Judgment at Sautee

Judgment at Sautee: Similar to the Paris Wine Tasting of 1976, also known as the Judgment of Paris, a panel of wine judges were invited to Yonah Mountain Vineyards located in Sautee, Georgia on January 15, 2011.  This was to be a wine competition between top-quality Viognier, Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon wines from Georgia and from California.

 Judgment at Sautee

Judgment at Sautee

Similar to the Paris Wine Tasting of 1976, also known as the Judgment of Paris, a panel of wine judges were invited to Yonah Mountain Vineyards located in Sautee, Georgia on January 15, 2011.  This was to be a wine competition between top-quality viognier, chardonnay and cabernet sauvignon wines from Georgia and from California.

A blind tasting was performed so that none of the judges would know the identity of what was being tasted. The judges were asked to grade each wine using the University of California at Davis 20 point tasting guide. Rankings of the wines preferred by individual judges were done based on the grades they individually attributed. An overall ranking of the wines preferred by the panel was also established by totaling and averaging the sum of each judge’s individual grades (arithmetic mean).

A core group of the judges were selected based on knowledge of wine, but Yonah Mountain owner Bob Miller and Winemaker Joe Smith were seeking some publicity so they also invited the press and key people that promote Georgia tourism and travel. Heading our panel of judges was Michael Bryan founder of the Atlanta Wine School; others included Gil Kulers, Jane Garvey, Doc Lawrence, your truly, to name just a few.  Over 20 were in attendance.

The wines were wrapped in heavy gauge aluminum foil (to help disguise individual bottle shapes) and each flight was controlled so that the temperatures would be identical.  The first flight consisted of 2008 Darioush Signature Viognier, Napa Valley ($45), Serenity Cellars 2008 Viognier ($20), and 2009 Serenity Cellars Viognier ($20).

The next flight included 2008 Kistler Vineyards Chardonnay, Dutton Ranch, Russian River ($125) rated 91 by Robert Parker, 2008 Yonah Mountain Vineyards Chardonnay ($28) and 2009 Yonah Mountain Vineyards Chardonnay ($28).

The final flight included 2000 Ghost Horse Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley ($500) 2006 Jordan Cabernet Sauvignon, Alexander Valley ($47), 2006 Yonah Mountain Genesis (Merit age Blend) ($36) and Yonah Mountain Genesis 2 (NV) (Merit age Blend) ($36).

After greetings by Bob Miller and Joe Smith (Joe Smith is the winemaker at Yonah Mountain Vineyards and is the owner/winemaker of Serenity Cellars) we had some introductory remarks by Michael Bryan to set some ground-rules for the tasting. Then, the hard work commenced.

Gayle and I have been fans of Georgia Wines for over 10 years. We have dabbled in winemaking for over 30 years and Beechwood Inn features its own private label wines made 100% from Georgia grapes. We truly enjoy the best of Georgia’s local wines, but we also know that many people look down their noses at local wines thinking they will be cloyingly sweet and made from foxy Muscadines. Not true on January 15th.  All these wines California and Georgia were high quality table wines.

The evening offered all the judges a few surprises, including me. Both Yonah Mountain Vineyards and Serenity Cellars are relatively new kids on the Georgia Winemaking block, so perhaps none of us expected them to be as good as some of our Georgia’s more established vineyards.  Just not the case at all.  Winemaker Joe Smith is making some absolutely stunning wines with great finesse, wonderful aromas and lots of complicated flavors.

With perhaps the exception of the Viognier flight the scores are tightly all bunched. And, surprise to all except maybe Joe Smith, the Georgia vinified red wine was judged “best of show” winning the highest score of the evening. So Vanna, open the curtain please, here are the results:


2008 Darioush                                                             170.75

2008 Serenity Cellars                                                  155.35

2009 Serenity Cellars                                                  136.95


2008 Kistler Dutton Ranch                                         165.95

2008 Yonah Mountain Vineyards                              163.4

2009 Yonah Mountain Vineyards                              162.15

Red Merit age

Yonah Mountain Vineyards Genesis 2                       171.05

2006 Jordon                                                              171.0

Yonah Mountain Vineyards Genesis 2006                 169.3

2000 Ghost Horse                                                       156.35

The fractional scoring is the result of some judges parsing their scores into halves and even quarters.

At the end of the judging all the participants retired to Bernie’s Restaurant, Sautee, for a wonderful dinner and to polish off the rest of the wine. Yes, the Judgment at Sautee turned out to be an evening full of great surprises. I offer congratulations and thanks to Winemaker Joe Smith and to Yonah Mountain Vineyard Owners Bob and Jane Miller.  It was wonderful evening.