Georgia’s wine highways

Who knew rolling hills, open grasslands and beautiful vineyards exist right here in the south, in Georgia? A two hours drive from metro Atlanta, landed me in the midst of the Blue Ridge mountains, home to some of Georgia’s finest winegrowers. For an instant, I felt like I was in Napa Valley. But no, I had only driven a few miles on highway 400 North on a crisp clear spring morning.

The Georgia Wine Highway weekend in March hosted the perfect opportunity to spend a day outdoors, exploring the bounties of the peach state. A $25 passport gave me access to 10 vineyards spread out in a wide area across the cities of Helen, Dohlonega, Jasper, Clarkesville and Clayton.

My first stop was at Frogtown Cellars, the most awarded winery in the United States located outside the state of California. An extensive deck full of wine lovers overlooked a scenic vineyard with a backdrop of the mountains at Frogtown. Here I tasted a unique 2008 Frogtown Touche, which was a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Tannat grapes. It was the Gold Medal winner at the 2011 Atlantic Seaboard Wine Competition.

Next stop was at the Blackstone Vineyards, a fairly larger facility that probably holds private events at their indoor pavilion, outside deck and yard. My favorite here was the Viognier Reserve, a rich, full-bodied voluptuous white wine with more complexity from riper fruit, barrel fermentation and less aging.  Perhaps I generally prefer red wines, and this one is aptly named red wine drinker’s white wine” because of its ripe viscosity. For a promotion of only $10, you could buy the perfect bottle to serve at spring brunches or summer dinners.

After about 8-10 tasting, I was feeling a little lightheaded. So I headed over to downtown Helen to the famous German Bakery, Hofers for some fresh sandwiches before going on the rest of the wine tasting tour.

North Georgia wine country is the perfect place for a day long picnic where you can hop around one vineyard to another, enjoy the pristine natural beauty and break away from the city life. My one advise is to pack your own snacks (cheese, crackers, grapes, etc.) for the way. Some of the vineyards also have food available for purchase but selection is limited. Most vineyards are open year round but check the opening times online.

If you want to spend a weekend in the wine country, there are a number of bed and breakfasts and country inns where southern hospitality awaits you. There are also plenty of dining options, antique stores and activities such as mountain biking, golfing, camping and rafting in the area.

For more information, visit The Winegrowers Association of Georgia.


Living it up at the Atlanta Food & Wine Festival

After years of hosting Food and Wine festivals around the country, Food & Wine Magazine finally found it’s way to Atlanta. Sourced to the duo, Dominique Love and Elizabeth Feichter at Corporate Community Outsourcing, this is the first year of the Atlanta Food and Wine festival. With it’s growing popularity of the dining scene, perhaps the only city in the Southeast (after Miami), it was about time!

The broad theme of the event was “southern.” Represented by local growers, farms, suppliers, authors, restaurants and chefs, the festival drew attention of the foodies around the country.

Over the course of the three-day weekend, you could participate as much as your appetite can hold.  There are street cars and tasting tents that are open till late in the night. A tour of the Buford Highway’s ecletic scene or a day at the Wonderland gardens. And if that wasn’t enough, you can attend one of the private dinners at various restaurants and chef homes. I attended some of the learning experiences and connoisseurs lounge yesterday (day 1 of the event) and here are some of the highlights.

The Bloody-Mary breakfast was perhaps one of the best in class. Top Flr and the Bakeshop joined forces to start your day with a healthy (umm…not really) breakfast that was sure to brighten up your mood. (If you start your day with vodka, how many things could possibly go wrong?)


If you happened to miss the breakfast of champions, you could still get your fill at the 9:30am Argentinian wine tasting with Susana Balbo, a prominent female winemaker.


If drinking early in the morning is not your thing, you could actually get a grilled breakfast by Delia Champion, owner of Delia’s Chicken Sausage, a popular unconventional sausage stand in East Atlanta. She demonstrated a Krispy Kreme chicken sausage on her grill at the terrace of the Lowe’s hotel. Yummy!


I then explored some exotic fruits such as white sapote and sapodilla with the Van Aken’s. They shared recipes that combined fruits and meats into interesting creations – ham and guava, passion fruit snapper ceviche, etc.


It was already mid morning, when I decided an “Escape to Greece” is just what I needed. Chef Pano Karatossas of Buckhead Life Restaurant Group explored the fine wines of Greece while pairing it with a rich piece of lamb. There are different grapa varieties found in the islands of Greece, but all of them have a similar sweet acidic nature to them. I went wine tasting at a vineyard in Santorini a few years ago and was intrigued to see how low the grape vines were to the ground. (So that the strong ocean breeze doesn’t blow the grapes away).


Tennessee Truffle growers attempted to solve the mystery of growing truffles in their workshop, “Truffles: Much Mystery, Little Mastery.” Clearly, you don’t need a degree in agriculture to either grow, cook or eat truffles. (See my recipe of cooking with truffles.) What I did learn was that were over 60 varieties of truffles found around the world, not just white and black (duh!). Truffle grits pie and a Manhattan with shaved truffle anyone?


Renowned chef Mark Abernathytook the heat up while grilling vegetables and a pizza margherita under the hot summer sun of Atlanta. He was very approachable and interacted with the audience, answering all their questions about grilling. “I am not rich but if I was, each day I would eat and drink well and hang out with my kids” he exclaimed.

Me too chef. That’s exactly what I am doing at the Atlanta Food and Wine Festival all this weekend!

La Fete Internationale

This weekend, I attended the annually held Dogwood Festival in Atlanta, GA. It’s the time of the year when all the dogwood trees are in full bloom, the spring season is kicking in and people want to get out and enjoy the beautiful weather. The festival is held at Piedmont Park, Atlanta’s equivalent of New York’s Central Park, located in midtown Atlanta. The entire park is covered with booths, bands and festivities. Artists from all over the U.S. come to display and sell their artwork, ranging from photos, paintings, woodwork, metal, jewelry, etc.

The opening night of the Dogwood Festival was a special event called, La Fete. For $35, you got private access to wine and food tasting pavilion, including entertainment and silent auction. Despite the tornado warnings, I attending the event on Friday night and really enjoyed it.

There were four broad regions of wine, with a hundred bottles to taste from! Food was sponsored by local restaurants and included Indian, Moroccan, Spanish, Lebanese, Mexican, American and many others. I tried everything! The most memorable was the chocolate BBQ sauce prepared by 3 Brothers Catering. The dessert of rolled nuts and chocolate in phyllo by Imperial Fez was also unique. Desi Spice is a new Indian restaurant and was serving juicy and tender tandoori chicken. Apres Diem European bistro served stylish chicken liver pâté.

Also met some interesting people, made friends and checked out the silent auction. Overall, it was a good event, much better than it was last year where they ran out of food before I got there and there was no entertainment.

This was a great international food and wine festival for Atlanta. I hope there are more of these throughout the year.

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