Blackberry Farm's Andy Chabot Talks Pairings, Grenache Love And What To Drink Now

Blackberry Farm's Andy Chabot talks pairings, Grenache love and what to drink now

Nestled at the foot of the Great Smoky Mountains, Blackberry Farm is an American culinary mecca: An on-site creamery, bakery and butcher supply The Barn's kitchen with cheese, bread and meat; heirloom seedlings are carefully tended in the extensive gardens; and foragers harvest wild muscadine grapes and huckleberries from deep in the Tennessee woods.

Add a James Beard Award to the bucolic bounty: sommelier Andy Chabot took home the national honor for Outstanding Wine Service. The 160,000-bottle collection is more than a decade in the making and includes older vintages and coveted verticals from some of the world's greatest wine estates, such as the Rhône Valley's famed Château Rayas.

Fresh from his Beard win, Andy Chabot spoke with us about wine education, food pairings and what to drink now.

Any hard rules about pairing wine and food?

Drink the wines you like and eat the foods you like, and I guarantee it will be a good experience for you. Beyond that, I can tell you that high acid wines are a godsend to food and wine pairings. They're so refreshing and cleansing, regardless of the food you're eating.

We talk a lot about the wine leaving room for the food and the food leaving room for the wine. If the wine seems sharp, or overly tannic, then perhaps food is exactly what is needed to make it shine. The same is true on the food side. Leave off that final squeeze of lemon juice and let the acid in the wine play that role.

Are there any particular grapes or wine styles that you tend to showcase at The Barn?

Syrah is a grape that, when it's made in a beautiful style, is hard to beat. We tend to lean towards elegant versions, like the wines from Peay Vineyards on the Sonoma Coast, or those from Côte-Rôtie, Saint-Joseph and Hermitage. Those lighter, more floral versions work really well with our light game and vegetable-driven dishes.

I also think we use Grenache a lot more than other restaurants do. It's a favorite of ours, and I don't think that a lot of people know it as a grape. They know Côtes du Rhône, and they've maybe had Gigondas or Châteauneuf-du-Pape, but they don't know they've been drinking Grenache. So we really love to showcase that in all its forms, whether it's from the Rhône Valley or Australia or the United States.

Are there any dishes in particular that work really well with those varietals?

Our chef Joseph Lenn does a dish that's really just a hearth-fried farm egg with chicken cracklings and some garlic-wilted watercress. He cooks it in chicken fat. We tried a number of wines, but the meatiness of the chicken fat made the dish really work well with a light, unoaked Grenache from southern France.

What are you drinking now?

The dry wines of Tokaj, and particularly the wines of István Szepsy if you can find them. He makes stunning wines from the grapes Furmint and Hárslevel? from historically important single vineyards.

And as far as Grenache is concerned, it's almost like you can't go wrong with the 2010 and 2011 vintages from Châteaufneuf-du-Pape. They are so tempting to drink now because of their freshness and vibrancy, for which the region is not normally noted. I like André Brunel's Les Cailloux Châteaufneuf-du-Pape; it's fresh and spicy and light on its feet.