Showing posts with label Norton. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Norton. Show all posts

Monday, March 9, 2020

Now And Zin Wine Country Series Stands At 45 States

What started as an idle thought - "can I taste wines from all 50 U.S. states?" - has become a personal mission.  Now And Zin's Wine Country series debuted nearly a decade ago, and we have now tasted wine from 45 states.  Just five to go - Alaska, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Utah and Wyoming.

Now And Zin's Wine Country started with a series about wines made from America's Norton grape, in which I sampled wine from Missouri, Virginia and Georgia for the first time.  I was surprised by the quality and fascinated by the notion of wine tasting across America.

If you can make good wine in California, that's expected - not that it's easy, but it seems that's what you're supposed to do with great soil and perfect weather.  Making good wine in areas of the country where nature isn't quite as accommodating is a real achievement.

I've heard from American winemakers about Indiana limestone, Cornell grape creations and moderating winds from - of all places - Lake Erie.  I've heard winemakers cry in anguish, "I want to make dry wines, but all my customers want is sweet!"

I've sampled mead from Montana and Maine, Muscadine from Alabama and Kentucky Cabernet Franc.  I've had a Super Tuscan-style blend from Arizona, mile-high wine from Colorado, amazing bubbles from Massachusetts, Michigan and Illinois, Zinfandel from Nevada and New Mexico, New York Riesling, New Jersey Merlot and North Carolina Chardonnay.

I've tried wine made from Vermont apples, Florida blueberries, North Dakota rhubarb, West Virginia blackberries and Hawaiian Maui pineapples.

There have been plenty of unexpected grapes, like Petit Manseng from Georgia, Carménère from Idaho, Traminette from Indiana, Eidelweiss from Iowa, Marquette from Minnesota and Catawba from Pennsylvania.

Two Nebraska wines are named after pelicans; a South Dakota winemaker uses Petite Sirah to take the acidic edge off the Frontenac.  There's Touriga Nacional growing in Tennessee.

Most of the wines for this series have been supplied by the winemakers for the purpose of the article, while some have been sent by friends of mine who had travel plans to a state I had yet to taste.  To all who have sent wine for this project, I offer my heartfelt thanks.

It has taken nine years to sample wine from 45 states, so the end is in sight.  Shipping wine in the United States has proven to be a stumbling block on more than one occasion.

Contacts made in Utah and Oklahoma have dropped out of sight, while responses are hard to come by at all from Alaska, Wyoming and Mississippi.  I am sure for some of these states, I'll probably have to find someone who makes wine in their garage.  Any Mississippi garagistes out there?

While we are on the subject, if you know a winemaker in the states which haven't been covered in Wine Country yet - Alaska, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Utah and Wyoming - please pass this article along to them.  Even if they can't ship to me, I'd love to hear from them.

Also, one state which has been left blank is California.  Of course, I sample a lot of California wine, so finding it isn't the problem.  I want to determine one wine or winery which is representative of California for this series.  If you have any thoughts, I'd love to hear them.  Comment here, email or contact me on Twitter.

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Thursday, February 8, 2018

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Wine Country Kansas: Holy-Field Vineyard And Winery

German immigrants brought grapes and winemaking to Missouri in the early part of the 19th century and, by the latter part, wine had crossed the Missouri River into Kansas.  The two states made up a winemaking powerhouse which provided more wine than any other area in the US at that time.  The story went sour quickly, though.

Temperance leader Carrie Nation hailed from the Sunflower State and the relentless work of her movement resulted in Kansas becoming the first US state to adopt a statewide prohibition of alcoholic beverages in 1881 - predating the national era of Prohibition by nearly four decades.

It has been noted that around the beginning of the 20th century - despite the state's prohibition - there were still thousands of acres of grapevines which served Kansas bootleggers and the booming wine industry in neighboring Missouri.  National prohibition killed off the wine industry in Kansas - Missouri, too - and recovery would not begin until the 1980s.

Kansas is known for its fertile soil and long growing season, particularly in the eastern half of the state where most of its 30 or so vineyards are located.  The Holy-Field Vineyards and Winery website waxes poetic about making wine in Basehor, Kansas: "The bounty of the vines springs forth on fourteen beautiful acres tended under the personal touch of owners Les and Michelle Meyer. Holy-Field's ten grape varieties ripen to produce fifteen distinct wines."

The name of the vineyard and winery is inspired by its location at the intersection of 158th Street and 24-40 highway in southern Leavenworth County Kansas.  In bygone years 158th street was named Holyfield Road, and the name offers a tip of the hat to that era.  The vineyard is filled with Native American and French Hybrid varieties

Holy-Field Cynthiana

Also known by the more masculine name of Norton, Cynthiana grapes are thought by many to be America's great lost grape.  It flourished in Midwestern vineyards for many years until Prohibition pulled the carpet from beneath its feet.  The wine industries in these states literally died at that time, taking Cynthiana with them.  The grape - by both names - has undergone a great resurgence and is now grown in several states, Kansas among them.

The Holy-Field Cynthiana shows extreme earthiness on the nose, which is somewhat obscured by the aroma of alcohol, more than the 13.5% abv number would suggest. The taste is brimming with tart - bordering on sour - cranberry, raspberry and cherry.  Spice is abundant, a result of the 12-16 months aging in American oak which the wine undergoes.

Here is a nice article giving a brief history of the Norton/Cynthiana grape.

Holy-Field Amitie

This refreshing white wine blends two French hybrids grapes - Chardonel and Traminette.  The former claims Chardonnay as its parent, while the latter hails from the Gewürztraminer grape.  The wine is done completely in stainless steel, with no oak used to color the beauty of the fruit.  It hits only 12% abv on the alcohol scale

This wine's light golden color suggests a light and refreshing quaff, and the nose adds a hint of sweetness to the expectations.  Aromas of apples, white peaches and a sweetly herbal note are inviting.  The flavors deliver on what has been promised.  Sweet fruit and a slightly spicy edge are wrapped a delicate acidity that tingles just right.  There is just a hint of earth underlying all this, and it stays on the finish.  I am reminded of an off-dry Riesling, which is a good thing to be reminded of now and then.

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Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Missouri Wine From Stone Hill Winery

My recent visit to Texas afforded me an unexpected meeting with a wine from Missouri.  Stone Hill Winery's Hermannsberg Brand is labeled as a Missouri Dry Red Wine.

On my brother and sister-in-law's porch with uncharacteristically great weather in southeast Texas that day - dry and sunny with a cool breeze blowing - I took a bit of relaxation.  Their insanely quiet neighborhood provided a welcome respite from life in Los Angeles.

This blend of Norton, Vincent and Chambourcin grapes hits 13% abv and shows a lovely medium-ruby color.  On the nose, black cherry and roses move aside for a savory note.  A little chocolate mocha comes through after it opened up a bit.  The palate is fruity, with dusty cherries and a cranberry edge.  It hit me rather like a Gamay, but with a little more muscle.  Good tannins make for easy food pairing: bring on the brisket.

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Sunday, January 16, 2011


Norton Wine From Georgia

When Georgia is mentioned in wine circles these days, it is more than likely a reference to the Eastern European country, not the state in the southeastern U.S.  The seat of the Old South, though, does produce wine.  The home of Savannah and Hot ‘Lanta has a small town by the name of Tiger, Georgia, where you’ll find Tiger Mountain Vineyards.

Tiger Mountain Vineyards NortonThis is the final article in my brief study of wine made from the all-American Norton grape, so it’s no surprise to find that variety growing at Tiger Mountain.  They also have Petit Manseng, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, Tannat. Viognier and Touriga Nacional planted.  You have to love these guys for their brazen devotion to heritage grapes alone!

Dr. John Ezzard and his wife Martha planted grapes in 1995 on the farm where he was born.  The good doctor says 2,000 feet of altitude, mineral rich soil and well drained slopes make for great terroir.  With all that as a starting point, the step to good wine is a short one.

The Ezzards watched and learned about grape-growing from Virginia's Horton Vineyards.  Tiger Mountain’s winery manager Jabe Hilson assists in the winemaking process.  The Tiger Mountain Norton varietal wine sells for $17.  A sample was sent to me for the purpose of this article.

Tiger Mountain Norton 2005

Subtitled “Georgia Red Wine,” Tiger Mountain Vineyards’ Norton registers the lowest alcohol content of the Nortons in this series - only 11.5% abv.

It is very dark in the glass, almost black, and difficult to see through at the edges.  The core allows no light through.  A cassis aroma dominates the nose, abetted by a fair whiff of licorice.  The jamminess is undeniable, but a faint scent of tar comes through on its coattails.

The palate is surprising, given the fruity nature of the nose.  There’s a big bell pepper play made by this wine, with a white pepper spiciness underlying.  The fruit seems constricted in comparison, but a mix of blackberry and cranberry come through on the substantial finish.  That fruit is somewhat tart - not something I am accustomed to tasting in wine, but something I got used to quickly.  People who love to drink fruit bombs might turn their noses up at this wine, at least at first.  A trace of baker’s chocolate strains to come through late in the game.

The tannins are soft but the wine is nice and dry.  The acidity level is good in this well-balanced effort, and it paired very well with a sweet, maple-glazed ham.  It would probably be a good choice with sweet barbecue sauce, too.  The sweetness of the glaze helped offset the tartness in the wine and balance out the meal.  Semi-sweet chocolate is a nice match, too.

Sunday, January 9, 2011


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.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011


Norton Wine from Stone Hill Winery, MO

It’s fitting to begin this short series of tasting notes for wine made from the Norton grape with a few wines from a Missouri winery.  Norton is the state grape of Missouri, and it was a Missouri Norton which found international acclaim at a wine show in Vienna, Austria in 1873.  At that event it was named “the best red wine of all nations.”  Read more about the Norton grape in my earlier post on the Now And Zin Wine Blog.

The main location for Stone Hill Winery is in Hermann, Missouri, while two other locations operate in New Florence and Branson.  Stone Hill was founded in 1847 and is listed on the National Historic Register.  The main building for the Hermann winery - built in 1869 - was restored to its original stature by Jim and Betty Held in 1965.  Since then, they have been joined by three of their children.  The kids each have degrees in the sciences of winemaking and grape growing.

In addition to Norton wines, Stone Hill also has a raft of wines made from heritage grapes like Vidal Blanc, Chardonel, Vignoles, Chambourcin, and Traminette.  The winemaking team - David Johnson, Shaun Turnbull and Tavis Harris - produce award-winning wines.  The fruit of their labor has garnered over 3,500 awards in the past 20 years.

These wines were provided as samples by Stone Hill Winery for the purpose of this article.

Stone Hill Winery NortonStone Hill Winery Norton 2006
This estate-bottled Hermann wine is 100% Norton made from grapes grown in the Cross J and Kemperberg Vineyards.  The wine has an alcohol level of only 13.8% and is aged twelve months in French, Hungarian and American oak barrels.

This is the first of the three Stone Hill wines I sampled.  The nose is very dark and earthy.  Denise smelled it and said, “it smells like history.”  I love that comment, but I’ll just say it smells “old world.”  Dense blackberry aromas are blanketed with a layering of clove and maybe some nutmeg.  It’s a very interesting nose, and a very different one for anyone who drinks mostly California wine.  A huge herbal quality is present and becomes stronger as the wine opens.  The taste has some grapiness to it, but the blackberry comes through very strongly.  A cola angle surfaces at the finish - which seems to last forever, by the way.  There is a tartness to the wine that makes me think of plums skins, but in a good way.  A great acidity is present in the Stone Hill Norton.

On the second night the bottle was open, the tannins were much softer and the tartness was not as pronounced.  However, on the third night, the tartness seemed to return.

Stone Hill Winery Cross J Vineyard NortonCross J Vineyard Norton 2006
The grapes for this estate wine are harvested from the vineyard which overlooks Jim and Betty Held’s home, up on a hilltop overlooking the Missouri River.  This 100% single-vineyard varietal sees twelve months aging in French and European oak.  The alcohol level is very moderate at 13.3%, and the wine retails for $25.

This is the second of the Stone Hill trio I tasted.  Again, the old-world aromas of blackberry and spice leap up past the heat, which is considerable upon opening.   The wine is once more very dark, inky and black in appearance.  It has a fine tannic structure with a cherry-meets-raspberry flavor profile, along with that tartness, too.  After time to breathe, the wine opens up and its flavors become darker and more brambly on the second and third nights the bottle is open.  This single vineyard effort had an aroma and taste reminiscent of Syrah - a little fruitier than the first wine.  The acidity is fantastic.

Stone Hill Winery Norton PortStone Hill Winery Missouri Port 2007
The winery says "short fermentation, brandy fortification and barrel aging" are the high points of this one.  Stone Hill produced their first vintage of Port-style wine in 1990, and the line has garnered high ratings and rave reviews from national publications.  The alcohol level is jacked up to a port-like 18.4% and it retails for $22 in a 500 ml bottle.

This finale of the three samples from Stone Hill looks very dark at the core with purple edges.  Once again, aromas of spices, remind me of Syrah, with that big blackberry nose muscling in.  It’s rich and dark on the palate with a very strong sensibility of Portuguese grapes.  This time around, the spiciness is tasted as well as smelled.  The wine’s sweetness is counterbalanced by its acidity, which seems to be the calling card of the Norton grape.  This Port-style wine is great for dessert, but I could also wash down a steak or pork chop with it.

Soon I’ll relate my experiences with some Virginia Norton wines on the Now And Zin Wine Blog.

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Monday, January 3, 2011



In the land of grapes, Norton is not exactly a household name.  Not in the American wine mecca of California for sure, and not even in places like Missouri and Virginia, where the Norton vine has its roots.

Those roots go back to 18th century America.  Paul Roberts of Deep Creek Cellars in Friendsville, Maryland has much to say about Norton - or Cynthiana, as it is also known - and he is reprinted at length on the website for Virginia's Chrysalis Vineyards.  He also has a book on the subject: From This Hill, My Hand, Cynthiana's Wine.

The grape known scientifically as vitis aestivalis is believed to have been produced by a Dr D.N. Norton of Virginia, who - probably by accident - crossed two other still unknown grape varieties.  Many grape varieties native to North America have aromas and flavors too sweet and "grapey" from which to make good dry wine.  Norton does not generally exhibit those properties, and makes some very fine wines that are legendary to folks in the midwest and eastern U.S.

In 1873, a Missouri Norton wine was proclaimed "the best red wine of all nations" at a competition in Vienna.  Roberts says, "Zinfandel is often described as America's first and most original gift to the world of wine.  Actually, it's Norton."

Todd Kliman’s book, The Wild Vine: A Forgotten Grape and the Untold Story of American Wine, deals with the origin of the Norton Grape, its heyday and its status as an outsider in the wine industry.

The book was reviewed on Palate Press, and in the interview with Kliman following the article the author talks about the Norton grape.
“I still don’t think Norton will ever be a dominant wine," he says.  "That’s just not its place. America’s palate, since Norton’s heyday, has changed too much.  But it could be much more than it is.

"You either love Norton or hate Norton," Kliman continues.  "It is a wine of extremes. Someone new to the grape and the wine must understand that.  If you are used to the wines that currently represent what America is, according to the West Coast definition, Norton is going to be very different from that.  Norton is not the kind of wine that you drink while curled up with a book by the fire.

"Norton should be kept in context with the sort of expression of American culture that it could have represented.  I think of Walt Whitman and Mark Twain and even jazz music, and how they have come to define American culture.  Norton was born of the same soil, and yet it is almost unheard of.  It should be understood as a similar expression of that American experience."

Still today, wineries in states from Virginia to Georgia to Texas to Missouri produce Norton wines that are well worth seeking out and trying.  However, Norton wines are not so easy to find in much of the western part of the country.  I was fortunate enough to receive some samples of various Norton wines from Missouri, Virginia and Georgia.  In the coming few days - beginning Thursday - my impressions and tasting notes for those wines will be published here on the Now And Zin Wine Blog.   I hope you’ll look for them.  And for some Norton wine.