Tasting the Wines

Art of the Meal

It wasn’t Judgment at Paris. At that historic 1976 event, subject of a recent book by the same name, the most revered French critics blind-tasted the most famed French wines against upstart California labels – and to everyone’s astonishment, the California wines won. The wine world was never the same.

No, Georgia Trend wasn’t after a similar earthquake. All we wanted to do was to share some ideas on how to enjoy Georgia wines. We’d get some Georgia wines, we reasoned, pair them with some good food, and record everyone’s reactions. For the wine-choosing, pairing and menu creation, we chose the Ritz-Carlton, Buckhead, because it already serves one Georgia wine on its list: Persimmon Creek’s Riesling.

Also, the Ritz’s 23-year-old sommelier Chantelle Grilhot has been making waves in the wine world, placing first in the 2005 Confrerie de la Chain des Rotisseurs’ regional finals for Best Young Sommelier in America. Chef Christophe Le Metayer, of the Caf?, would create the menu. (New Dining Room chef Arnauld Berthelier was a still officially unannounced presence at the time, working on his new French- and Spanish-inspired menu.)

A note on the wine selections: I “harvested” them on a blitzkrieg North Georgia wine tour. After a serendipitous route through many tastings, I brought back a completely arbitrary selection that depended on several factors – time, trunk space and a few of the winemakers’ suggestions. In other words, this selection is perhaps something like you might bring home after a fairly ambitious weekend tour of North Georgia wineries. Most of the wines cost somewhere in-between $18 and $21 a bottle. We brought back about two cases of wine – and gave Grilhot and Le Metayer free rein on what to serve. (Grilhot does report that one wine she sampled was corked – meaning its flavor had been altered, a commonplace but unfortunate event.)

Aside from me, guests included Georgia Trend Publisher and wine enthusiast Neely Young and wife Kathy, Editor Susan Percy, and our “control” couple – Georgia Power executive Lawrence Lyle and wife Cindy, a mortgage broker.

Our first surprise: Chef le Metayer had decided that since we were serving Georgia wines, the dishes also ought to be native Georgia ingredients. His first course, a chilled tomato soup with red pepper and saffron, was served in a small Mason jar. (Did he mean to remind us that many Georgia winemakers have taken over moonshine country?) The Georgia wines are inexpensive, and fairly uncomplicated, and so the dishes he devised were similarly simple (not to mention delicious).

The meal was a surprising journey for everyone involved. “This was so much fun!” Grilhot gushed. “I’m really impressed. I’m thinking of adding a selection of Georgia wines. I’m going to have to go up and see these wineries, and talk to the winemakers.”

Our group was similarly impressed, and while there were varying opinions on several of the wines, one clear favorite emerged that everyone at the table decided they’d definitely seek out to buy themselves: Beechwood Inn’s Reserve Viognier, made from Habersham grapes.

Were there any standouts for our sommelier? “Yes,” she says. “I’d have to say the Persimmon Creek Riesling, and the dessert wine [Three Sisters Dahlonega Gold].” Dahlonega Gold was also, she reports, the chef’s favorite. “Who are these three sisters anyway?” she asks. “I want to meet them!” That might be a little hard, I explained, since the wine is named for mountains, not people.

On second thought, that’s not a bad idea. Go ahead – introduce yourself to North Georgia’s mountain wineries.

The Menu

Chilled Heirloom Tomato and

Red Bell Pepper Soup Scented with Saffron

Habersham Vineyards, Beechwood Inn, Reserve Viognier, Helen

Chantel Grilhot: This is a dry wine, with a touch of brass and subtle aromatics. It is neutral and pairs well with the acidity of the tomato.

Table observations: The crisp wine with sharply flavorful tomato soup was a perfect opening. Even at the end of the meal, we decided this was the bottle of wine we’d want for porch-sitting and sipping.

Arborio Parmesan Risotto

Seared Quail, Brown Butter

Persimmon Creek Vineyards, Riesling, Dahlonega, 2003

CG: Pale, straw yellow in color, silver on the rim. If you tasted the wine blindfolded, you would think you were sipping a qualitatswein from the Mosel-Saar-Ruwer. Most people would not think of pairing a white wine with game, but the slight residual sugar and acidity are a great pairing for the quail.

Table observations: This was perhaps the group’s favorite pairing – the Riesling’s subtle sweetness with the fresh quail and creamy risotto brought out the best of both.

Smoked Trout Salad

Pistachio Oil and Sherry Vinegar Dressing

Creekstone, Chardonnay, Stonepile Vineyard, Barrel Fermented Reserve,

Helen, 2003

CG: The rich, buttery texture of this wine is perfect with smoky flavors.

Table observations: Who would have guessed that granddaddy Habersham, more often thought of as a haven for sweet wine lovers, produced such a dry, drinkable Chardonnay under its Creekstone label?

Grilled Rack of Pork

Pineapple Barbecue Sauce and Grits

Tiger Mountain Vineyards, Touriga Nacional, Appalachian Foothills, 2001

CG: Much lighter in body than what I would expect from the native grape Touriga Nacional from Portugal. Sweet cherry is great with pork and this wine has ripe red fruits like cherry, red plums and raspberry. I recommend serving slightly chilled when served with barbecue sauce.

Table observations: This wine, slightly fruity and made from a port grape, was one of my favorites, a natural for food pairing. At first taste, I thought: I’d like this with pork! Clearly, so did the chef.

Seared Lamb Loin

Lamb Jus, Roasted Sweet Potato

Tiger Mountain Vineyards, Tannat, Appalachian Foothills, 2002

CG: Tannat is a grape that is widely planted in the Southwest of France, in the appellation of Madiran. Tannic, rustic, with earthy qualities, black reduced fruits, and a dominant presence of oak. Pairs best with a meaty, rich dish.

Table observations: This wasn’t a huge crowd-pleaser, but red wine enthusiasts were warmer to its strong character. Great with seared lamb and crisp sweet potato.

Roasted Peach in Honey, Spicy Pecan Nuts

Three Sisters, Dahlonega Gold, Lumpkin County

CG: This wine is 100 percent Vidal grape, which is used in making ice wines in Canada.

It is honeyed, with orange blossom and intense apricot notes.

The high residual sugar balances with the tart acidity of the peach.

Table observations: The perfect end to the meal. This sweet (but not cloying) dessert wine complemented the simple roasted fruit, adding floral dimensions.

Categories: Art of the Meal