What’s in the Norton Name? A Big Surprise

Norton, a hearty grape variety is one of the success stories in American regional wine.

May 9th, 2007

By Jeff Siegel Originally published by the Fort-Worth Star-Telegram www.star-telegram.com/166/story/88208.html (Freelance writer Jeff Siegel writes about food and wine for several national magazines. Here he writes for Fort-Worth Star-Telegram about his discovery of Norton wines in Texas, Missouri and Virginia.)

What do you do with a grape that loves hot weather, doesn’t mind cold weather and doesn’t suffer from most of the diseases that plague vineyards outside California? If you’re smart — and several wineries in Texas are — you grow it and use it to make distinctive, quality wine.

The grape is called Norton, and it’s one of the success stories in American regional wine.

It’s a native American grape that was identified in Virginia in the mid-19th century. Nortons made in Virginia and Missouri are respected around the country — big, dry red wines with bright berry fruit and tannins that can age for a decade.

So why haven’t you heard about Norton? “It’s because too many winemakers and winery owners go ‘Oh, ick, gooey, it’s a hybrid,'” says Dennis Horton of Virginia’s Horton Vineyards, which has been making Norton since 1989. “They’re more concerned about the image of their winery than they are about making good wine.”

In addition, since the grape is a hybrid, it’s not as easy to make Norton as it is cabernet sauvignon or merlot.

These challenges have not deterred those who believe in the grape, though, be it Horton or Angela Moench of Stone House Vineyard in the Hill Country.

If you want to try Norton, these wineries will ship it to you:

Texas: So far, Stone House (512-264-9759) has had the most success with Norton in the state. I tasted the Claros 2003 ($19) at the Hill Country Wine & Food Festival and was pleasantly surprised.

Virginia: Horton Vineyards’ (800-829-4633) current release is the 2003 Norton ($12), produced in a distinctly Virginian style and perfect for barbecue. Chrysalis Vineyards (800-235-8804) takes a more sophisticated, French-style approach with its Locksley Reserve 2003 ($35).

Missouri: St. James (800-280-9463) and Stone Hill (800-909-9463) make wines more in the style of Australian shirazes.

Stone Hill’s 2003 Norton ($18) is a classic example of the varietal, made to drink now or to age just like a fine French or California wine.

St. James’ 2004 Norton ($13.50) is not quite as big as the Stone Hill, which doesn’t detract from its quality. St. James, which makes some of the best Nortons in the world, has distribution in Tarrant County. Check with your local retailers to see if they carry it.

Freelance writer Jeff Siegel writes about food and wine for several national magazines. “The Wine Curmudgeon” column alternates with his “Wine of the Week” suggestions in the Food section. E-mail him at wine.curmudgeon@att.net.

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