Monday, August 13, 2012

Wine Country Tennessee: Grinder's Switch Winery


Tennessee's wine industry - like that of so many other American states - thrived until Prohibition killed it. Today, a rebirth is underway, with 33 wineries listed by the Tennessee Winegrowers Alliance.  Grape growers in the Volunteer State have turned to French hybrid grapes, since they are resistant to grape diseases common to humid climates.

Grinder's Switch Winery is located in Centerville, southwest of Nashville and a little south of Interstate 40.  The town is more famous as the birthplace of country music great Minnie Pearl, but Joey Chessor is working on making wine as famous in Centerville as "How-DEEE!"

Joey Chessor is the owner and winemaker for Grinder's Switch Winery.  He named the 110-acre estate after a nearby stretch of train track.  He explained to me, "Grinder's Switch is nothing more than a railroad siding on a country road.  Minnie Pearl made Grinder's Switch famous when she was alive, through funny tales about an imaginary town named Grinder's Switch.  Although the switch is about 3 or 4 miles away, we thought it was a neat name and used it for ours.  So we decided to go with the train theme for our estate labels.  Besides, my 5 year old grandson, Jack, LOVES trains."

The labels for Grinder's Switch wines are very retro black and white drawings of train locomotives.  I mentioned to Chessor that I remember a classic rock group named Grinderswitch, too.  He remembers them as well.  "We have couple of albums that were given to us by a customer framed and hanging on the tasting room wall."

Chessor's wines are award-winners, including the prestigious "Wines of the South" competition.  He told me that "2010 was a very long hot summer, so keep that in mind as you taste the reds.  2011 was much better as a growing season.”

Dixiana Tennessee Traminette 2011
The estate grown Traminette is new - it should be released by the time you read this.  There's an easy-drinking 12% abv number on it.  In the glass, it shows a straw color with green highlights.  Aromas of dried apricots and limes highlight the aromatic bouquet.  A very strong minerality also is present on oth the nose and the palate.  That earthy taste is joined by apricots, lime zest and grapefruit.  The acidity is razor sharp - its a powerfully refreshing sip, which demands food.  Raw oysters, calamari and lobster should pair nicely.  $16

Three Eighty Two Tennessee Chambourcin 2010
This red wine is slightly higher on the alcohol scale, although moderate at 13.3% abv.  The grapes are estate grown.  I expected a more translucent appearance from a Chamboucin, but this one is inky black.  The nose is striking - tarry blackberry fruit with vanilla notes and a hint of eucalyptus.  The aromas put me in mind of Cabernet, not Chambourcin.  It's fruit-forward on the palate, with an intriguing minerality riding close behind.  I can taste the oak influence, but it's a welcome addition, not overdone.  The tannic structure is good - toothy, but it doesn't bite.  This wine needs a pork chop or a plate of baby back ribs for full expression, but the pleasure of sipping it is not diminished in the absence of food.  $20.

Zephyr Tennessee Red Blend
This red table wine carries a lightweight 12.2% abv number, even though it's a blend of two grapes one expects to see at higher alcohol levels - Cabernet Sauvignon and Touriga Nacional.  The Portuguese grape is really a surprise - there's little enough of it grown in California, so I didnt expect it from Tennessee.  It's a medium-dark wine with oak aromas plain enough and fruit that puts me in mind of Napa-meets-Port.  This wine really tastes great.  Juicy fruit and mouth-watering acidity is always a good combination.  Again, I'm wishing for a pork chop, but a steak would pair quite well.  The tannins are a little softer than in the Three Eighty two, but they are strong enough to do their work.  $20

If 2010 was an off-year for Tennessee grapes, I can't wait to taste what 2011 has to offer.


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