Blackberry Farm

This was a magnificent meal at Blackberry Farm, a place that had been on my bucket list for a while. It is considered one of the most luxurious and tranquil hotels and restaurants, not only in the United States, but the world. Most of this credit goes to the late Sam Beall, who created this haven and sanctuary for relaxation with the finest food from local farms, an incredible wine cellar of more than 100,000 bottles, and his generous and gracious Southern hospitality, backed up by an enthusiastic staff with meticulous attention to detail. My wife and I spent five days there, all of it an incredible experience, as the resort is spread over 9,000 acres. The scenery is just glorious, as is the hospitality, cuisine and wine selection.

That being said, words are almost useless in expressing the tragedy that occurred in late February of 2016, when 39-year-old Sam Beall was killed in a skiing accident at Beaver Creek, Colorado. His accomplishments in his short life are remarkable, but more important than that is the wisdom, love and generosity he shared with so many others. He lived a life that mattered to many, many people and gave of himself in so many ways. This was a man of extraordinary character and generosity. Humanity has indeed lost someone who is irreplaceable.

Our meal started with gorgeous local cuisine, including crispy pig ear and local mountain trout, then moved to a wonderful roasted guinea hen and imported lamb from Elysian Fields, a purveyor well regarded by many of the top restaurants in the country. The wines served with the crispy pig ear started with the Raveneau Forêt Chablis, which was outstanding, fully mature and best drunk up. But the real surprise was the absolutely magnificent Henri Boillot Criots-Bâtard-Montrachet, really a Grand Cru that is small and rarely encountered.

I thought the famous J.L. Chave White Hermitage would have a tough time following these two wines, but it was the perfect foil for a beautiful dish of mountain trout prepared with Carolina rice, peppers, pickled onion and Tennessee's most famous country ham, Benton's. This wine is still young and youthful. White Hermitage can go through awkward stages of development, but this was a beauty.

With the next course, we had the 2006 Château Rayas, the famous 100% Grenache from old vines and sandy soils in Châteauneuf du Pape. A delicate, finesse-styled wine that may be Châteauneuf's answer to Grand Cru red Burgundy in this particular vintage, this was a pretty wine, maybe lacking in power and density, but beautifully fragrant, rich and medium to full-bodied.

We followed that with a three-liter bottle of 1989 Château Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande, sent down from my cellar for this special occasion. The wine would have gone perfectly with the guinea hen, but there was a minor trace of damp cork in the wine that would not blow off, no matter how long we kept it in the decanter. Otherwise, the wine seemed incredibly youthful, with a dense purple color, tasting more like a ten-year-old wine than one that was coming up on thirty years of age in the next several years.

Lastly, we finished with a decadent, luxurious elixir, the 2003 Domaine du Pégaü Cuvée da Capo in a three-liter bottle. This was pure roasted Provençal herbs, kirsch liqueur, blackberry, licorice and new saddle leather. The wine is full-bodied, opulent and extravagant. This was a fabulous way to end a wonderful evening at Blackberry Farm, an idyllic location in the foothills near the entrance to Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

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