In the midst of readjustment to life in the United States, experiencing a sort of reverse culture shock, it was refreshing last week to have been given the opportunity to visit Château Élan Winery in of all places, North Georgia. In a deep south state more famous for southern delicacies like grits and beverages such as sweet tea, the last thing we imagined ourselves doing was sampling fine wines and enjoying gourmet French food. But that’s exactly what happened, and it was an amazing experience.
The wine business at the Château Élan Wine Market is a bustling one. An expansive selection stretches out across a showroom of wines, in a market designed to look like an old world wine cellar. A busy staff keeps customers glasses filled with any number of wine tasting packages designed to satisfy even the most sophisticated palate. Being newcomers to the world of North Georgia wines, we both opted for the deluxe tasting package allowing us to sample our choice of eight out of of their 21 unique handcrafted wines.
Confession: I did not desire for this particular wine experience to be an educational one, and I know nothing about the Muscadine grape variety. There may come a time in the not too distant future when I will be forced to expand my palate and develop a taste for lesser known grapes grown in such places as Uzbekistan, or Braselton, Georgia. In this time of transition, I’ve found it necessary to stick to my old-world favorites. Wines I know how to appreciate. Wines I know I’m capable of liking. Therefore, my tasting menu highlights were predominantly dry, and mostly red.
With 21 wines to choose from, I immediately ruled out the seven Muscadines for reasons already explained. I also crossed out their Moscato D’Asti and Dolce Rosso from a partner vineyard in Italy… again, dry preference. That left 12, and with eight to choose I opted for the following selection, in order of tasting.
Brut Reserve – While claiming to taste just like Italian Prosecco, there were obvious notes of apple and kiwi on this interesting brut. Made from 100% Chardonnay grapes, of which Prosecco has none, the mere claim to be on the same level as its world famous counterpart made this sparkling white particularly disappointing, but nonetheless drinkable, although I wouldn’t buy it. I give it 2 out of 5 stars on a completely arbitrary scale I just made up.
Chardonnay Reserve – One of the three highlights of the tasting experience, Château Élan’s Chardonnay Reserve was outstanding. One of the best whites I’ve ever tasted. Maybe it’s just that I don’t know much about Chardonnay, but this one makes me want to experience many more. An incredibly silky texture that coats the tongue and lingers. The acidity is perfectly balanced. The six month aging process in oak barrels gives this wine a refined nuance that can be appreciated all on its own. No need for food pairings here folks, just enjoy. 4 out of 5 stars and yes please I’d take home a case if I could afford it.
Pinot Noir Reserve – A pleasing wine, but not memorable. Earthy… and earthy I appreciate. Like the grapes of the Colli Berici of which I am intimately familiar, this Pinot Noir tastes of the earth it comes from, a bit more refined considering Château Élan ages theirs in oak barrels. But before you go out and start eating dirt to make the comparison, drink lots wine, this wine, to numb your taste buds a bit. 3 out of 5 stars for a very drinkable albeit overpriced wine that at $26.95 a bottle I can’t bring myself to consider purchasing.
Velvet Reserve – The second star of the tasting experience goes to this elegant red blend of Verdot and Petit Syrah grapes. A real favorite which stands above all the rest, including the so called “premium” wines of the château. Like the name says, velvety, and incredibly smooth. The 13.5% alcohol content is not at all overpowering and acts in perfect harmony with the soft tannins, and just the right amount of fruit. Probably the best value in the collection. 4 out of 5 stars and a wine I would happily take home and enjoy.
Le Petits, La Barbera, and El Tempranillo are Château Élan’s “premium edition” wines. Quite honestly, they don’t merit much of a narrative individually. While they were all excellent wines, the premium label implied something truly special, something which deserved more attention. The consumer is presented a wine which as labeled immediately earns a high expectation. High expectation as we all know means that if it doesn’t live up to the hype, it can be perceived as a disappointment, even if said wine is actually quite good, even outstanding. I’m pretty sure that is what happened here.
Le Petits was my favorite of the three, and is a more refined version of the Velvet Reserve. That further refinement was in my opinion not necessary. A $50 price tag per bottle implies an almost religious experience to the palate, and unfortunately, at that price point, none of the holy trinity of Château Élan’s “premium” wines merit such praise.
Port Riserva – The final star of the show was a surprising Reserve Ruby American Port. Having experienced real Port at its origin in Portugal, I was skeptical. However, while the château is legally required to append “American” to this particular port considering its country of origin, this is the best port wine I’ve ever tasted. Admittedly young, but bursting with character, 19% alcohol, and very full bodied, this port wine deserves respect, and is a fine wine to savor after dinner. 5 stars for blowing low expectations out of the water, and for measuring up to the real thing on the other side of the Atlantic. We’re taking a bottle with us to Uzbekistan!
The perfect post wine tasting dining venue is the Café Élan, where you can sample French-Mediterranean inspired cuisine prepared by resident celebrity chef Julio Delgado. A truly outstanding culinary experience, paired with award winning wines, you might just experience a moment of confusion as you suddenly realize you’re still in North Georgia.