Monday, January 27, 2014

A native American wine

Here our Way-Back machine takes us to November 2008.  Haven't tasted a norton since.

Full disclosure, in advance of Thanksgiving: this wine likely will not complement your turkey too much, but it might go nicely with all those sweet side dishes and the desserts heavy on pumpkins, apples, cranberries, and pecans.

The wine is a Norton from Stone Hill Vineyards in Missouri. Norton is the name of the grape, a native North American vitis aestivalis variety. Appellation America calls it the oldest native American grape in commercial use, and traces its history back to 18th century Virginia. By the mid-19th century, it had moved west to Missouri, where wine makers had begun to produce red wines from it good enough to win awards in Europe, and even to give European growers hope that it might save their industry from collapse following the invasion of the (also native American) phylloxera parasite.

Such was not to be; though resistant to fungus and pests, Norton proved not to like France's "highly calcereous lime based" soils. Today, the grape is the pride of Missouri and Arkansas, and has a "cult-like following" among wine makers and consumers elsewhere. Its further fame is curtailed, it seems, because the vine does not enjoy being propagated from hardwood cuttings as other vines do, and of course because prohibitive shipping laws may easily keep the finished product out of your state if your state's lawmakers vote thus.

I was lucky enough to taste a Stone Hill Norton 2004 several months ago, when a new distributor brought it in for sampling. It was a very interesting wine. The color is dark, as dark as grape jelly, and the taste is also deeply dark, as dark as grape jelly -- but it was dry, complex, and silkily fruity in a way not to be described by the usual raspberry-cherry similes addressed to more famed red wines. It might do well, if not to accompany the holiday meal, then perhaps as a sort of pre-dinner cocktail, which is often the way we drink "big" red wines anyway. And think what fun it would be to introduce your guests to a native wine bearing the delightful sobriquet "the cabernet of the Ozarks." You might raise a toast, while you're at it, to Dr. Daniel Norborne Norton, Virginia "physician and ardent gardener."

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