Definitely not the Langenlois Wine Hike, but we did find a couple of quaffable gems.

Our verdict? đŸ·đŸ·(out of 4)

Wanting to give Anna Grace some personal space for an afternoon we pointed the wagon toward Pigeon Forge and the Rocky Top Wine Trail on Sunday, fingers crossed we might sample something not Muscadine Mist or Mountain Berry.

Fruit wines (not those from fermented grapes) are a big deal here in the South. Of course they are; SweetWine is the grownup version of SweetTea.*

Our first stop of the five on this particular trail was Mill Bridge Winery. The setting was lovely, a restored mill house in the historic mill district, itself a bit touristy. We had visions of enjoying a glass of something with a small cheese plate while soaking up the view and listening to the Little Pigeon River below.

Though Tennessee began “opening” more than one month ago, the state is not fully back up to tempo. Alas, the nibblies and cheese boards that go along with wine tastings are not yet permitted, so all we could do was sample the wine, and even that we could only do indoors for some reason. Unfortunately, we declared this first tasting a failure. The unpalatable wine aside (flat finish on the white and a regrettable red), the “Wine Taster Person” (are they Sommeliers?) seemed bored with her job and could not answer even simple questions about the wine. We left the winery disappointed. The nearby general store into which we wandered had quite a few products to inspire the general populace to make us chuckle, however. Who isn’t all for making flavor great again?

Mountain Valley Winery was our second on our list, and a 180 degree change from the first stop. Though this winery, too, specializes in fruit wines, including a ‘Red Velvet’ wine that tastes like a slice of cake (I did not sample; I’m just quoting the lit)Â đŸ€ą, they thankfully had an enjoyable and somewhat complex Chardonnay from California grapes, along with a Rhubarb Wine. That we adored. Made from Michigan Crimson Rhubarb, as Tennessee is too warm for the “pretty celery” to grow, the wine had a palate-pleasing sweet-tart taste and a grapefruit-y finish. It will pair delightfully as a #gspritz with something spicy on the grill. We purchased two bottles.

At Mountain Valley we also learned about “Wine Freezers,” which are basically alcoholic slushies. They, too, came in cringeworthy flavors like Peach and Blueberry.  One can purchase them in bulk, like freezer pops. A hard pass for us.

Our final stop was at Hillside Winery. Though there are five stops on this trail the final two were not contenders: a winery and cider house featuring apple-based libations. At Hillside we sampled, and quite enjoyed Sonata, a sparkling white made from the marriage of Chardonel grapes (grown right here in Tennessee!) with Videl Blanc. One more for the tote.

A surprise red, Barbera, was the final addition to our collection. I forgot to note the grapes, but Tony and I decided it would play nicely on a slightly cooler summer evening on the terrace with a grilled steak. Bonus points for the labels being created by a local artist, too. 

*Now it was definitely time for lunch. Pigeon Forge is notably a tourist destination filled with restaurants at which we do not dine. Not that we are food snobs, it’s just that most of the restaurants serve variations on the same theme, pub food; and none of them take reservations. I will never queue for pub food. Add to that the reduced indoor seating because of the coronavirus, and our options were lean.

The parking lot at a place named Quaker Steak & Lube (one can guess the theme) was not overly crowded, but we did not know whether that was a good sign. Or a bad omen. It turned out to be a good sign. A very, ghost-pepper-dust-where-have-you-been-all-my-life good sign. Remembering American portion sizes in chain restaurants, we decided to share the Chicken Club and a “medium” order of their house specialty, wings. I also remembered to ask for every sauce “on the side,” lest we be brought a drippy, saucy mess.

The Club was unremarkable, oh well. But the wings?  Not only was the standard wing sauce a perfect marriage of spice, vinegar and heat; but the little dish of Ghost Pepper Dust that one could dip into was chef’s-kiss hot damn. (Yes, of course, half of the wings came home with us, along with an extra dish of that dust.) We won’t make a special trip to Pigeon Forge for the wings, especially now that tourist season is firing up, but they will remain on the radar.

*About that asterisk. At the QSL we both ordered “Unsweetened” Tea. Without missing a beat our wait staffer asked, “Would you like sweetener with that?” đŸ€”