much of north Georgia at the tail end of the Appalachian and Blue Ridge Mountains. It is in this new AVA that many of Northeast Georgia’s quality wineries are located.

The petition for the Dahlonega Plateau AVA was originally submitted in 2015, on behalf of the Vineyard and Winery Operators of the Dahlonega Region of Northern Georgia, with support from area chambers of commerce. The TTB approval was announced in June, with the effective date for the new AVA on July 30.

I feel redeemed. I have been saying for years that Northeast Georgia is producing high-quality wines that rival those made in far larger and better-known regions — even Napa Valley.

Why you should try this red zinfandel

Y’all know I just love a good, hearty red zinfandel. It is among my favorite dry red table wines. Too many folks still hear “zinfandel” and think “white zinfandel,” you know, the pink, semi-sweet stuff. While there is nothing wrong with white zin, the red wine made from the same grape can be enchanting, substituting swimmingly for reds such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot.

Just ran across a real winner, and I need to tell you about it. It has a strange name, Big Smooth, and it is one of the array of wines produced by the family of Don Sebastiani. The Sebastianis are one of California’s legacy wine families and have been putting out wines since the 1940s.

Big Smooth grapes originated in the Lodi region of California, which was lauded by the magazine Wine Enthusiast as Wine Region of the Year in 2015, which is the vintage found on this Big Smooth label. Lodi has produced high-quality grapes for decades. Now, many wineries have popped up there and even more are buying Lodi grapes.

This one is a big wine, rich and deep red in color. There’s a traditional hint of spice and dark fruit, prunes/plums, in the taste. Oak nuances come from a blend of new and used oak from the U.S., France and Hungary. Smell the trademark vanilla aroma?

Big Smooth grapes come from old zinfandel vines, which produce intense flavors in the small crop that’s harvested. There is a splash of merlot and petite syrah thrown in for some extra sass.

Because it’s a burly beauty, I paired it with hearty fare — thick, juicy country ribs prepared in a spicy mix, including sliced jalapenos, in the crock pot. It was a great match.

Big Smooth may be tough to find in this area. But I’ve learned that it is available at Costco. Price: $13-$16.


Randall Murray is a Gainesville-area resident. Have a question about wine? He can be contacted at His column publishes monthly.



The wine: Dry rose table wine

The grapes: 100 percent Rondinella

The source: Veneto region of Italy

The verdict: This is the Age of Enlightenment when it comes to dry rose wines. They are all over the place, and many of them are truly good, well made and refreshing — which perfectly describes Scaia Rosato. The winery is near the graceful city of Verona, around the areas that produce Valpolicella and Soave. The Rondinella grape does not usually produce great wine on its own; it’s generally a blending grape. But with this rose, it’s a champ. Pale pink in hue this wine is nearly crisp, but with enough fruitiness to make it a joy to sip, a result of stainless steel fermentation and aging. And with so many overpriced roses on the shelves, this qualifies as a fine value wine.

The price: About $15