Antebellum {a Tennessee Red Wine from Arrington Vineyards}

Yes. Tennessee not only makes wine; it grows its own grapes, too. The award-winning wines from Arrington Vineyards are particularly exemplary of the unique and delicious work being done in the South’s viticulture, and one of their flagship releases, Antebellum, is a fine expression of the growing industry with a somewhat troubled history.

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To use up otherwise useless tracks of land, Tennessee cashed in on grape growing as a substantial economy in the late 1800s. But all of that came to a screeching halt with prohibition in 1919. In the past few decades, however, there’s been a serious boom with a number of successful wineries for Tennessee to be proud of, and Arrington Vineyards (AV) seems to be leading the charge. With humble beginnings as a small vineyard, AV has been growing steadily for the past decade. Owned by John Russell (the businessman), Kip Summers (the winemaker), and Kix Brooks of Brooks and Dunn (the face), AV works laboriously to craft its own vision of “Nashville Wine Country.” And it’s simply stunning. Soft rolling hills and verdant foliage freckled with charming and rustic history. Its bucolic and whimsical landscape is perfect for an afternoon picnic or an enchanting farmhouse wedding. But the history of viticulture and winemaking in this part of the country is even more alluring.

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The south’s climate is not exactly ideal for growing grapes, at least not the varieties we are used to seeing. Some of the usual suspects appear: Syrah, Chardonnay, etc. Most of these familiar varieties are purchased from other grape growing regions in the US, predominantly California and Oregon. When the Tennessee wines do feature their own grapes, they are two hybrid species developed around the same time that Tennessee farmers started cultivating in the late 1800s: Noiret and Chambourcin. Chambourcin was specifically engineered to resist fungus, and both offer early-season ripening and deep flavor and color. Basically, these grapes were designed to grow in climates where grapes don’t usually grow. It’s great for business, but an odd concept to those familiar with old-school practices, and even possibly offensive to more oenophilic sensibilities.

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The wines at AV are well wrought. Summers is a masterful winemaker, taking somewhat mediocre grapes and making delicious and consistent wines that continue to win awards. All have enough quaff-ability and subtle charm to grace any occasion. Especially for those who prefer fruit-forward wines that tend towards the sweet side. The early ripening of the Chambourcin and Noiret grapes allows for an early harvest but with enough concentrated sugars in the fruit to ensure big, juicy wines before the nightly temperatures drop too low. The Antebellum is no exception.

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The Antebellum embodies everything the folks at AV love about the past and its history. It’s a big, bold, and earthy drink. Broodingly dark with deep flavors and aromas that hint of the ghosts of the pre-war past. The Antebellum is a blend of Noiret and Chambourcin and spends an exceptionally long time in oak. This deepens the flavor and gives the wine some serious confidence and tannic grip. A tenacious red. It expresses dark fruit like boysenberry, black currant, and blackberry with some moody hints of licorice, spice, wet earth, and leather. Such a big wine deserves a big, mean meal. I’d serve this bad boy with barbecued red meat straight off the bone. No joke.

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The winery was a great experience, and I’m confident that the wines will please most new-world palates. But as somewhat of a biodynamic, all-natural, small-production wine snob, I wasn’t terribly impressed with the wines. But that in no way means these aren’t well-made wines. They are just different. Different grapes, different land, different philosophy. The aura of the place itself is enchanting, and I strongly recommend anyone to check them out if you find yourself in the Nashville area. It’s a growing and important part of this wonderful city and somewhat under the radar. If you can’t make it to the winery, at least join the Kix Wine Club and order a few bottles to experience these unique wines and a snap shot into a growing imbibing culture in Tennessee that’s not at the bottom of a bottle of Jack.

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Nicholas Stanton

Bartender/Sales Associate at Craft Wine & Beer
I am strongly rooted in the Reno community. I believe in radically local ethics and the consumer support of micro communities. A large component of this is in the arts to express our realities, outdoor activities to encourage health and a deep care for the environment and food and drink culture to support local producers, farmers, and businesses. When I'm not geeking out and purveying new and exciting products at Craft Wine & Beer, I can be found cycling around town, reading literature of the Americas and dense philosophy and critical theory. Oh yeah, and keeping my two neurotic Border Collies entertained.
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1 comment… add one
  • Mike Demonbreun October 5, 2015, 6:36 am

    Bought this bottle and a few others and find it quiet appealing in taste and aroma. Did like it with a cigar that I had purchased about a week ago. Have a variety of wines from Penflods to Layer Cake to Beringer Wines and find them unique in taste depending on time of day which is late evening after letting it sit for 30 or so minutes.

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