Omnivore - The Georgia wine gospel

Sommelier Gil Kulers aims to impress New York

Gil Kulers is headed to New York, and he's on a mission. The task for the head sommelier of the Piedmont Driving Club (and AJC wine writer) is to prove that Georgia wines can stand alongside those of respected wine-producing regions the world over — California, Bordeaux, Champagne. It's no small task, but Kulers is armed with some compelling evidence to prove his point: a selection of the best wines that Georgia has to offer. 

This Saturday, the James Beard House is hosting a $170-per-person Georgia Grown dinner, bringing Georgia's wine, chefs, and even ingredients to the diners of New York. Kulers has worked with the chefs to carefully pair his hand-selected Georgia wines with dishes showcasing Georgia's produce. The lineup in the kitchen includes an all-star team of Holly Chute from the Georgia Grown (part of the Georgia Department of Agriculture), Derek Dollar of Milton’s Cuisine & Cocktails, Seth Freedman of PeachDish, Dave Larkworthy of 5 Seasons Brewing Company, Doug Turbush of Seed Kitchen and Bar, and Kathleen McDaniel of Murphy’s. 

Kulers invited me to a blind tasting to sample some of the wines being served at the dinner, and the results clearly proved his point — the Georgia wines stood shoulder to shoulder with those from more established wine regions. Kulers kicked off the session by boldly stating, "there's one bottle here that is as good a sparkling wine as you'll find in the United States." It turned out to be the 2014 Wolf Mountain Brut Rose, and, after tasting it, I can't argue with his assertion. Full of complexity, balanced and crisp, it handily topped a bottle of sparkling wine from one of California's top producers.

On we went, with Frogtown Cellar's Marsanne going head to head with another California standout, showing off notes both earthy and citrusy. Yes, that combination actually works; and this wine is perfectly suited to shine with Doug Turbush's dish of Georgia trout with field pea succotash, roasted lemon vinaigrette, and mushroom confit. Tiger Mountain's Petit Manseng was equally impressive (though a touch on the sweet side) - like a slice of tart, sweet, honeydew. Even Frogtown Cellar's Propaganda red blend stood up to a well-respected Bordeaux, proving that Georgia soil can provide the depth necessary to produce a big, serious red.

It must be said, a big part of why those outside Georgia are not familiar with Georgia wine is that there simply isn't that much of it. Many of the state's top wineries easily sell out based on sales to their wine clubs and in their tasting rooms. Even finding these bottles in Atlanta stores and restaurants can be a challenge, but that doesn't change the fact the wine being made in Georgia, when done right, when the climate cooperates, can be every bit as good as that made in California. 

As we finished up, Kulers expressed optimism, knowing he had the right bottles to make his case: "To get these jaded New Yorkers to maybe turn their heads and allow for the possibility that great wine could be made somewhere they're not familiar with — Georgia — I want to get to the end of that dinner and have them say, let's do that all again."