Fish tacos. For the longest time, this seemed like the most disgusting thing to me. Who in the hell thought it was a good idea to put fish in a taco? Well, during lunch about a year ago, I finally tried them for myself and found out why. And good Lord were they heavenly! It’s funny how preconceived notions allow us to miss out on fantastic culinary experiences. I’ve found this to be especially true when it comes to Georgia wine. It infuriates me when people who have never taken the time to taste Georgia wine make comments like, “I’d rather drink toilet water.” Not only are these individuals letting their close-minded attitudes keep them from enjoying delicious, well made wines, but they are also kinda gross. Toilet water? Now that’s disgusting.
With the bad rap that Georgia wines receive, my interest was peaked when I saw an ad for Yonah Mountain Vineyard’s “2012 International Grand Wine Challenge.” Yonah Mountain, a winery located on the outskirts of Helen, Georgia in Sautee-Nacoochee, was putting several of their wines up against two highly regarded California wines and the #1 wine from Wine Enthusiast for 2011 in a blind taste test. My first thought was “Man, they’re brave.” And after reading that their wines had bested several highly ranked Napa wines in their 2011 Challenge, my next thought was “Ok, I’ve got to see this for myself.”
I had heard great things about Yonah Mountain Vineyards before reading about the competition. So, with my curiosity getting the best of me, I decided to take advantage of the 2012 Challenge to learn more. The winery was started by husband and wife team Bob and Jane Miller who first planted the property in 2007 with Chardonnay grapes. In 2008, they recruited winemaker Joe Smith who added his own Serenity Cellars label to the Yonah Mountain offering. Together, this team has represented well in competitions, including the prestigious San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition where Yonah Mountain took home the most gold and double gold medals out of all the East Coast wineries.
With the actual vineyard located offsite, the competition was held at their quaint, yet elegant tasting room located on Hwy. 255. The Challenge was divided into two seatings where I participated in the 2pm seating with 15 others, including the winery owners. As we sat down, Joe, the winemaker and leader of the tasting explained that we would taste a total of eight wines that had been divided into three groups; Chardonnay, Tuscan Style, and Meritage/Cabernet.
■ 2008 Yonah Mountain Vineyards, Chardonnay
■ 2009 Yonah Mountain Vineyards, Chardonny 2009
■Dutton Ranch, Kistler Chardonnay (Russian River Valley, received 92 points from Robert Parker, retail price apx. $100/bottle)
■2009 Serenity Cellars, Harmony
■2007 Marchesi de Frescobaldi, Nipozzano Reserve (Chianti, voted #1 wine for 2011 by Wine Enthusiast, retail price apx. $22)
■2006 Yonah Mountain Vineyards
■Genesis Yonah Mountain Vineyards, Genesis 2
■2006 Jordan Cabernet Sauvignon (Alexander Valley, retail price apx. $50)
Within each group, we were asked to rate the wines on a scale from 1 – 5 with 5 being the best score. As the servers walked around with the tinfoil covered bottles, I diligently tasted and analyzed the wines to the best of my amateur ability. For the Chardonnay group, all three wines were very close but the first selection seemed to edge out the other two. However for the Tuscan and Meritage categories, there were clear front runners in each group.
So which ones did I pick as my favorites? After the wines were revealed, it turns out that my personal favorites in each group were all from Yonah Mountain (2008 Yonah Chardonnay, 2009 Serenity Cellars Harmony, and Yonah Mountain Genesis 2). However, when they tallied the group’s overall favorite wines, things shook out just a tad differently. There was actually a tie for overall favorite between Yonah’s Harmony and the Italian Chianti with the Jordan Cabernet coming in at a close second. Even Bob, Yonah Mountain’s owner, admitted that he picked the Jordan as his personal overall favorite!
When I first saw the wine list for the competition, my initial thought was that Yonah Mountain was “stacking the deck” so to speak by putting two of their wines up against one “outside” wine in two of the categories. So for the Chardonnay and Meritage/Cab group, there was a 66% chance that each person would pick a Yonah Mountain wine. But, given the fact that 2 of the 3 overall favorites were outside wines, only showed that the competition was conducted on the “up and up” with the best wines coming out on top. Not to be mistaken, there wasn’t a bad wine in the bunch. And with the Serenity Cellars Harmony tying for the overall top spot, there’s no doubt in my mind that Georgia wines can easily go toe-to-toe with the big boys.
The whole point of this competition was to prove that Georgia can make great wine too. Now I will admit, not all Georgia wines are good. Some of them can be hit or miss for me. However, if you are looking for top notch, high quality Georgia wines, this blind tasting clearly identified Yonah Mountain Vineyards as one of the better vineyards in the state. I’m convinced that once the naysayers uncork a few bottles of the Serenity Cellars Harmony, then they will quickly cork up their pie holes.