John and I recently had the opportunity to taste and tour at Del Monaco Winery, a vineyard and winery at our own back door. While we were there we had delicious wine made from locally sourced grapes including the southern classic – muscadine wine.
There are a few varietals of grapes native to Tennessee such as muscadine grapes, concord, catawba, and niagara. Areas of Tennessee can also grow hybrid grapes including chardonel, noirette, and traminette. Just as Southern staples like Sweetwater Cheese and Belle Chèvre make cheese from their own sourced milk, I feel like it is especially important as a wine writer to feature wineries that have vineyards, grow their own grapes, and put emphasis on local heritage.
Bonné, writer of The New Wine Rules, says essentially that we as Americans are afraid of not coming across as wine snobs. This could not be more true. Staying in-tune to our roots includes learning more about pairing the wines from our own local soil. A Southern gourmet farm-to-table restaurant should serve southern harvested chardonel, not French Chassagne Montrachet chardonnay. I would love to see a movement where more Tennessee homes serve Southern wine with their heirloom recipes. Tennessee wine is the perfect pairing for fried green tomatoes.
With that being said, it is important to find your preferred sources of great local wine. There are a few characteristics to look for when choosing a good bottle of muscadine.
Muscadine wine is typically sweet, however, there is a difference in a wine with sweetness as opposed to wine that tastes sugary. Avoid any wine you would describe as syrupy or sugary. A barometer to determine a good muscadine wine is to observe if there is complexity behind the sweetness. The muscadine wine produced at Del Monaco is an immediate burst of juicy sweet pineapple, buttery vanilla custard with a finish of local honey and candied ginger. The sweetness should never overshadow the taste of the wine.
Muscadine is the perfect pairing for crispy buttermilk fried chicken, southern greens cooked in bacon fat, creamy rosemary herbed mashed potatoes, or pickled deviled eggs. Local wine is alway a good pairing choice for regional, seasonal food.
When I was around twenty years old we were attending a small rural church and I had the privilege of being ‘adopted’ by Granny Short. Every Tuesday night I would go visit her and be fed and taught how to cook classic Southern fare. We fried freshly caught catfish, made apple pies in a cast iron skillet, and had melt in your mouth collards cooked with bacon fat and drizzled with a bit of vinaigrette. I was barefoot and loving life in her kitchen. This was an introduction for me to the world of Southern hospitality and comfort food. These warm moments sparked a love of inviting people into my own kitchen.
The purpose of wine and entertaining is purely enjoyment. There is nothing more pleasurable to me than lingering in the kitchen, cooking foods from my heritage, sipping wine.
For the love of local food, consider serving some Tennessee table wine along with your Southern favorites.
Pull up a chair.
Take a taste.
Come join us.
Life is so endlessly delicious.