Food Issue - Around the world: Napa

Drinking in the view at Le Vigne

Thursday October 21, 2010 04:00 am EDT

There's a game I like to play while driving down country roads. I ask myself, "If I were to be dropped from the sky in this exact spot, would I be able to discern my location? Could I distinguish between the fields and tobacco barns of North Carolina and the slightly hazier beauty and redder soil of Georgia? The picturesque stone fences of Connecticut and the starker, grander Massachusetts countryside?" I like to think so. But teleport me to the dining room of Le Vigne at Montaluce, with its high villa ceilings, and dramatic glass walls overlooking rolling hills covered in grapevines, and I would bet I was in California's famed wine country.

Georgia's wine country isn't exactly famed yet, and it also has yet to find its own distinct personality. But for now, with imitation as a sincere form of flattery to our big brother winemakers in the West and cousins across the pond, we have vineyards that model themselves on California and Europe. Montaluce presents itself as a kind of Italy-meets-California destination, with a town impersonating a classic Italian village and a winery building that looks like a villa but has a modern woodsy California interior. Approximately an hour and a half from Atlanta in Dahlonega, the restaurant and winery provide a romantic destination that feels like a world, or at least a few dozen states, away.

At the winery's restaurant, Le Vigne, young chef Steven Hartman toys with Southern flavors, upgrading them to fine dining while maintaining an endearing sense of simplicity. Rich braised short ribs sit atop creamed leeks for a dish that straddles the line between upscale hotel cooking and more thoughtful, down-home food. Blueberries nestled next to perfectly crisped sweetbreads are lightly smoked, lending an unexpected twist to the rich dish. Desserts are particularly alluring, as is the all-Southern cheese selection.

OK, so, Southern cheese, Southern menu sensibilities ... perhaps we are firmly in the South after all. But the view, and even the wines (the whites are especially impressive) make you feel as though you're somewhere with all the romance and beauty of California, but with our own brand of hospitality.

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