Sunday, January 9, 2011

NORTON WINE COUNTRY: VIRGINIA


Norton Wine From Virginia - Rappahannock Cellars

Some folks probably questioned the sanity of Rappahannock Cellars’ owner John Delmare when he uprooted his family from California's Santa Cruz Mountains to the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia.  Huntly, Virginia was not exactly showing a big blip on the winemaking radar screen in 1998.  He and his family have never looked back, though.  His 20 acres of vineyard land - Glenway Vineyard - bear Chardonnay, Cabernet Franc, Viognier, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Petit Verdot, Malbec, Norton, and others.  Delmare calls his style "old world" and notes that "Virginia fruit style is very similar to Bordeaux."  Like most great vintners, he believes "great wines are made in the vineyard.  Vintage-to-vintage variation is a struggle in Virginia, but it also tends to define the personality of Virginia wine."  Winemaker Jason Burrus and vineyard manager Tom Kelly receive due props from Delmare for the inestimable contribution they make to Rappahannock’s wine.

These wines were provided as samples by Rappahannock Cellars for the purpose of this article.

Rappahannock Norton WineNorton Virginia 2008
This blend of 75% Norton and 25% Cabernet Sauvignon has an alcohol level of 13.9% and  retails for $21.

The nose of this wine very much reminds me of Cabernet Franc.  Its very bright and fruity aromas stand as a counterpoint to the dark, brambly Norton wines of Missouri.  This blend really brings the fruit strongly.  The taste is fruitier than the Missouri Nortons, but that earthy tartness I found so intriguing is here in abundance, too.  The Cab, believe it or not, is almost buried beneath the qualities of the Norton.  There’s plenty of that mouthwatering acidity, which plays directly from the luscious blackberry-meets-raspberry flavor profile.  As the wine opens and breathes, good things happen.  On the third - and final - night the bottle was open, the wine stood in the glass for three hours before I touched it.  To say it was magnificent is an understatement.  The flavors turned positively primeval.  The darkness and intensity of the blackberry left me aghast.  Paired with Santa Maria tri-tip, it was exquisite.  No wonder it is the best seller in the cellar.

Rappahannock Cellars Dessert Norton WineRappahannock Cellars Virginia Red Dessert Wine 2007
This Port-style wine comes in at just under 18% in alcohol content, but really doesn’t feel boozy at all.  It’s produced in what the label calls “traditional European method” at 8% residual sugar.  Not an overly sweet wine, it strikes me as off-sweet.  And as with the Missouri “Port”, there’s no need to reserve this for dessert.  It will pair well with a variety of meat dishes, especially if you like to eat meat which is somewhat unadorned with a sauce - like a steak right off the grill.  It retails for $39.

The richness and density of the nose throws me for a loop.  Simply citing a thick blackberry aroma wafting past the alcohol seems so insufficient.  The fruit is so dark and earthy it almost masquerades as something else.  It’s definitely a pure and concentrated bouquet.  The palate is as aromatic as the nose, tasting floral - but not at all delicate.  Blackberries and black plums are jammy and thick, with what has by now become familiar to me in the Norton grape: that extreme streak of minerality which makes the taste so interesting.

See previous posts on Norton wines.