AG Pick Under $15: Goose Ridge G3 2008

While tasting a variety of reds earlier this week at the San Clemente Wine Company in Orange County, California, it was not a California wine but a Washington state one that stood out.

The wine: the 2008 Goose Ridge G³.

Rich and elegant with intense dark fruit notes, the wine had me hooked from my first sip.

Goose Ridge Estate Vineyards and Winery is located in Washington’s Columbia Valley.  The 2008 G³ is a blend of three grapes — 45% Cabernet Sauvignon, 31% Merlot and 24% Syrah.  The wine was aged for 18 months in French and American oak barrels.

Deep garnet red in color, the G³ has an aromatic nose of cherries and cedar.  The red and dark fruit notes develop on the palate, with flavors of plum, boysenberry and ripe black cherries.  Layers of vanilla and tobacco add to the lush taste.  In the mouth the wine is silky and supple, with a soft lingering finish.

The G³ pairs nicely with lamb, filet mignon and grilled or braised meats.

A bottle of the 2008 Goose Ridge G³ costs around $14.

14.2% alcohol by volume

More Red Wines | White Wines | More Under $20

Snapshots from the Winter Beer Carnival

Hundreds of beer enthusiasts gathered in Midtown Atlanta on February 19th for the 2nd annual Winter Beer Carnival.

The sunny and warm afternoon provided the perfect setting for sipping more than 100 kinds of beer and playing carnival games.

With their souvenir mini pint glass, carnival goers got to sample imported and domestic favorites, premium craft brews, winter seasonals and beers from Atlanta’s own breweries.

Here are some snapshots from the 2011 Winter Beer Carnival:

AG Pick: Domaine de la Charmoise Touraine Sauvignon Blanc 2009

Finally, it seems spring is right around the corner.  The weather is starting to warm up, people are returning to the parks and outdoor cafes and soon the first crocuses will push through the soil.

Just as food has wine pairings, I like to think that seasons have wine pairings — and the Domaine de la Charmoise Touraine Sauvignon Blanc 2009 is an excellent pairing with the early spring.  Crisp and dry with nice mineral notes, this white wine makes you think of the soon-to-arrive buds and blooms.

Domaine de la Charmoise Sauvignon Blanc comes from the Touraine region in France’s Loire Valley.  It is made from 100% Sauvignon Blanc grapes that were hand harvested from 40 year old vines.  The soil is a mix of clay and flint, which comes through in the wine’s taste.

Tart citrus aromas give a good hint at the fresh and acidic palate to follow.  Flavors of lemon, white grapefruit and pineapple are complemented with a hint of white pepper and sage.  Notes of flint and chalky minerality give the wine added depth.  The finish is clean and refreshing.

Pair this Sauvignon Blanc with shellfish, grilled fish or chicken, salads (including pasta and chicken salads) or soft goat cheese.

A bottle of the Domaine de la Charmoise Touraine Sauvignon Blanc 2009 costs approximately $17.

12.5% alcohol by volume

Wolf Mountain Brut: Sparkling Wine from Georgia

There’s an exciting new sparkling wine for you to toast with this Valentine’s Day.  It doesn’t come from France or even California — it’s made in Georgia!

Introducing Blanc de Blancs Brut, a sparkling wine from Wolf Mountain Vineyards.

Wolf Mountain Vineyards is located in the foothills of the Southern Appalachian Mountains in Dahlonega, about 60 miles north of Atlanta.  The family owned and operated 30-acre estate was established in 1999, with the first vines planted in 2000.  The winery opened to the public in early spring 2003.  Today Wolf Mountain Vineyards is approaching a 5,000 case production.

Wolf Mountain’s sparkling wines are produced using the traditional method, just like Champagne.  The bubbles develop during the second fermentation, which takes place in the bottle.

The Blanc de Blancs is made from Chardonnay.  It is pale yellow in color, with a light and engaging taste.  Notes of citrus and golden apple are rounded out with a hint of spice.  Crisp acidity balances out the fruit for a refreshing finish.  The bubbles give the sparkling wine a nice fullness in the mouth.

Wolf Mountain also produces a Brut Rose, Sparkling Demi-Sec and Blanc de Syrah Brut, in addition to still white and red wines.  I’m a fan of the Instinct, a blend of Syrah, Mourvedre, Cabernet Sauvignon and Touriga Nacional.

Wolf Mountain wines can be purchased at Atlanta-area locations of Whole Foods.  Click here to see other retailers.  The wines may also be purchased at the winery or online.

Want to explore north Georgia wine country?  Visit Wolf Mountain Vineyards and the other wineries this March during the Spring Wine Highway Weekend.

Wolf Mountain Vineyards,
Blanc de Blancs Brut, $26

Salt Block Experience at Park Tavern

Looking for a fun date with your sweetheart?  Think salt – the Salt Block Experience at Park Tavern.

The hands-on meal at the Midtown Atlanta restaurant will appeal to all five senses, not just taste.  With the Salt Block Experience you create your own hand rolls using fish and beef that you cook yourself on a super hot Himalayan salt block.

For couples it is a romantic activity; for first dates it is the perfect conversation starter.  And for blind dates, what could be a better ice breaker than a hot salt block?

I was recently invited to try the Salt Block Experience and took my husband as my date.  While toasting to our early Valentine’s Day dinner with sparkling sake, we planned out various strategies for cooking the meat and assembling the rolls.

The meal starts out with a big dish of edamame and a mixed green salad with ginger dressing.  Don’t fill up too much because the big production comes next – and it is big.  After the salt block, screaming hot from the oven is placed on your table, a whole host of plates and bowls follow.  There’s Wagyu beef and Hawaiian sashimi grade tuna, salmon and wahoo, plus seaweed, rice and a ton of toppings – avocado, jalapeños, cilantro, cucumbers and more.

The concept of the Salt Block Experience is simple enough.  You select your fish or meat, place it on the salt block, then let it cook to your desired doneness.  The meat comes seasoned with spices and the salt block adds an extra touch of flavor.  The fun comes when it’s time to decide what meat you’re going to cook, and then what extras you’ll add to create your hand roll. There’s plenty to choose from so you can play around with a variety of combinations.

The meal became a friendly competition for my husband and me.  With each new hand roll we tried to create the perfectly seared piece of meat and select the best-matched toppings.  I tried to make my hand rolls look neat and colorful; my husband preferred to load up the seaweed, resulting in much of the roll’s contents falling onto his plate after the first bite.

If you have room for dessert after your hand roll extravaganza, I recommend ordering the molten lava cake.  Rich and chocolaty with an oozing warm fudge center, it’s a sweet exclamation point at the end of your salt experience.

The good thing about dining at Park Tavern is that the night doesn’t have to end when your check arrives.  Just a few steps away is the ice skating rink, open through the end of February.

The Salt Block Experience, available at Park Tavern
500 10th Street Northeast, Midtown Atlanta  (404) 249-0001
$29 per person

It's Time for Wine: BYOB & State Laws

More on State Laws re: BYOB
“Kentucky Wine Lovers Beware”

By Monty and Sara Preiser

This story, like a fine glass of wine, continues to have legs of its own (see our column “Bring Your Own Wine? Don’t Feed Us A Line). We are receiving numerous calls from people informing us of their own state’s rules regarding bringing one’s own bottle to dinner, as well as from local restaurateurs concerned about the advice they are getting from those who claim to have the answers.

Before we wrote our first piece concluding Florida had no law against diners bringing a bottle, we spoke with the representative of the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association (FRLA), who had (wrongly, we contend) advised some restaurant owners/managers we know that bringing wine was against the law. Since our article appeared (and was sent to this representative) we have asked for a comment from her organization as to whether it had any information that WE were wrong, and whether they were going to advise their clients that diners could in fact bring their own wine. We also asked why they had apparently not been informing restaurants about the statute that protected restaurants from liability if a diner later caused damage due to intoxication.

Despite a number of requests in writing and by phone, no one from the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association has had the courage or courtesy to answer our questions. This is the organization that is called upon by Florida restaurants for accurate advice. According to its website, the organization represents Florida’s 57 billion dollar hospitality industry (restaurants, lodging, and suppliers), and also updates them daily with important and relevant news. In reality, this is a trade and lobbying organization that charges for membership, and probably does NOT represent all of Florida’s hospitality industry. It is not Government run. Nevertheless, organizations like this are important, and when correctly advising their clients, they are most helpful. We presented the evidence in our column that this organization was dispensing incorrect and perhaps incomplete advice, and we have seen or heard nothing to the contrary.

Let’s move on to Kentucky, where Monty had business earlier this week. As is our habit, Monty called a restaurant to check corkage policies and was told the law did not permit outside wines to be brought in. Internet research showed that Stacy Roof, head of the Kentucky Restaurant Association, had herself given such advice and believed it to be so. Upon researching the Kentucky statutes (shades of Florida, yes?), Monty could find no prohibition, So, just as he did in Florida, he called the state Department of Alcoholic Beverage and Control.

Unlike Florida, however, the Kentucky ABC staff member said it indeed was against the law to bring one’s own wine to a restaurant. Monty asked for the statute so holding and was given 243.020(3). As he read the statute along with the staff member, it was obvious, to the staff member’s amazement, that it did not in fact prohibit private wines in licensed restaurants because it only spoke to businesses without licenses.

So that you can decide for yourself, the pertinent part of the statute reads:

. . . a person, conducting a place of business patronized by the public, who
does not hold a license to sell distilled spirits, wine, or malt beverages, shall
not permit any person to sell, barter, loan, give away, or drink distilled
spirits, wine, or malt beverages on the premises of his place of business.

While Monty held on the phone, the staff member read through the statutes and also asked for advice from others. No one present could find anything to support her initial position. She asked if she could have a day and call Monty back if she found anything of relevance, and he of course said yes. Three full days have now passed with no call. Monty also asked Ms. Roof to contact him with any comment or clarification after she had read the Florida article he forwarded to her. No call from Ms. Roof either.

This is a much more serious issue in Kentucky than Florida because Ms. Roof informed us that she was familiar with the state authorities actually fining restaurateurs if the authorities found a bottle brought by a customer. If this is so, the State of Kentucky is involved in prosecuting people without proper law to back them up – a serious and illegal activity.

There is one statute that could arguably give restaurateurs pause, but not if they have competent lawyers (it seems that in both Florida and Kentucky blind reliance on one’s restaurant trade association is problematic).

Statute 244.160 reads as follows:

Whenever any alcoholic beverage, in whatever quantity, is found on any
business premises within this state, a prima facie presumption shall
arise that the alcoholic beverage was upon the premises for the purpose
of sale.

What this means is that the State can presume that all wine in a restaurant is there to be sold, and therefore can expect taxes from all bottles present. This universe of “all bottles” would of course include the one(s) brought by the customer and could potentially cause a problem among the uninformed. However, the statute does not prohibit one from bringing a wine and the language about a presumption is the focal point here. “Prima Facie” means that the burden of establishing there is no sale shifts to the restaurant or diner instead of remaining with the state to prove the violation. But meeting the burden by the restaurant and diner would be easy. In other words, although the State can claim a presumption that the wine is there to be sold, competent evidence can disprove it. And in these cases offering competent evidence is as simple as the people with the wine telling the authorities that it was not, nor will it be, sold.

As it stands now, these writers, acting upon the legal training and research of Monty, are confident that there is no prohibition in Kentucky against bringing one’s own wine to a restaurant licensed to sell wine.

This will perhaps be the last column on this issue, but it looks as if the wine lovers of the country love what we have discovered, while the trade associations responsible for giving accurate and complete information to their clients do not want to comment. We don’t know how these associations will ultimately advise their clients (we find nothing about this on their websites as we write this), but if we owned a restaurant, we would certainly want our representative and advisor to be up to date, and to communicate with writers who pose reasonable questions. And as consumers, we want the restaurants to have accurate information for all the reasons we wrote about in our first column. Put succinctly, we like to bring a bottle from time to time.


It’s Time for Wine is a column published by wine writers and educators Monty and Sara Preiser that is featured on the Amateur Gastronomer.

Monty and Sara Preiser reside full time in Palm Beach County, Florida, and spend their summers visiting wineries and studying wines on the west coast where they have a home in Napa. For many years they were the wine columnists for The Boca Raton News, have served as contributors to the South Florida Business Journal, and are now the principal wine writers for  Monty and Sara also publish The Preiser Key to Napa Valley, the most comprehensive guide to wineries and restaurants in the Napa Valley, published every March, July, and November.  Click here to read more columns by the Preisers.

Champagne Alternatives for Valentine’s Day

When you’re toasting with that special someone this Valentine’s Day, you don’t need to splurge on Champagne.  Excellent sparkling wine is produced around the world using the same method and often with the same varietals (Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier).  And there’s an added bonus of seeking sparkling wines outside of Champagne – often they come with a much lower price tag.

A quick note on Champagne production: Champagne is produced using the “traditional method,” during which the secondary fermentation takes place in the bottle.  After the first fermentation, a measured amount of sugar and yeast is added to the dry still wine to initiate fermentation in the sealed bottle, producing the pressurized gas that gives the sparkling wine its bubbles.

Click here for more facts and figures on Champagne

Here are some Champagne alternatives for Valentine’s Day:


You don’t have to leave France to find an alternative to Champagne.  Crémant is sparkling wine made in other regions, using the traditional method.  There are seven appellations which include this designation in their name: Crémant d’Alsace, Crémant de Bordeaux, Crémant de Bourgogne, Crémant de Die, Crémant du Jura, Crémant de Limoux and Crémant de Loire

Crémant may contain one or a blend of several grapes, as not all grapes grow in all regions.  The most common grapes include Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc, Cabernet Franc, Pinot Noir, Pinot Blanc and Pinot Gris.

Suggested wines:

Jean Albrecht Crémant d’Alsace Brut Reserve ($18)
This Alsace sparkling wine is made in the traditional method from 100% Pinot Blanc.  Delicate and dry with elegant notes of apricot and toast, this Crémant is always a crowd-pleaser.

Blason de Bourgogne Crémant de Bourgogne Cuvée Brut ($10)
This sparkling wine from Burgundy is easy to drink and light on the tongue.  Aromas of pear, apple and toasted bread continue to develop on the palate, culminating in a crisp finish that has a hint of toasted almonds.


Franciacorta is Italy’s answer to Champagne.  It comes from the Lombardy region in north central Italy and is made using the traditional method.  The grapes used in Franciacorta are mainly Chardonnay and Pinot Bianco (Pinot Blanc), along with a small amount of Pinot Nero (Pinot Noir).

Franciacorta may not be as well known in the United States as Prosecco, but its high quality means it should be sought out by bubbly enthusiasts.

Suggested wine:

Ca’ Del Bosco “Cuvee Prestige” Franciacorta DOCG ($43)
Made mainly from Chardonnay (75%), along with Pinot Bianco and Pinot Nero, everything about this wine is elegant.  Pale lemon yellow in color with citrus, floral and toast notes, this sparkling wine is delicate and refreshing with nice acidity.


Prosecco is a familiar name for people who enjoy budget-friendly bubbly.  Prosecco is a sparking wine made from the Prosecco grape and produced in the Veneto region in northeast Italy.  It can be both fully sparkling (spumante) or lightly sparkling (frizzante).

Unlike Franciacorta, Prosecco is not made using the traditional method.  Instead the “charmat” method is used, whereby the wine undergoes its second fermentation in stainless steel tanks, rather than in the bottle.  This is a less expensive way of producing sparkling wine.

Suggested wine:

Nino Franco Prosecco Rustico ($17)
Frothy, delicate and fresh, this is a great sparkling wine if you prefer your Prosecco on the dry side.  Lively flavors of apple, pear and citrus culminate in a crisp finish.


Cava is an ideal sparkling wine for people who are looking for budget-friendly Champagne alternatives.  Though generally around the same price point as Prosecco, this sparkling wine from Spain has an advantage – it is produced using the traditional method.

Cava is mainly produced in the Penedès region in Catalonia.  It is traditionally a blend of the Spanish varietals Macabeo, Parellada and Xarel·lo, though Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Subirat may also be used.

Suggested wines:

Poema Brut Cava ($9)
Easy to find (try Publix), and costing less than $10, this Cava is hard to beat.  A blend of Macabeo, Parellada and Xarel·lo, this sparkling wine is fresh and lively with subtle citrus flavors.

Codorníu Pinot Noir Rosé Brut ($16)
With its bright pink color, this Cava is perfect for Valentine’s Day.  Made from Pinot Noir instead of the traditional Spanish varietals, this sparkling wine has flavors of strawberry, raspberry and toast that come together in a crisp citrus finish.

Cap Classique

Cap Classique is what South Africa calls its sparkling wine.  It is produced using the traditional method, from Sauvignon Blanc, Chenin Blanc, Chardonnay or Pinot Noir.

If you like staying ahead of the trend, seek out a bottle of Cap Classique this Valentine’s Day — relatively new to many U.S. markets (which may make it tough to find), this sparkling wine is an excellent alternative to other New World sparkling wines.

Suggested wines:

Graham Beck Brut Rosé ($17)
Pale peachy-pink in color, Rosé doesn’t get any prettier.  This sparkler from the Western Cape is 58% Chardonnay and 42% Pinot Noir. Pleasantly sophisticated in flavor with hints of raspberries and cherries, it’s a fun and elegant sparkling wine.

Graham Beck “Bliss” Demi-Sec ($17)
If you’re looking for a sparkling wine that is a touch sweet but will still appeal to those who prefer it dry, try this demi-sec.  It is a mix of 54% Chardonnay and 47% Pinot Noir, with apple and citrus flavors that are rounded out by sweet almond, praline and a hint of honey.

Brachetto d’Acqui

On a holiday that’s saturated with the color red, Brachetto d’Acqui fits in perfectly.  This deep garnet sparkling wine comes from the Piedmont region in northwest Italy and is made from the Brachetto grape.  Like Prosecco, it is produced using the Charmat method.

Suggested wine:

Banfi “Rosa Regale” Brachetto d’Acqui DOCG ($21)
This sparkling wine is easy to spot at a wine shop because of its vivid magenta color – and yes, that’s the color of the wine inside the clear bottle.  Rosa Regale says romance, with its notes of fresh raspberries, strawberries and rose petals.  Slightly sweet and light and body, it’s perfect as an after dinner drink and goes great with chocolate.

Symphony Gala Celebrates One of Atlanta's Best Attractions

If you think amps are needed in order for a musical performance to be electrifying, you haven’t heard the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra.

There’s just something about listening to and watching the ASO – the incredibly talented musicians and singers, the history in each composition, the intensity and emotion that can be conveyed through the crescendos and adagios – that gives you chills.

A number of Symphony enthusiasts came together Friday night for the Symphony Gala.  Held at the InterContinental Hotel in Buckhead, the event featured a performance by trumpeter Chris Botti.

The gala performance was a bit more “plugged in” than other symphony performances.  Botti played a mix of jazz and pop, with a five member band that included an electric guitarist and bassist.  Botti too looked the part of a rock star, with his spiky frosted hair.  It’s not often that you hear women’s high-pitched screams of adoration at symphony events.

Watch Chris Botti perform at the Symphony Gala below

One of the more memorable parts of Botti’s performance was when he was joined on stage by Lisa Fischer.  The Grammy Award-winning singer wowed the audience with her unbelievable vocal range, perfectly matching Botti’s trumpet note-for-note.

In addition to celebrating the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, the gala benefited ASO’s education and outreach initiatives.  Proceeds from the event will go to the Atlanta Symphony Youth Orchestra and the Talent Development Program, as well as outreach partnerships that enable Atlanta Symphony musicians to interact with local students.

Now is the best time to discover (or rediscover) the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra.  There are performances every week, with ticket prices starting in the $20 to $25 range.  You can also compose your own concert series – choose four or more performances and tickets start at $19 a seat.

If it is your first time attending a performance, the Atlanta Symphony has a handy guide on what to expect.

For more information on the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra visit

AG Pick: 2007 Black Slate Porrera

Terroir is such an important part of wine.  The taste of a grape can vary dramatically because of where it is planted.  Much of the success of a particular vintage is determined in the vineyard; the climate, geography and geology of a vineyard can have an equal, if not greater effect on a wine’s final taste than the work of a winemaker alone.

Terroir is important in the Black Slate Porrera 2007 — in particular the soil, as you can tell from the name.  This Spanish red comes from Porrera, the easternmost village in Priorat, in Catalonia.  Black slate refers to the mineral-rich Llicorella (slate) soils where the vines grow.

The grapes used in the Black Slate are ideal for this unique soil.  The wine is a blend of 60% Grenache and 40% Carignan (Garnatxa and Cariñena in Catalan), from 60 to 100 year old vines.  Carignan is said to transfer the characteristics of the soil better than other red wine grapes.  The wine is aged for 12 months in two year old French oak barrels.

The Black Slate is magenta red in color, light enough that you can see through the glass.  Berry aromas introduce a palate that is rich in dark fruit flavors and spice.  Notes of baked cherries, plum, boysenberry and blueberry mingle with licorice and a hint of vanilla, with a pleasing touch of minerality from the slate soil.  The wine is upbeat, fresh and bright, with very soft tannins and a smooth finish.

The Black Slate is extremely well balanced and easy to drink alone or with food.  Pair it with lamb, moderately seasoned pork and chicken dishes or bean and lentil dishes.

A bottle of the 2007 Porrera Black Slate costs around $22.

14.5% alcohol by volume

Spicy & Sweet: RA Sushi's New Dishes

When planning an evening out in Atlanta, there’s a new reason to check out RA Sushi.  Numerous reasons, actually — the Midtown hot spot known for its new take on traditional Japanese cuisine is offering a variety of new dishes and cocktails.  I was recently invited for a taste.

While looking over the new menu I sipped on an Emperor’s Cucumberita ($8), one of RA’s nine new cocktails.  It had Patrón Silver and Patrón Citrónage shaken with fresh lime juice and yuzu sour, served with fresh cucumber slices.  It was pretty strong so I didn’t order a second drink, though I plan to go back for the Ginger Blossom (Hendrick’s Gin, St. Germain, muddled strawberries, pink grapefruit, lime juice and a splash of ginger ale, $8).

I started with the Shishito Peppers ($7), which I loved from the first bite.  The long green peppers are sautéed and served in a spicy Asian seasoning.  The sauce gives the peppers a great hot kick.  My mouth was on fire (in a good way) and I couldn’t resist coating the peppers with the extra sauce at the bottom of the bowl.  If you’re a fan of spicy food you must try this dish.

What RA Sushi does best are its unconventional rolls.  Sure you can still order a tuna roll, but no evening at RA is complete without one (or several) of the specialty rolls.  In addition to their creative names and colorful presentation, the rolls are great for those who don’t eat seafood or sushi novices who aren’t ready for raw fish.

My favorite of RA’s new rolls was the “RA”ckin’ Roll ($13), which had kani kama crab and cream cheese that was rolled in rice and seaweed and lightly tempura battered.  It was topped with tempura fried shrimp and guacamole, and served with a creamy gingery teriyaki sauce.  Also good was the Pacific Roll ($9.50), a spicy mix of albacore, cilantro, jalapeño and cucumber that is topped with fresh avocado and mango salsa and finished with red beet tempura bits and sautéed cashew nuts.

From the rolls I moved on to a new entrée: Lobster with Garlic Sugar Snap Peas ($17.50).  The lobster is sautéed with garlic, sugar snap peas and shiitake mushrooms.  The dish is really flavorful; I enjoyed soaking up the tangy sauce with the accompanying steamed rice.

I ended the meal with the Sweet Mochi Trio ($7.50).  Mochi is one of my favorite Japanese treats.  It is a soft rice cake that has a sweet filling, either a paste or ice cream.  RA’s mochi has three kinds of ice cream: mango, strawberry and vanilla.  I loved the combination of flavors and textures, the chewy sweet rice outside with the cool creamy ice cream inside.  And there’s something about eating ice cream with your hands that makes it taste better.

Starting with spice and ending sweet, RA Sushi’s new dishes offer a great combination to kick off a night out.

RA Sushi Bar and Restaurant is located in the 1010 Midtown building at 1080 Peachtree Street in Midtown Atlanta.  (404) 267-0114

Open for lunch and dinner seven days a week.
Happy Hour 3pm to 7pm Monday through Saturday, with sushi, appetizers and tapas ranging from $2 to $7.

The new menu items are available at RA Sushi locations throughout the country.