Monday, July 1, 2019

Missouri Wine: Norton - Missouri's Official State Grape

The Norton grape has been the backbone of the Missouri wine industry through the industry's rise in the second half of the 19th century and the modern era. It was a Norton wine that was declared the "Best Red of All Nations" at an 1873 International competition in Vienna, Austria - a feat repeated in several other subsequent world fairs. At the same time nurseries, such as Bush & Son & Meissner near St. Louis, were propagating the grape throughout the Midwest and most likely France too. These Missouri nurseries are credited with saving Europe’s vineyards in the late 19th century after the phylloxera crisis by supplying disease-resistant rootstock. A major reason for its popularity is that Norton vines are very hardy and vigorous, resistant to numerous vine diseases and other growing problems such as downy mildew, powdery mildew, and bunch rot.

Post-prohibition, When Jim and Betty Held purchased the old Stone Hill Winery in 1965 - a winery that was once the second largest winery in the U.S. - they made Norton the lynchpin of their operation. Today it is the pride of their winery, as well as many other Missouri wineries, as Norton wine has become the most popular varietal wine in the Show Me State. It's easy to see why the Missouri Wine and Grape Board designated Norton Missouri's signature grape.

During our three day tour of the Kansas City area Missouri wineries, our group tasted several Norton wines representing various styles and geographic regions. In some instances, the wine was labeled Cynthiana which DNA suggests is the same grape but perhaps a distinct clone. The most widely produced styles are the big and bold reds that provide concentrated blackberry and dark cherry flavors and subtle spices, with the best versions taming the highly acidic and astringent character of the grape. Although Norton wines are low in tannins, the high acids encourage cellaring where older Nortons acquire a rounder profile with notes of chocolate and vanilla. Here are some of the group's favorite Norton wines.

Maureen Blum - MoWino
The St. James Winery Winemaker Series Norton 42 spoke to me at first swirl, sniff and impactful sip! As with many Norton wines, the dusty terroir flowed along in the long finish but it was the ripples of bright dark fruits that created a silky elegant sip to savor. Holding its own, the wine pairs beautifully with rich deep chocolate cake.

Katie Van Luchene - author of Insiders' Guide® to Kansas City and self-professed KC’s head cheerleader
During a tour of Stonehaus Farms Winery in — yes, Lee’s Summit, MO — owner and winemaker Brett Euritt described how he makes his port from estate-grown Cynthiana (also known as Norton, the state grape of Missouri), which is finished with California brandy and aged in charred bourbon barrels. The grapes provide notes of cherries and dark chocolate; the last step adds a smokey finish. I was impressed enough during the tasting to purchase a bottle (the $23 price was impressive as well). I’ll invite friends over for Port on the Deck where I’ll serve dark-chocolate truffles from Kansas City’s Panache Chocolatiers and Jerry will offer cigars from his humidor.

Sarah R. Jaquay -  wine and craft beer contributor to TheWineBuzz
Some of my favorites were Vox Vineyards 2014 and Cross J 2013--produced by Stone Hill Winery in Hermann. I purchased Cross J at the Merc and sampled it back home. The Cross J has aromas of chocolate and dark berries followed by robust fruit flavors with a dry finish. The oak comes through from beginning to end and it paired beautifully with grilled lamb chops.

Todd Godbout - WineCompass and theCompass Craft Beverage Finder
I agree with all of my fellow participant's recommendations and actually returned home with a bottle of the St. James Winery Winemaker Series Norton 42 and Stonehaus Farms Winery Cynthiana Port. My shipment home also included the Adam Puchta Winery 2016 Estate Norton grown in the historic homeland of Missouri wine, Hermann. This is a big boy, full of dark fruit and still abundant acids. I plan on allowing it to rest a couple years to tame the acids and anticipate a well-rounded wine with solid fruit and subtle spices and chocolate.

See other posts of the trips at Missouri Wine.

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