DeBarge Vineyards and Winery is the culimination of a series of projects headed by Dr. Raymond DeBarge, an eye surgeon in Fort Oglethorpe, Georgia. The urban winery is located in Chattanooga, Tennessee (a city right on the Georgia border) in the Southside Historic District, not too far from the campus of UT Chattanooga. The vineyards are in Northwest Georgia on Pigeon Mountain. The winery allows for people to experience winemaking without making a trip to the countryside, while the vineyards provide a bucolic background for weddings or other special events.
Dr. DeBarge has had a passion for grape growing and winemaking since the 90s, and the urban winery opened in 2012. He faced a conundrum familiar to Tennessee wine lovers: the grapes that grow best here are French-American hybrids, and the native style is sweet and strong, while the mainstream wine enthusiast goes in the opposite direction. The palates of Tennesseans are changing, and an interest in milder wine styles combined with the growing locavore movement presents a great opportunity for this winery. With a combination of traditional European varieties as well as the hybrids, there's a little something for everyone.
The first four wines come from the Georgia vineyards, while the last two are made in Chattanooga from west coast grapes. Thankfully, the bottles are not misleading at all and the back labels explain the origins. It's a refreshing contrast to the shenanigans in Texas. All of the wines sampled here are enclosed with screwcaps and most are available from the website. Two of the whites had just been bottled and were shipped as advance samples before the labels had been delivered.
Chardonnel & Cayuga White
$15, 13% abv.
Humorous wine names are common in the southeast, and this one got a laugh out of me. The nose is somewhere between Chardonnay and Moscato but the flavor is very mild, dry, and has a clean finish. Some initial foxy notes but overall it is light and pleasant. I've had a lot of hybrid grapes in the past and this is by far the most elegant presentation that I've tasted. I would strongly recommend it as a Thanksgiving wine, not just for the American nature of it, but also the approachability from both wine novices and more experienced palates.
NV DeBarge Chattaboogie Blanc
Traminette, Cayuga White, Vidal Blanc, and Viognier
$18, 12.5% abv.
This is the type of musky and sweet white wine that is indicative of the region. It opens up with hints of clover and honeysuckle that bring back memories of hot summer days. While sweet, it is not cloying and comes across as refreshing with a light picnic of cold fried chicken and potato salad.
2013 DeBarge Albariño
$18, 13% abv.
Albariño has been surprising me a lot recently, having tasted outstanding versions from Oregon and California, lands far from its Spanish home. I was excited to try this one and it did not disappoint. Intriguing lime zest aroma with very restrained citrus flavors and a gentle, mineral finish. A little bigger body than cold climate Albariño, but really quite nice and a wine that would go great with roast trout and fresh asparagus. Also a good one to bring along to your next blind tasting party just to stump everyone.
45% Cabernet Franc, 45% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 10% Chambourcin
$27, 12.5% abv.
A little Bordeaux-style with a hybrid contribution from the Chambourcin. Lovely plum and black cherry aromas. The dark fruit profile follows through on the tongue, with firm tannins and a little tea in the background. I'd love to see this one paired with a well-roasted venison sirloin.
2009 DeBarge Cabernet Sauvignon
$25, 13.5% abv.
The grapes for this wine were sourced from Washington. Again, the Bordeaux influence is evident with this bottle. Very light with a nice whiff of green tobacco and leather. Gentle cassis flavors with mild tannins and a smooth finish. Open up for steak night and enjoy an after dinner cigar under the moonlight.
2012 DeBarge Zinfandel
Wine Club Exclusive, 17% abv.
Sourced from California, in the grand tradition of Zinfandel grapes headed to the east. This is a big wine, clocking in at alcohol levels near Port and reminiscent of some of the big Shiraz that came out of Australia in the past decade. Lots of fruit flavor but not sweet, with a focus on blackberry and chocolate flavors. It is rich with medium tannins, and I'd recommend this with soft white and bleu cheeses as a tasty dessert course.
Note: These wines were provided as samples for review.