By Doc Lawrence –
“Thomas Jefferson would be very proud,” David Hazelwood declared at the conclusion of a highly successful wine dinner. Southern Thymes Shared, (Pelican Publishing, 2014) the cookbook with wine pairings that follows Jefferson’s dining tradition of serving fresh Southern food with Old and New World wines, inspired the gourmet event. Hazelwood, who has read many scholarly books about Thomas Jefferson, added that the evening at Corner Mill, his gourmet restaurant on the Duck River in Normandy, Tennessee, had “historic implications.”
Cortner Mill began operating around 1823 as a gristmill. Perfectly preserved, the restaurant is on the Tennessee Whiskey Trail and near enough to the Jack Daniel and George Dickel distilleries to call them neighbors. Cortner Mill is where locals and tourists flock for fine wine and dinner prepared by a professional chef.
Prior to the five-course dinner, Southern Thymes Shared was introduced to dinner guests for signing and personalization. Speaking before a packed dining room, Hazelwood elaborated on the recipes and the wine selections. “Every bottle,” said Mr. Hazelwood, “came from a respected Southern winery.” The wines hailed from producers like North Carolina’s Biltmore Estate in Asheville to Natchez Hills Vineyard in Hampshire, Tennessee. But it was a delightful white wine from Louisiana that became the evening favorite.
Each course was prepared by Cortner Mill Chef Mason Heath and connected in spirit to many of the original recipes created by Lara Lyn Carter in Southern Thymes Shared. “Along with other knowledgeable friends, I met beforehand with Chef Mason and we came up with a menu that was true to the spirit of Southern Thymes Shared,” said Hazelwood. He added that the wines were chosen according to compatibility with the flavors of each dish.
Two of the wines were from Biltmore Estate. To greet guests, Biltmore’s NV Estate Brut sparkling wine was enjoyed with a spectacular amuse bouche, pickled okra with cream cheese and Tennessee country ham.
Hazelwood described the ruby red Biltmore Pinot Noir (2012) as soft and velvety, displaying full-bodied flavors of wild cherry. Because it was balanced, he explained, a slight acidity “didn’t hamper the reception on the palate or the finish.” Chef Mason’s spicy “Hopping Hoppin’ John” had layers of flavors that seemed to welcome the softness of this delicious wine.
The big surprise and going away the evening’s most popular wine was the 2011 Roux Saint Louis Blanc du Bois from Pontchartrain Vineyards in Covington, Louisiana. Estate grown, it was light white gold in appearance with a subtle tropical and citrus fruit nose. With refreshing acidity and a hint of immorality, this brightly refreshing wine paired beautifully with Chef Mason’s jazzed up lettuce wedge salad sprinkled with Benton County Bacon and smoked blu cheese.
Between courses, the fascinating origin of Blanc du Bois was discussed. Literally born in Florida through the joint efforts of the University of Florida and Lakeridge Winery near Orlando, the wine, named in honor of 19th century Florida wine pioneer Emile Dubois, has grown in popularity and is quite food friendly.
Riesling from a Southern winery? Absolutely. This rising star noble grape has long been a local favorite in Missouri, Texas and New York’s Finger Lakes, The choice for the evening entree was from Natchez Hills Vineyard in nearby Hampshire, Tennessee, a 2011 off-dry bright and crisp Riesling With homage to Chef Lara Lyn Carter, it was served with the pièce de résistance, pecan encrusted local catfish, accompanied with braised mustard greens and Chef Mason’s heritage spoon bread.
Cortner Mill continues to be a culinary tourism leader in Middle Tennessee. Much like Monticello in its heyday, guests come together to enjoy a meal prepared from locally sourced farm products with adventurous wines from an eclectic, inclusive cellar.
“This All-Southern wine dinner happened because of this wonderful cookbook,” Hazelwood observed. “Our evening of food, wine and good cheer honored Jefferson’s living culinary legacy.” Everything was interpreted and exquisitely prepared by Chef Mason, a Johnson and Wales graduate who has a very promising future.
Owned by David and Claudia Hazelwood, Cortner Mill has always been connected to food. On this evening, diners enjoy gourmet dishes with wines where local farmers once came to have corn ground into cornmeal and grits. A short distance away is the Hazelwood’s resort, Parish Patch Farm & Inn, a popular tourist retreat and corporate conference destination acclaimed for its beautiful natural surroundings and superb amenities.
The Hazelwoods embody Tennessee’s tradition of hospitality.