AKA the grape Missouri totally stole all the credit for.
The Norton has a storied history, but is still coming back into style. It’s actually America’s oldest grape, first being farmed in Richmond back in 1820. Pretty soon, it became -the- grape of the 19th century. In fact, it won the award for Best Red Wine of All Nations at the Vienna World Fair of 1873. It was popular with growers throughout the country, since the grape was hardy enough to survive cold winters that those silly French grapes couldn’t stand up to. Though founded in Virginia, German settlers made its unofficial headquarters over in Missouri. True story–Missouri used to be the second-largest producer of wine in the country. …What?
Alas, Prohibition hit us and since Norton was a true wine grape and not an eating grape, it wasn’t getting planted. During the age of speakeasies, anyone drinking wine was typically importing it, and by the time alcohol was legal again, the Norton had been left behind with the flapper dresses.
But hope was not lost. In 1989, Dennis Horton, (Remember him?!? He also made Viognier a Virginia staple and might be my hero.) saved it from near extinction. He took cuttings from a Missouri winery that had also been working to restore Norton to its former glory and brought them home. Horton was found of the grape to the point where he liked to say, “It will grow through sidewalks!” The ease of growth has steadily helped it catch on. Seriously. This grape is indestructible. It’s immune to a ton of wine diseases and mildew.
Sooooo… what does Norton actually taste like? It’s big in flavor and high in acidity. When young, it starts out fruity and extremely tart, but tends to age well. I’ve drank Nortons that taste a bit like a punch in the mouth when just bottled. Over time, they do mellow out and get a little pepper-y. A good Norton ends up being a well-rounded wine but will still be different from almost anything you’ve drank before. Personally, I like to drink Norton with a big ole’ cheesy pizza. It really lets things shine.
Potomac Point just released a Norton that I think will really hit it’s prime in another year or two. (Full disclosure: I thought aging wine was bullshit until I tasted the difference in Norton vintages.) But of course, you could always taste it at the winery that rescued it–Horton Vineyards in Gordonsville.