For nearly three years, a small collection of Norton wines has been aging in the basement downstairs. The diminutive gathering of five bottles, all from Missouri wineries and most from the 2009 vintage, is the first wine I’ve ever stored for more than a few weeks. The fact that they’ve survived for this long is testimony to an ongoing curiosity about this grape, which many others share.
See related article: Norton: Dark Knight of American Wine
It was always the intention to hang onto the bottles for a few years and then compare and contrast them in a blind tasting. I don’t claim to be a wine expert and nor can my wife, or the two brave friends who helped us rank these bottles.
However, we all drink wine regularly, if not daily, and have a reasonable basic knowledge of the world of wine, and most importantly, we know what we like. We all appreciate the Norton grape and understand that making good wine from it can be very tricky, due partly to the wine’s high natural acid and low tannins.
One caveat worth considering, that could explain the Augusta Winery Norton’s low score: all of the wines were bought directly from the wineries except Augusta’s which was purchased from a tourist shop near Kansas City where it may have been standing upright in a warm environment for quite some time. The low score is a surprise and says a lot about the importance of storing wine correctly! Wine expert Doug Frost has described Augusta Nortons as “fantastic in a very elegant style.”
After purchase, the wines were all stored in a passive cellar where the temperature averages in the mid 60s F, is never higher than 70F or lower than 55F.
Before starting the blind tasting, we shared a bottle of 2008 Jowler Creek Norton just to get us into the Norton ‘zone’. Our scoring scale was pretty simple: 1 = fair, 2 = quite-good, 3 = good, 4 = very good, 5 = outstanding. Half points were allowed too. With four of us tasting and marking out of 5, the top possible score is 20.
I disappeared and hid the bottles in Cooperages 1912 Blind Tasting Bottle Covers. Some time ago, at another blind tasting, this company noticed (companies are people under US law right?) I was using brown paper bags to hide the bottles. As a result, they kindly sent me their snazzy bottle covers – black, glass-hugging, with zips – that convert each bottle into James Bond in his diving outfit.
See related story: Kansas City Public TV Airing Missouri Wine Blind Tasting
The modus operandi was to taste each wine and write down some tasting notes on why we liked it, or didn’t like it, and give it a score. Then we’d talk about the wine, before rolling in the next one and repeating. These are honest responses to the wines and not intended to cause offense!
Some of the Norton flavors we noticed in these wines included pomegranate, ripe berries, tart cherries, mint, pepper, citrus, lime, chalk and spice.
The clear and unanimous winner was Stone Hill Winery. Here’s the result for each Norton wine in the order tasted:
Augusta Winery Norton 2009 / Total Score 4.5 (see caveat above about poor storage conditions)
Coby’s comment: Heavy fruit taste up front, very little bottom. Score: 1
Mari’s comment: Initially full but finishes off like citrus. Overly acidic and strong alcohol fumes. Score: 1
Dede’s comment: Lovely ruby color but a bit like a big, overly-ripe, fruit basket in the mouth, with a foxy fervor. Score: 1
Danny’s comment: Lovely full berry smell and great deep color but very strong fruit and not much else. Score: 1.5
Adam Puchta Norton (non-vintage) / Total Score 10.5
Coby’s comment: Much more mellow, smooth and complex than the first wine. Score: 3
Mari’s comment: Initially full and smooth with pomegranate and unripe blackberry flavors and softer citrus finish than the first wine. Score: 2
Dede’s comment: Rich, beefy, dirt flavor that rings of dark heated berries and sticky Missouri humidity. Score: 2
Danny’s comment: Delicate, mellow, pomegranate/berry smells and balanced fruit on the palate. Score: 3.5
Baltimore Bend Norton 2009 / Total Score 7
Coby’s comment: Better than the first wine but with a very heavy back taste dominant. Might taste better with food. Score: 1.5
Mari’s comment: A lighter red color with a nice smell but when tasted, lime juice or tart cherry flavors. Score: 1
Dede’s comment: Like an attic on the nose, garnet eyes, sharp tongue with a chalky, citrus backside. Score: 2.5
Danny’s comment: Much lighter in color, very tart and heavy on the acid. Score: 2
Stone Hill Norton 2009 / Total Score 15.5
Coby’s comment: More flavor than the second wine with up-front, smooth transitions to the finish and overall the most ‘complex’ Score: 3.5
Mari’s comment: Smooth, full and lingering on the tongue. Very complex for a Norton and not too citrusy. Score: 4
Dede’s comment: Gentle delivery of Norton’s best sides. Score: 4
Danny’s comment: A very intense color and an almost minty smell. Full body with a gentle exit and smooth. Score: 4