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The Shotgun Approach

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I must admit I was surprised when I first saw the Frogtown Cellars wines pop up in one of my wine competitions a few years back.

What caught my eye was the striking packaging. It was edgy but attractive and it made me want to know more. I was stunned when I started to read the labels and saw that the wines were from Lumpkin County, Ga. Could they really be any good and live up to the inviting packaging?

I had my answer soon enough. The Frogtown wines won their share of medals, and ever since have been a consistent winner in my four international wine competitions — Critics Challenge, Winemaker Challenge, Sommelier Challenge and the venerable San Diego International, which will celebrate its 30th anniversary with the event in 2013.

The Frogtown wines have passed muster with a varied and highly skilled roster of wine judges, and they've done it over several vintages, so their success is no fluke. I've tasted many of them during and after each competition and would not hesitate to serve them side by side with fine wines from all over the world.

Originally, however, I was skeptical. The Georgia I know is very warm and humid in the summer months, so I asked about that the first time I chatted with Frogtown winemaker/owner Craig Kritzer.

Frogtown and other good Georgia wineries are situated in the western part of the state, in the foothills of the Smoky Mountains. The climate is warm but dry, and the evenings are not the oppressive nights I remember from trips to Atlanta in my youth.

Because of the absence, or scarcity, of viticultural history in Georgia, Frogtown may benefit somewhat from low expectations. Kritzer also has a free hand to explore eclectic grape varieties and blends, for no one really knows what to expect from Georgia wine.

Case in point is the Frogtown Shotgun, a multi-vintage blended red table wine that retails for $25. The first release, dubbed First Reload, was a blend of Tannat, touriga nacional and cabernet franc. The Second Reload, which I've just sampled, includes the same grape varieties plus merlot.

It is billed as a bold but supple blend, which should be a head-scratcher if you know anything about Tannat, the tannic red-wine grape indigenous to southwestern France. At Frogtown, Tannat works. It's tannic all right, but not with the coarse, rustic texture of Tannat from France.

Touriga, of course, is the most important grape of the Port region in Portugal's Douro Valley, while cabernet franc and merlot are so-called "international" grape varieties that are planted throughout the world.

Shotgun from Frogtown is a savory wine, well balanced (less than 14 percent alcohol by volume) with complex red and black fruit aromas and hints of spice. It will not be easy to find, however. Wine-searcher.com lists it for sale only at the winery, and depending upon the laws in your state, you may or may not be able to purchase it and have it shipped.

That said, it is a very interesting wine — in fact, a daring wine being made in a corner of the world where you would least expect to find such cutting edge viticulture. At the very least, you should know of its existence.

BEST VALUE

Wines are rated on a 100-point scale. Wines are chosen for review because they represent outstanding quality or value, and the scores are simply a measure of this reviewer's enthusiasm for the recommended wine.

Tangent 2011 Sauvignon Blanc, Paragon Vineyard, Edna Valley ($13) — This wine benefits from the cool nights during the growing season in the Edna Valley, situated just a few miles from the Pacific Ocean near San Luis Obispo, Calif. The aromatics trend toward bright citrus. With mouth-watering acidity, this is an excellent food wine that also exhibits a subtle note of minerality. Rating: 89.

Tangent 2011 Grenache Blanc, Edna Valley ($17) — This is a white wine made from a grape historically grown in the Rhone Valley in southern France. It produces an interesting wine when made in the clean, fresh style favored by winemaker Christian Roguenant. The flavors trend toward the melon side of the aroma/flavor spectrum, and it has enough richness and body to substitute for chardonnay when a more substantial white is called for to pair with food, particularly grilled fish. Rating: 88.

TASTING NOTES

Joseph Phelps 2011 Sauvignon Blanc, St. Helena ($32) — This wine has always been overshadowed by the greatness of the Joseph Phelps reds, but its consistently among the finest sauvignons made in the Napa Valley and the 2011 is no exception. It is made in the style of a Bordeaux blanc, with aging in a combination of new and used French oak barrels, which impart a subtle spice and no doubt contribute to a slightly creamy and oily texture. The aromas are predominantly stone fruits, particularly white peach, but there is a very attractive citrus nuance as well. Rating: 91.

Follow Robert on Twitter at @wineguru. To find out more about Robert Whitley and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.

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