Wiener Wednesdays at JCT. Bar

Have a hankering for hot dogs?  Get your fix this spring at JCT. Bar.

Starting April 1st the indoor and outdoor lounge above JCT. Kitchen will be offering a selection of savory sausages with various toppings for $4 apiece.  On “Wiener Wednesdays” you’ll get double the dogs when the hot dogs cost just $2 apiece.

The changing menu will include tempting options like the smoked Coca-Cola BBQ wiener, cider braised fennel and onion wiener, chicken liver wiener and a “corn dog” wiener with hush puppy crispies, green tomato relish and remoulade.

Though you’ll be at JCT. Bar for the hot dogs, save room for the AG favorites — the lamb burger and truffle Parmesan fries.  I order them every time.

JCT. Bar, located above JCT. Kitchen in Atlanta’s Westside Urban Market at 1198 Howell Mill Road. (404) 355-2252
Open Tuesday through Saturday beginning at 5pm

photo from JCT. Kitchen & Bar’s Facebook page

AG Pick Under $20: Van Duzer Estate Pinot Gris 2009

Nearly three years after launching The Amateur Gastronomer, I’m writing my first AG Pick article on a Pinot Gris.

Why, when I’ve sought to write about a wide variety of grapes and wines, did I somehow manage to neglect this one?  It’s mostly because I don’t drink a lot of Pinot Gris, or its Italian incarnation Pinot Grigio.

Taste is the main factor with the Italian wines.  So that I don’t insult any fans or producers, I’ll politely say that I generally find Pinot Grigio a little too subtle in flavor.

Closer to home, the American Pinot Gris I recently sipped have had funky vegetal and wet moss notes that didn’t really appeal to me.

I’m not against drinking Pinot Gris, it’s just that none of the ones I’ve tasted have really stood out.  That changed earlier this week, when a wine consultant friend brought a bottle of the 2009 Van Duzer Estate Pinot Gris to a blind tasting.  From the taste analysis through the final reveal, this Oregon white was a big hit.

First a little background on Pinot Gris.  As its name suggests, this grape is related to Pinot Noir.  With its similar DNA profile, leaves and vines, Pinot Gris is believed to be a mutation of Pinot Noir.  Its name also suggests its color.  Gris, meaning gray in French, refers to the grayish-blue color of the grapes.  Besides France, Italy and the United States, Pinot Gris is grown in numerous regions around the world including South America, Australia and Canada.

The Van Duzer Estate Pinot Gris comes from the Willamette Valley in Oregon.  The wine was fermented in stainless steel tanks and bottled after three months.

If you like the crisp acidity of a Chenin Blanc, try this Pinot Gris.  Bright pale yellow in color, the wine has aromas of green apple and lemongrass.  These notes are further expressed on the palate, along with Bartlett pear, honeydew and fresh apricot.  The dry fruit flavors are complemented by flinty minerality and refreshing acidity.  The finish is clean, with a hint of spearmint.

The Van Duzer Estate Pinot Gris pairs nicely with fish like cod, trout and poached salmon, as well as light pasta dishes or mild cheeses.

A bottle of the Van Duzer Estate Pinot Gris 2009 costs $16.

12.8% alcohol by volume

Pigging Out with Dad’s Garage at BaconFest

A little bit of rain couldn’t keep away hundreds of bacon fans Saturday afternoon at BaconFest, the annual fundraiser for Dad’s Garage Theatre Company.

At the sold out event guest got to pig out on pork in a variety of ways.  There were cups of bacon, BLTs, bacon and sausage sandwiches and more.

Among the local restaurants offering their take on the celebrated meat, Diesel Filling Station served the ultimate bite – bacon wrapped pork, grilled with a touch of maple syrup.

Some people went whole hog with a VIP ticket that allowed them to feast on a whole pig roasted by the BBQ masters at P’cheen International Bistro & Pub.

Complementing the bacon was a selection of beer from Georgia favorites Wild Heaven and Terrapin, as well as PBR.

Beyond bacon, the afternoon included plenty of entertainment and games.  Performances by local bands along with an upbeat interlude by the Seed & Feed Marching Abominable provided the soundtrack for snacking.

There was a dunk tank, a palm reader and bearded guys (and gals) offering massages.  One popular spot was the hobo wine tasting where people could enjoy Boone’s Farm along with the finest cheese that is sprayed from a can.

For those who didn’t make it to BaconFest, there’s plenty of fun to be had all year long at Dad’s Garage.  Founded in 1995, the nonprofit theatre in Inman Park engages, cultivates and inspires artists and audiences by producing innovative, scripted and improvised works.

For more information on Dad’s Garage including upcoming shows visit

Click photos to enlarge

Sip & Study at the Atlanta Wine School

You drink wine at home. You attend tastings at local restaurants and wine shops. And now, you’re thirsty for more.

Expand your knowledge at the Atlanta Wine School, Georgia’s institute for wine appreciation and education.

I was recently invited to attend an evening class at the Atlanta Wine School (AWS), to learn about their programs.

Located in a shopping center on Holcomb Bridge Road just off GA 400 in Roswell, the AWS is an easy drive from Atlanta.

Any concerns about being back in a classroom will disappear when you open the door and are welcomed with a glass of sparkling wine. While sipping a rosé Cava I met the other students and Michael Bryan, executive director of the AWS and our instructor for the evening.

Wine should be fun, a maxim Michael embraces at the AWS. With numerous wine certifications it’s clear Michael is highly qualified, yet he’ll still admit to drinking white zinfandel when he was less experienced.

After helping ourselves to a plate of cheese and other light bites, we took our seats.

The evening’s class was targeted at beginners, with the aim to take people from describing a wine as either “yum” or “yuck” to confidently using wine vocabulary to talk about what they’re drinking.

As we went through the three whites and three reds Michael discussed techniques for holding, sniffing and tasting the wine. With the aid of a projector screen he told us the aromas and flavors that characterize the six varieties in our glasses.

Michael’s style of teaching is engaging yet laid back. Questions were encouraged, and the evening felt more like a conversation than a class.

No matter your experience with wine, there’s always more to learn. From novices to seasoned sippers, there’s a class to match your knowledge level and interest. The AWS also offers classes for people in the trade and aspiring winemakers.

Anti OTPers may be a bit hesitant to make the trip out to Roswell but the quality of the classes and the amount of knowledge you’ll gain are worth the drive.

For even more in depth knowledge you can travel to wine regions around the world with the AWS. Upcoming trips include Napa, Oregon and Tuscany. You can also work with the AWS to design your own wine trip.

The Atlanta Wine School is located at 1570 Holcomb Bridge Road in Roswell, Georgia. (770) 668-0435

What’s Growing Now in Georgia: Annual Harvest Calendar

The start of spring and the upcoming opening of the Peachtree Road Farmers Market mean it is easier than ever to find and enjoy local produce.

Want to know what’s in season now?  Check out the Annual Harvest Calendar from Georgia Organics that shows the wide variety of fruits and vegetables available from local farms throughout the year.

Click image on left for the calendar


The Peachtree Road Farmers Market is every Saturday from April 9th through December 17th in 2011 at the Cathedral of St. Philip, 2744 Peachtree Road Northwest.

Georgia Organics is a nonprofit organization integrating healthy, sustainable and locally grown food into the lives of Georgians.

Dragonette Cellars: A Must Taste in Los Olivos

Not much has changed in the town of Los Olivos since I visited in the summer of 2009.  The charming town in California’s Santa Ynez Valley is just as picturesque as I remember it.

Strolling along Grand Avenue, popping into the boutiques and enjoying delicious wines at some of the numerous tasting rooms continues to combine for a wonderful afternoon.  People are still referencing the movie Sideways (although not as frequently as before), and the Los Olivos Cafe is still an excellent spot for lunch or dinner (I recommend the lamb).

One felicitous change to the Los Olivos scene was the addition of new tasting rooms.  My favorite was Dragonette Cellars.

Dragonette wasn’t just a highlight of my afternoon in Los Olivos; it was a highlight of my two weeks in southern and central California.

On a sunny and mild Saturday in February, my husband and I made Dragonette’s tasting room our first stop in Los Olivos.  Owner John Dragonette greeted us and told us about the winery as he poured us a taste of the wines.

The realization of a long-held dream to make quality wines, Dragonette Cellars was founded by John, his brother Steve Dragonette and their close friend Brandon Sparks-Gillis.  John is a lawyer in Los Angeles (although recently more of a winemaker by day and lawyer by night, as he put it), who spent years honing his winemaking knowledge and skills at some of the top wineries in the region.

Dragonette Cellars’ goal is to produce wines of balance and complexity from grapes that have been minimally manipulated, with controlled yields that provide maximum flavor and concentration in the wine.

From the vineyard to the bottling, John, Steve and Brandon are involved in every step of the winemaking process.  Looking through a photo album in the tasting room, my husband and I saw pictures of the three men and their families working in the vineyards.  The tender loving care put into each bottle of Dragonette’s wine comes through in the taste.

We started the tasting with two Sauvignon Blancs: the 2009 Santa Ynez Valley and the 2009 Vogelzang Vineyard.  I preferred the first, which was made with grapes from three vineyards (Vogelzang and Grassini Family Vineyard in Happy Canyon, and Refugio Ranch on the northern slopes of the Santa Ynez Mountains).  The grapes were pressed and separately fermented in a mix of stainless steel and 5% new French oak barrels.  The wine was aged on its lees for 11 months prior to bottling.

The 2009 Santa Ynez Valley Sauvignon Blanc was fresh and aromatic with notes of peach, apricot and ripe mango.  It was just a touch creamy but still upbeat, clean and light, with nice minerality and a hint of what Dragonette describes as a “salty sea-air freshness.”  I wanted to take my glass outside and enjoy the wine in the sun.  Even my husband, who recently has been anti-Sauvignon Blanc, was a big fan.

Then it was time for Pinot Noir, a grape grown throughout the Central Coast with varying degrees of success.  John poured us two wines, the 2009 Santa Rita Hills and the 2009 Hilliard Bruce Vineyard.

Fellow chocolate fans, you know that feeling of satisfaction you get when you take that first bite of a rich chocolate dessert?  You close your eyes, smile and say “mmm”.  That’s the reaction I had to sipping Dragonette’s Pinot Noir.

Elegant, luscious, layered, yummy — I could go on and on about both Pinots.

The 2009 Santa Rita Hills Pinot Noir was made with 100% Pinot Noir grapes from four vineyards.  The wine was aged for 15 months in 33% new French oak.  Medium to full in body with jammy flavors of black cherry, plum and blueberry, the wine was enhanced by subtle notes of cardamom, nutmeg and vanilla.  Well balanced acidity and gentle tannins combined for a silky mouthfeel, with a lingering dark fruit finish.

The second Pinot Noir was made entirely from grapes grown at Hilliard Bruce Vineyard, a new Pinot Noir project at the far western edge of the Santa Rita Hills appellation.  The wine was aged for 15 months in 25% new French oak.  Full bodied and lively, the wine had ripe flavors of black cherry, boysenberry and red currants complemented by cola, cinnamon and sandalwood.  Good acidity, soft tannins and a long silky finish made this Pinot Noir a real pleasure to sip.  I enjoyed the 2009 Hilliard Bruce Vineyard so much that I couldn’t help but ask for an extra pour at the end of our tasting.

We concluded with another outstanding wine, the 2008 Syrah.  It was made with grapes from three cooler climate vineyards (Watch Hill and Los Tres Burros in Los Alamos Valley and Shadow Canyon Vineyard in York Mountain, west of Paso Robles).  The wine was aged on its lees for 22 months in primarily French oak, 33% new.  Deep dark purple in color, the Syrah had bold notes of blackberries, black currant and blueberries with layers of cedar, cigar box and dried meat.  The firm tannins were balanced out by the acidity and the wine culminated in a long, full finish.

A little bit tight in flavor in part due to its youth, this wine unfolded with time in the glass and will continue to develop in the bottle.  If you have the self-control to buy a few bottles to store, the wine will be even better in a year or two.

Dragonette Cellars can’t yet ship to every state (unfortunately Georgia is not on the list), but if your state makes the cut, I highly recommend ordering some of their wine.

Excellent wines, a great vineyard story and a friendly and knowledgeable owner/winemaker — a visit to a tasting room doesn’t get much better.

For more information on Dragonette Cellars visit

The tasting room for Dragonette Cellars is located at 2445 Alamo Pintado Avenue in Los Olivos, California.  Open Thursday through Monday from 11am to 5pm, or by appointment.

Vinturi Aerator Availble in Travel Size

A great gadget for enhancing red wine is now even better — the Vinturi Aerator is available in a travel-friendly size.

Narrower than the original Vinturi Aerator but still incorporating the same aeration technique, the Vinturi Travel allows you to enjoy better wine when you’re away from home.  Measuring 5 ½ inches and weighing 4 ounces (including its travel case), the Vinturi Travel can fit into a bag or coat pocket.

The Vinturi works by mixing the right amount of air with the wine.  As the wine is poured through the Vinturi and into the glass it instantly opens up.  Compare the wine before and after and you’ll notice the wine that passed through the Vinturi has fuller flavors and a smoother finish.

Whether you’re traveling out of town or want to enjoy a glass of wine outdoors, the Vinturi Travel makes it easier to enhance your red wine experience wherever you go.

The Vinturi Travel Aerator is available online from the Wine Enthusiast for $35.99.

image from

A Taste of Asheville in Atlanta

Been itching for a trip out of town but can’t get away from Atlanta this month?  Let one of the southeast’s top vacation spots come to you!

30 Days of Asheville is a month of entertainment, tastings and free goodies that showcase what the western North Carolina city has to offer.

From beer and cheese samplings to film screenings and lunchtime concerts, there’s something going on every day in March.

Asheville, a 3 and a half hour drive from Atlanta, was recently listed by Fodor’s as one of the top must-see cities in the world for 2011.  The city nestled in the Appalachian Mountains features an eclectic downtown area with shops, restaurants and art galleries, a variety of outdoor activities and a thriving live music scene.

Atlanta travelers will get to experience a trip to Asheville with food tastings each Wednesday at Murphy’s and brew tap takeovers each Thursday at Tap, plus hot air balloon rides, farm-fresh cooking classes and a flash mob surprise from the Asheville Drum Circle.

At the events you’ll be able to pick up an Atlanta VIP Card to get special deals for your next trip to Asheville.

Visit for the full calendar of events and giveaways.  Daily tips and updates are available on Facebook and Twitter via @AshevilleDeals.

30 Days of Asheville is organized by the Asheville Convention & Visitors Bureau.

Photos courtesy of the Asheville Convention & Visitors Bureau