24 May 2006

Tennessee Wine Festival

On May 20th, my lovely traveling companion and I attended the A Toast to Tennessee Wine Festival. A good friend in Nashville scored us some tickets to the event, and we spent the day in Middle Tennessee both at the festival and visiting with my friend. The event was held at the Nashville Superspeedway, a NASCAR race track to the east of the city. As of now, I may be the only wine blogger who has attended a tasting at a NASCAR facility.

If you want to try Tennessee wines, this annual event is the place to do it. There's about two dozen wineries in the state, and fourteen of them were present. I tasted at least one wine from each winery, and out of the hundred-odd wines present I sampled 26. I primarily sought out wines made from grapes that were either Native American varieties or French-American hybrids. I tasted a few made from traditional European grapes. There were some more I wanted to try, but I think I reached the limit of my palate. For that reason I also skipped almost all of the fruit-based wines (berries, mostly, with one rhubarb wine). In addition to the wines, Tennessee cheesemakers and other food producers were present, offering samples of their wares. This was a nice treat--I got to try some great artisanal cheeses, as well as fresh salsas, sausages, etc.

There's not a lot of online information on these wines, though I've provided links to contact information. When referencing some of the more unusual grape varieties, I've provided links to the Appellation America Grapes Varieties Index, which provides humorous character profiles and illustrations of each grape in addition to hard information about the background and growing regions of said grapes.

Unless otherwise noted, nearly all wines were fermented in stainless steel. After a dozen unoaked wines, you find yourself craving oak. For those unfamiliar with Tennessee geography, West Tennessee is flat, Middle Tennessee is hilly, and East Tennessee is mountainous.

Lauderdale Cellars, West Tennessee
  • Tennessee Peach: A sweet white wine with peach juice added. A really beautiful color--it had that slight blush of salmon you see in homemade peach ice cream. Really sweet, though.

Chateau Ross Vineyard & Winery, Middle Tennessee
  • Viognier: Lemon and big fruit flavors, clear and clean.
  • Maison Rouge: Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot. Creamy, spicy, some vegetable elements from the Cabernet Franc. Really quite nice.
  • Big Bitch Red: Amusing names were in abundance at this wine festival... A combination of many different red grapes. Soft, not too tannic, but the flavors are too heavily blended for anything to stand above the crowd. Good basic red wine.
  • Catawba: Native American grape. Smoky, foxy, but not sweet. I've had Catawba before that was as sweet as pancake syrup, but it was interesting to taste a drier version of the wine. The... earthiness can be offputting to some.

Beans Creek Winery, Middle Tennessee
  • Traminette: Very similar to Gewürtztraminer, which is one of the parent grapes of this hybrid. Spicy and sweet, but a rough aftertaste.
  • Chardonel: The flavors were similar to Chardonnay, but it needed more acidity. The name reminds me somewhat of the artificial vanilla substitute vanillin, or that it's a grey-market knockoff of Chardonnay.
  • Chambourcin Reserve: Wow. Tastes very similar to Merlot, but there's something in the background letting you know it's different. Mellow and fruit-forward, mild tannins. Definitely try a Chambourcin if you get the chance. This was aged in American oak for 8 months.

Keg Springs Winery, Middle Tennessee
  • Vidal Blanc: This hybrid grape is commonly used for making ice wine in Canada. Musky nose, semi-dry and lemony. Needs a little more punch, but definitely worth trying.
  • Crusade: Made from Concord grapes, which are native to North America. Sweet, but the flavor is a lot of fun. Rather than reminding you of wine, the taste is exactly that of purple grape juice and purple grape jelly. In fact, the flavor threw me back to Sunday School. Concord wines aren't taken seriously, but I found them one of the pleasant surprises of the day.

Sumner Crest Winery, Middle Tennessee
  • Sumner Queen: A white blend of Riesling and French hybrids. Very sweet, difficult to discern any dominant flavors. Reminiscent of a late harvest Riesling.

Holly Ridge Winery and Vineyard, Middle Tennessee
  • Hogeye Red: A sweet blush wine of unknown grapes. Good summertime wine if you like them sweet.
  • Seyval Blanc: A hybrid that's quite popular in England. Overly musky with a thin flavor.

Beachaven Vineyards & Winery, Middle Tennessee
  • Barrelhead Red: Chambourcin and Merlot Blend. Dry, mild fruit flavors and medium tannins. Excellent casual drinking red.

Stonehaus Winery, Middle Tennessee
  • Fairfield Red: Another Concord that was on the drier side, thanks to blending from some European grapes.

Highland Manor Winery, Middle Tennessee
  • Highland Red: Chambourcin and Marechal-Foch blend. Sort of rough, cough syrup flavor.

Mountain Valley Vineyards, East Tennessee
  • Cynthiana: Merlot-like, with cherry flavors abounding. Very enjoyable.
  • Mountain Valley Blush: Unknown grapes. Semi-dry, no prominent flavors.

Tennessee Valley Winery, East Tennessee
  • Appalachian Red: A combination of Cabernet Franc and Cynthiana, oak aged. Solid tannins, black cherry flavors, and decent balance. I'd definitely try this again.
  • Captain's Reserve: Chardonnay and Seyval Blanc blend. Burnt match nose, ultimately thin flavors.

Apple Barn Winery, East Tennessee
  • Vineyard White: Unknown grapes. Dry, with low fruit flavors and low acids. Similar to Pinot Grigio.
  • Applewood White: Made from Winesaps and other apples. I cheated here, because I love apples and really wanted to try an apple wine. It turned out to be my favorite out of the entire tasting. It's hard to describe: not terribly sweet, but amazing apple flavors and aromas. Unique feel and body that is distinct from apple juice, apple cider, and hard cider.

Savannah Oaks Winery, East Tennessee
  • Etowah Derailer: Sweet light red blend, bright cherry flavors. Think a sweet Beaujolais, but I'm not sure what grapes were used.

Striker's Premium, East Tennessee
  • Cynthiana: Also known as Norton in different parts of the country. Considered to be one of the Native American grapes with the best prospect for serious wine production. Peppery and spicy, low tannins and crisp acidity for a red. Definitely looking forward to trying more of these wines in the future.
  • Baco Noir: A hybrid red that I really didn't enjoy. Astringent nose and tasted like thin cough syrup.


rhodies said...

Enjoyed finding Benito's Wine Review and his mentioning of Tennessee Norton (Cynthiana) produced wines. After visiting Kentucky's seven Norton grape vineyards, I'm ready to try TN's eleven similar wineries. Favorite Norton wines by state so far are: PA - Stone Mountain Cellars; VA - Cooper Vineyard; KY - Elk Creek Vineyards; GA - Three Sisters Vineyards; AL - White Oaks Winery; MO - Blumenhof & Chandler Hill Vineyards.

rhodies said...

Interested in Deep South Norton Wines (which includes Tennessee's 10 Norton producers)? Check out: http://wannabewino.com/2010/02/01/deep-south-norton-wine-travels/ Feel free to leave a comment.