Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Wine critic: Missouri's Norton grape will rival Europe's best

At the 1873 Vienna World Exposition, a Norton wine from the Hermann, Missouri, region was named "Best Red Wine of All Nations," according to one historical record. (Can't confirm. I didn't catch that particular Expo.)

The same year as the Expo, one well-known wine critic of the time (I won't mention his name to prevent embarrassment to his grandkids) definitively declared that Missouri's Norton grape will rival the best Europe had to offer. (Of course, that was about the same time the Phylloxera louse wiped out Europe's vineyards.)

On the hill overlooking Hermann, Stone Hill Winery had become the second-largest wine producer in the United States by the late 19th century. (Take that Santa Cruz Hills and Napa.)

Then in 1920, puff, prohibition deflated the Hermann Norton balloon.

Honestly, unless you are from Virginia, like my assistant Tamarah, had you ever heard of the Norton grape?
But wait till you hear about the health benefits of Dr. Norton grape in my next blog. Pinot noir and Cabernet sauvignon, pull over to the slow lane.

Above: View of Hermannm, Missouri, from one of Stone Hill Winery's vineyards. In the distance is St. George Catholic Church (build 1915) and the courthouse– the only such public building in America erected entirely with private funds.
Above: Hermann, which sits on a bluff above the Missouri River, seen from the deck of one of the historic Inn at Hermannhof suites. Sorry about the foreground trees being in the way. I couldn't get a permit to cut them down.


John said...

Did you drink this wine? If so what do you think?

TNWT said...

There are 239 Norton wineries today in 23 states. Finding that exceptional Norton wine is like kissing a lot of toads to find that prince(ss). After tasting over 100 different Norton wines from sixteen states, we have found a few exciting Nortons and a handful of other really good wine example. Many people want instant wine gratification upon purchase, but here is where that does not work since most Norton wines need to be put away for several years, ~ something most people are not willing or able to do. To date, we've found only a few "drink now" Norton wines; as, Westphalia and Peaceful Bend in Missouri and Castle Gruen in Virginia. And wineries that hold back their wines four or five years also consequently charge you more for these wines (Stone Hill Cross J Norton as example). But not to discourage you in Norton wine purchases, make sure to let your Norton wine breathe for no less than 40 minutes before serving. Your first sip will smack you of malic acids (+ tannins), but quickly settle down with the second sip, etc. Depending on your travel location, do try the best Norton wines within the following states: White Oaks (AL); Mount Bethel (AR), Three Sister (GA); Century Farms (TN); Elk Creek (KY); Stone House Vineyards (TX), Castle Gruen, Cooper, DuCard, Chrysalis (VA); Stone Mountain Cellars (PA), Heinrichshaus, Stone Hill's Cross J, Montelle, Robller, Peaceful Bend and Westphalia (MO). Please do not compare Norton wine to California and European vinifera, since it's truly an American wine which reflects our American culture. Doug Frost, a Kansas City wine writer and master sommelier expressed Norton wines best as "powerful, muscular, crazy intense in malic acid and capable of staining teeth or even wineglasses. [The wine is] probably something most drinkers have to learn to love, with its rough and rustic personality often evident." Another concern for many is the cost of Norton wines. Realize that grape production can be less than one third per acre with Norton grapes as compared to other grape yields because of its small size and extremely seedy fruit. There are other factors involved also, but generally expect to pay $18-$25 per bottle. Most less expensive Norton wines reflect anticipated quality, but here we also have some fine exceptions; as, Horton ($12-$15 VA), St. James ($8-15 MO), Illinois Cellars ($7 IL). Century Farms ($12 TN) and White Oaks ($13 AL). Try to find Norton vineyards with older vines which combine well with more experienced Norton vintners. But here again, we have been pleasantly surprised with new Norton upstarts who make amazing blends to camouflage their young green Nortons. Do yourself a favor by enjoying Todd Kliman's novel-like-Norton biography, The Wild Vine, with a Norton wine in hand.

Janis said...

Honestly, I had only had one Norton wine before Missouri and I can still viscerally re-experience it vividly: it was awful.

The few I experienced in Missouri for me were OK with dinner. But I was a little on overwhelm because in a limited amount of time, I also needed to taste Chardonel, Seyval Blanc, Vidal Blanc and a list of other wines I didn't have much experience with.

Janis said...

TNWT, How did you gather such an impressive knowledge of Norton? Thank you for your suggestions. Your comments remind me of experiencing Pinot noir grapes and wines here in Oregon.