Gourmet Highway: New Tennessee Whiskey, Wine Labels & Food Journeys

By Doc Lawrence –

Traveling the greater South leads to discovery of food and good beverages, and where to find the best. This past year included one genuine surprise involving a legendary whiskey, arguably the most recognizable brand on the planet. There’s more: Respected wine experts-Master’s of Wine as they’re officially known-are urging some labeling on wine bottles to disclose what’s inside that we didn’t know. These are indicators of good news. Nothing reassures more than discovery and useful knowledge.

It’s a all-country menu at Bell Buckle Cafe


The latest edition of the Jack Daniel’s International Barbecue Competition, the most prestigious of its kind-concluded in Lynchburg, the gorgeous Tennessee village that reminds me of Ireland, and, of course, is home to the legendary distillery. This year’s festivities included news that gently rocked the world of distilled spirits.


Nearest Green was a free man when he worked alongside Jack Daniel in the mid-19th century. Descendants have verified the amazing story of Jack learning to make his whiskey from Nearest. Jack Daniel, never a slaveowner, went on to produce his signature Tennessee whiskey, the world’s most popular, firmly embedded in Americana and a fixture in bars everywhere. With the revelation, something Jack Daniel’s owners have graciously acknowledged, came the newest Tennessee whiskey. It’s Uncle Nearest 1856. I found a bottle and proudly report that it is outstanding: A solid American whiskey ranking with the best.

Do we know what we are drinking?


“The Jack,” as the barbecue event is known, allows time for a visit to nearby Normandy to dine at Cortner Mill Restaurant, David Hazelwood’s gourmet shrine in an ancient grist mill beside the mighty Duck River.  Another bright star in Tennessee’s culinary heritage lures me once more to Bell Buckle, a cozy small town, for dinner at the renowned Bell Buckle Cafe. Country cooking is the menu; you bring your own wine and whiskey with absolutely no corkage. The lagniappe is live music and with the surrounding countryside loaded with Nashville studio musicians you hear everything from Dylan to the Beatles with ample servings of Hank Williams classics.

Olivia Thomason’s Popular Print of “The Jack”


Isabelle Legeron is one of 369 experts honored as a Master of Wine. She is also France’s first female Master of Wine. From her platform in France, and through books, articles and lectures she is a highly respected advocate for wine labels that should disclose the extra ingredients beyond wine.  According to her, very few wine drinkers realize what goes into their favorite vintage, even if they are aware of the use of preservatives such as sulphites, which is shown on labels. She calls for all additives to be listed.


“Wine additives,” she said recently, like “extracts of dried fish bladders and animal pancreases should be listed on bottle labels to discourage their use.” You can almost hear thunderous support for disclosure.

The New Tennessee whiskey with a powerful story


Many wine enthusiasts are careful about what they consume but may not know the bottle they are about to pop on New Year’s Eve or Valentine’s Day contains a fish derivative, a binding agent used in many sparkling wines. Even professionals may not know how what is in a particular bottle of wine.


“People today pay a lot of attention to what they eat so why not to what they drink?” Ms Legeron said. “We’re still in the dark ages when it comes to the wine industry.


Because wine is a farm product, in fact a food, consumers should not think of it in a different category. Wine drinkers, she advises, “should not buy a wine if we don’t know how it’s made.”

The Barbecue Champions of “The Jack”


Traveling along the Gourmet Highway opens up new dining adventures along with the discovery of exciting distilled spirits and wines ready for their debut in the marketplace. A little added knowledge is a valuable bonus.


Old school journalism describes the style and stories produced by Doc Lawrence. “In everything I do,” he says, “there is a beginning, middle and an end.” One of the top travel writers in the country, Doc is steeped in the heritage of the deep south. Traveling the back roads from Texas to Virginia and on down to Key West inspires stories about local food and wine preferences, community theater, folk art and music often leading to clues for a good story. Heroes include Faulkner, Hemingway, Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, Ralph Ellison, Flannery O’Connor, Dorothy Parker, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Jack Daniel and Willie Morris. An Atlanta native, Doc keeps a well-stocked wine cellar and bar and two outdoor grills. He enjoys entertaining and believes that the greatest challenge for a writer is to keep searching for a higher life. www.thegourmethighway.com | doclawrence@mindspring.com
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