A Southern Mainstay
Horseradish Grill, the cozy yet upscale restaurant overlooking scenic Chastain Park, is bringing wine education to the Atlanta dining scene through a new series of monthly wine tastings. This fun and informative initiative was launched in January with a reenactment of the famous 1976 Judgment of Paris, in which Napa’s Stag Leap Artemis and other California wines took first place over top French wines in a major global competition. The “wines around the world” tasting will be held on the third Wednesday of each month featuring a different theme and paired with a selection of the Chef’s favorite appetizers.
Wine Down Wednesday
Horseradish Grill is known for its Southern farm-to-table cuisine concept, and now they’re giving us another great reason to visit the neighborhood gem. The restaurant’s private subterranean dining room forms the perfect backdrop for their new informative wine tasting program. Traditionally, Horseradish Grill has only poured domestic wines to compliment its traditional Southern cuisine, but this program is bringing to its customers, once a month, wines from regions all around the world. The adventure isn’t just one of sight, smell and taste, as the evening is guided by a knowledgeable wine educator complete with handouts and take-aways. I might even learn a thing or two! But one thing is certain, you will get exposed to some unexpectedly delicious wines, varietals and regions.
Wine and Dine
Seating for the monthly wine tasting experience is extremely limited so reservations are recommended. I have attended my share of wine tastings, pairings and dinners around town and I can tell you from experience that this is one of the best deals in Atlanta. Not only will you taste and learn about wine, but the experience is conducted in a setting that is open, inviting, delicious and fun. The cost is only $25 per person, plus tax and gratuity, which includes a generous pour of six different wines paired with some of the Chef’s classic appetizers. It’s a great excuse to plan a group outing, and it’s also fun to stay afterwards for dinner!
Cause for Celebration
The February tasting, which I attended last week, just so happened to fall on National Drink Wine Day. Of course, I happen to think everyday should be celebrated with wine! On the heels of Valentine’s day, Horseradish Grill chose to commemorate this epic occasion by raising a glass of the wine most associated with celebrations: sparkling wine. Here’s a sneak peak at what you can expect at one of their monthly wine tastings, as well as, a closer look at the production of sparkling wine.
It’s no secret that the French perfected the art of making sparkling wine, particularly in Champagne, which is just due east of Paris in one of the cooler wine growing areas of France. But did you know that the discovery of sparkling wine was a total accident? You see, if a wine doesn’t completely finish fermenting, and yeast and sugar are left in the mix, there’s bound to be a second fermentation in the bottle. And that’s exactly how “traditional method” sparkling wines are made, only on purpose, because they’re so delightful and those palate cleansing bubbles pair beautifully with just about every type of food. Carbon dioxide, among many other yummy things like flavor compounds, acid and alcohol, is a by-product of fermentation, but left in an ordinary wine bottle, the close to six atmospheres of pressure are not likely to be contained. So we have a British doctor by the name of Christopher Merret to thank for the invention of the thicker bottles and wire cages that you see today. But, alas, it was the French who perfected the “traditional method” of making sparkling wine and so it became known as the method Champenoise.
Not all sparkling wine is Champagne. Even in France, sparkling wine made in other regions like the Loire or Alsace, are known as Crémants. Champagne can only be made in Champagne. Simple enough, right? For a while there, you could find labels with “California Champagne” on them but those have been slowly phased out since 2006. However, all sparkling wines made through the labor-intensive process known as the traditional method and using the traditional grapes of Champagne (there are seven!) are typically going to be of similar or same quality as the beloved Champagne.
So what exactly does this interesting process entail? First, you start by making a completely dry wine with high acidity and neutral flavors. In traditional method sparklers, we want to taste the flavors imparted through the process of aging on the lees, or dead yeast cells, not necessarily the inherent flavors of the grapes. You might be thinking it’s totally counterintuitive, but that’s one of the many things that makes sparkling wine unique. There is a completely separate process, called the Charmat or tank method, used to create sparkling wines from aromatic grapes like Riesling, in many of Germany’s fine Sekt wines but that’s a whole other topic. After aging on the lees for anywhere from nine months to 3 years, the dead yeast needs to be removed because we don’t want anything but crystal clear liquid and endless streams of tiny beads in our glass, right? So the bottles are carefully and slowly turned upside down, mechanically or by hand, until the bottles are completely upright and the sediment has gathered up at the neck of the bottle. The neck is then frozen, the bottle opened, and pop goes the frozen sediment, and maybe a little bit of great wine if not uncorked with utter care. At this point, a dosage which can contain sugar, more of the same wine used to make the sparkling wine or red wine to make a sparkling Rosé, is added to top off the bottle and re-corked. And that’s how we get sweet sparkling wines, which are actually classified as dry and semi-sec, not to further confuse things. Basically, if you like it dry, choose a brut or extra brut, but if you like it a little or a lot sweet go for dry, semi-sec or doux. Simple.
World Class Sparklers
Traditional method sparkling wines are made all over the world. In the United States, we simply call them sparkling wine. In Spain, they are known as Cava, and are made from three indigenous grapes not found elsewhere, Parellada, Macabeo (the white grape of Rioja, where it goes by Viura) and Xarel-lo, which is just as fun to pronounce as it is to spell. Sparkling wines can be blanc de blanc, which means white (wine) from white (grapes), blanc de noir (white from black) or a blend of both. Spain’s grapes are all white so Cava is almost always a blanc de blanc, the exception being that Cava Rosados or rosés are made from indigenous red grapes. Italy has two delicious traditional method sparklers, as well, made from the traditional Champagne grapes, Franciacorta and Talento. These delicious wines are far less known and popular than the famous Prosecco, which is made mostly from the Glera grape using the tank method, and Moscato d’Asti which is a lighter-style sweet bubbly made through the partial fermentation method. In South Africa, traditional method sparklers are known as Cap Classique.
The Bottle Tells All
So how do you tell if a sparkling wine was made by the traditional method or by the shortcut transfer method, in which all the wine is dumped into a huge tank following the second fermentation? Traditional method bubbly will typically have “fermented in this bottle” on the label as opposed to “fermented in the bottle” which indicates that it was fermented in some other bottle and then transferred to the current bottle you’re holding after the lees were racked off the top. That’s a lot of technical information and we didn’t even get into the fact that grapes destined for sparkling wine, especially the red ones, have to be handled with utmost care. In addition, there are rules governing how many grapes can be used, how much juice can be extracted, how much time the wine must rest on the lees following the second fermentation, among others. I don’t want to bore you with the details, but I do hope this gives you some appreciation and understanding for the hefty price tag often associated with Champagne. But that’s not to say that less expensive, enjoyable versions can’t be found all around the world.
Give Me Six
You can expect to taste six wines at Horseradish Grill’s monthly tastings, and typically the wines are ordered from dry to sweet, or in this particular case, brut to dry. The complexity and body is also taken into account and wines should be tasted in order of simple to complex and light body to full body. With all that said, there’s more than one way to line them up but only one way to taste, bottoms up following a proper swirl and sniff, of course! The first two wines in last week’s tasting were the Jaume Serra Cristalino Cava Brut and the Ayala Brut Majeur Champagne. Both were crisp, elegant and paired with a house favorite, Fried Green Tomatoes with tangy Goat Cheese, Spicy Pecans and Remoulade sauce. You know how I go totally crazy over goat cheese and so do acidic wines like Champagne! The Cava was simple, yet elegant, compared to the Champagne, which has added complexity and flavor from Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier grapes in addition to Chardonnay.
The next two wines we tasted are also in the Brut category, but have a slightly noticeable amount more of residual sugar. The Roederer Rosé Brut from Anderson Valley is a Pinot Noir/Chardonnay blend aged for two years on the lees and exhibiting delicate fruit, complexity and persistent little bubbles. The lesser known South African Graham Beck Brut Rosé is also a pinot noir/chardonnay blend with red berry flavors and minerality, but available at less than half the price! These were paired with Horseradish Grill’s famous melt-in-your-mouth buttermilk biscuits. Since sparkling wines made through the traditional method take on yeasty flavors of baked bread among others, biscuits really are a perfect pairing!
Our educational evening concluded with a taste of two incredibly unique wines made in different styles from one very untraditional grape: Syrah. The first comes from our very own backyard in the North Georgia Mountains’ Wolf Mountain vineyard. Their Blancs de Syrah Brut exhibits complex flavors and aromas of raspberry and strawberry with a crisp, refreshing finish and made through the traditional method Champenoise. By contrast, the last wine, Australia’s Shingleback Black Bubbles is dark garnet in color, full bodied and full of intense aromas of black fruit and spice. Syrah is known for its fine tannins, intensity and body and this sparkling noir de noir (I’m fairly certain that is not even a technical term in wine speak) which spent an unusually long time on the skins as compared to traditional sparkling wines, did not disappoint. The hint of sweetness on the finish was an added bonus and a delightful way to end our tour of sparkling wines from around the world. This dry level sparkling wine isn’t quite sweet enough to pose as dessert, but it would be absolutely delicious served with dark chocolate, strawberries and thanks to the tannin level, even a steak! But that just goes to show how incredibly versatile sparkling wine is. We enjoyed these last two pours with Chef Berry’s crispy Pimento Cheese and Grits Fritters, and I absolutely loved how the crisp bubbles perfectly refreshed the palate between rich bites.
Wine Down Mondays Too
In addition to the monthly wine tastings, Horseradish Grill has also introduced a selection of wine at half price on Monday evenings, so now you have just one more thirst-quenching excuse to visit them. Horseradish Grill is also open for lunch and dinner Monday through Friday, as well as brunch, on Saturday and Sunday at 4320 Powers Ferry Road overlooking Chastain Park in Atlanta.
The Fine Print
Although my participation in the wine tasting was complimentary, I was in no way compensated for this post. The opinions expressed are solely mine and based on my own experience. Experience the unique wine and delicious Southern food at Horseradish Grill for yourself every third Wednesday of the month at 6:00 pm or just about any day of the week for lunch or dinner.