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Wines of the South

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Photo by Allston McCrady

Turns out bourbon is not the only great adult beverage coming from Kentucky. Nor whiskey from Tennessee. Nor the newest craze of legal moonshine from Tennessee and North Carolina. Nor vodka from South Carolina. Nor craft brews from North Carolina. Nor organic gins from Virginia. Yes, all of the above are fabulous, but how many of us sit around talking about Southern wines?

I recently had the pleasure of serving as a judge at the annual Wines of the South competition in Knoxville, Tennessee. Wineries from 14 Southern states submitted their finest bottles for consideration. I was … well, wary at first. By global standards, Southern wines are young. California has been at it since the 1770s, and across the great pond they’ve been perfecting the art for thousands of years. But here in the South? We all know about Thomas Jefferson’s early experiments with vines in Virginia, but it might surprise you to know that Kentucky and Arkansas has been fiddling with winemaking since the early 1800s, followed by North Carolina and Georgia. There have been hiccups along the way (blights, Prohibition), but now advancements in science and knowledge are yielding positive results across the board.

I was assigned to the merlot room, where I sat facing off a flight of nine merlots and nine cabernet francs. Coincidentally, there was a Zombie Convention taking place in an adjacent building, with attendees in full-on gory make-up. To avoid becoming a zombie myself, I made sure to follow the four S rule: Swirl, Sniff, Sip/Savor, and SPIT. Two Kentucky merlots merited a second and third Sip, however, and inspired self-invented rule #5: Enjoy.

To check out this year’s winners, including a Virginia viognier, and a Tennessee syrah, visit http://www.conferencesandnoncreditprograms.utk.edu/winesouth/winners/2012.html

And hightail it to your nearest winery.