Capital of Tennessee and the the twenty-fifth most populous city in the United States, Nashville manages to simultaneously seem both larger and smaller than it really is. It occupies that big range of American cities that are home to less than one million but more than half a million residents, a skyline dominated by tall buildings yet everywhere a small neighborhood (and, both oddly and famously, a replica of the Parthenon).
Nashville International Airport (BNA) is a growing airport that features on the list of former American Airlines hubs that have since been colonized by Southwest Airlines. It feels a bit dated in parts, but is clean and lively. Lacking the constant passenger movement of a busy hub, traffic in the corridors ebbs and flows throughout the day. You'll find that the unique music in the restaurants make the small and docile (yet comfortable) Admirals Club and Sky Club seem bland. There's a safe bet that you're flying in on a small(ish) commuter-style plane if you're not flying Southwest. That lack of economy of scale seems to push airfare to the high side, with tickets from the coasts sometimes equalling what you'd expect on a transcontinental flight. Well worth it.
Tasting by Day
Tennessee isn't known for its wine, but you get the sense that this city's musical spirit breeds an inkling for experimentation.
First on our tasting list was Arrington Vineyards, located about thirty five minutes from downtown in scenic Arrington, TN. Co-owned by Kix Brooks of country music duo Brooks & Dunn, we give the winery credit for taking its craft seriously, rather than resting on the obvious laurels of its famed owner. Co-owner and wine maker Kip Summers embraces his state's reputation for whisky, aging the Antebellum blend of Chambourcin, Cab Sauv, Syrah, and Sangiovese in used Tennessee Whisky barrels. We also felt that the headliner KB cab could be a winner, though they're serving it far too early in the tasting room; the seventh edition from 2013 needs a lot of time in bottle to reach its full potential. Though sure to delight casual drinkers and bachelorette parties with its expansive outdoor space, Arrington's winery experience may irritate serious wine drinkers. A veritable zoo of people, the staff copes with extraordinary popularity manifest in the four hour wait time we were initially offered for a spot at the tasting bar. Already priced fairly appropriately for a winery in a place not named California or Oregon, they'd do well to put some time into a more robust pay-to-play option for visitors who prefer a quiet moment to the carnival. We also think they'd be more efficient (and raise the aggregate quality of their wine) if they slimmed down the menu's twenty-one bottles to a more focused list, even eight to ten of their very best.
Nashville City Winery
Many ways Arrington's opposite, the Nashville City Winery is part of a growing trend of American "urban winemaking". As part of the "City Winery" chain of combination winery and venue, NCW lacks the uber local character of owner-winemaker places like Travessia in New Bedford, MA and Amigoni in Kansas City, MO. That said, we absolutely loved the fusion of music venue and winery in a way that feels exactly as it should: modern yet authentic, big yet cozy. Bartender Cameron's impressive knowledge of what he was pouring tells us that these folks are as serious about wine education as they are about wine making. While many visitors will sip in blissful ignorance, the obvious love of wine we found here should play well for millennials who crave a good backstory to go with their wine. Winemaker Bill Anton has three standouts on an all-around solid lineup. The Sauvignon Blanc shows the most personality among the whites, giving us a touch of grass without making us feel like we're drinking a field. The Rose of Cab Sauv is dark for a rose, almost like a light Pinot Noir, giving us some candied strawberry that is lighter in the mouth than the nose lets on. For a red, the Cabernet Franc's notes of cranberry, raspberry, and pepper are completely transformed through swirling in the glass, and give you something unique to love. We tried a flight of everything, but NCW would be well served to improve its small glass tasting options for those looking for a tasting - rather than a bar - experience.
We diverged from wine to try the lineup of beer and spirits at the Corsair "brewstillery", and found it an odd experience. They make absolutely phenomenal beer that will delight lovers of brew and vino alike. The Barley Wine stood out, reminding us simultaneously of beer, wine, and whisky with its raisin and nutty qualities that seemed almost like a mashup of Oloroso and Pedro Ximenez Sherry wines disguised as delicious beer. The Juniper IPA gave us pine, lavender, and (surprise!) juniper without overpowering the senses as so many IPAs do. We wish we had equally great things to say about the spirits, but though we managed tiny tastes of the interesting Oat Rage and Triple Smoked, we found that the staff at the spirits bar simply couldn't be bothered with us. Fifteen minutes of nothing to show after ordering a tasting round, we left wondering why fellows pouring the good stuff just couldn't seem to care about us. This was a place we really wanted to love!
Dining by Night
Nashville is home to an immense number of evening attractions that you'll read about in any travel guide. We had a lot of fun eating BBQ at Edley's, drinking beer at the Honky Tonks, taking in the music at the Grand Ole Opry, and taking in the eighth wonder of the world Opryland Hotel - they're great, worth experiencing yourself - but not why we write Wine:Thirty Flight.
For dinner there is the spectacular Etch Restaurant, well located nearby to so many other places you'd want to be. Etch is sleek, modernly put together, and full of friendly and knowledgable staff offering you a full menu of intricately blended flavors. We loved that our sommelier was not just expansive in knowledge, but that he recommended a wine specifically based on our brief discussion and his pairing choice across a variety of dishes... despite the fact that it was less expensive than the bottle we had originally contemplated. Quality breeds confidence breeds integrity. These folks love what they do. Our friend enjoyed the Grilled Filet, but I suggest trying something truly unique whenever you're dining in such a place, so I went with the Venison Chop and the medley of flavors that were basmati rice cake, cashew butter, cherry vadouvan lamb meatballs, greens, coconut ginger vinaigrette, coffee cardamom sauce, and mango. The juxtaposition of very lean meat (venison) and a more fatty contrast (lamb) played very well. No wonder that Etch was listed on Zagat's 20 Top-Rated Restaurants Across America in late 2013, and Tennessee's entry on Business Insider's Best Restaurant in Every State in 2015.
The Patterson House
The spirit of anti-prohibition Governor Malcolm Patterson (1907-1911) lives on as The Patterson House. Visitors should not be fooled by this local favorite's decidedly low key appearance, for behind its nondescript facade looking like little more than an ordinary street corner home lies a speakeasy style shrine to the cocktail, staffed by some of the most knowledgable drink mixers We've ever encountered. They can match your mood with the perfect cocktail from their impressive leather bound list. The whisky-based Diplomatic Finesse was a winner of intensity, while the gin-inspired Juliet & Romeo offered a lighter more approachable counterpoint. The dim lighting and shelves of old books complete the experience. We finished two of three nights here.