Autumn in Missouri wouldn’t be complete without a drive to the country. We recently headed west to Hermann to not only take in the dazzling display of fall color, but also to sample some of the best Nortons around.
Adam Puchta Winery
Tim Puchta’s family has owned and operated the property in the Frene Creek Valley since 1855, but the beginnings of the winery date back to 1839, when 7-year-old Adam Puchta and his family left Hamburg, Germany for the United States. With Tim Puchta (a self-proclaimed foodie) now at the helm, count on wines that will pair well with fine food.
Notable Nortons: Puchta’s 1997 Norton won the Governor’s Cup for Best Overall Wine in 2000. The 2002, 2004, 2005 vintages also garnered honors.
Recommended Pairings: Puchta says his winery produces wines to go with food. “When I was growing up, food was wine…wine was food,” he explains. “I love Norton with lobster, sea bass and monk fish.”
Bommarito Estate Winery
Even owner Nick Bommarito admits that his first attempt at Norton didn’t go as planned. “In 1997-98, the first wines tasted like turpentine and paint remover,” he says. “All I ever wanted to be was a grape-grower.” But those were the days, as the family-owned winery, with Bommarito’s daughter, Cathleen, as winemaker, now produces some of the most notable Nortons in the state, including a gold medal in the 2007 National Norton Competition.
Best Vintage: Bommarito considers the 2002 vintage among the best. “2002 was a great year,” he says. “We always set out to make a smooth, Italian-style, fruit-forward wine—with just a hint of sweetness.”
Tasting Notes: Bommarito’s signature wine, Almond Tree Red, is a blend of Norton and St. Vincent. According to winemaker Cathleen Bommarito, look for “tart Bing cherry tones with hints of spice…and medium tannins that will get creamier. Finish is soft and dry.” The 2007 French Oak Norton is comparable to a Pinot Noir, while the 2008 American Oak Norton is reminiscent of a Shiraz.
Hermannhof GM Paul LeRoy, who also served as winemaker, says Nortons are “just like children—they evolve and change with age.” He also notes that Missouri’s official state grape is said to contain unusually high levels of resveratrol. “Norton is supposed to have twice as much resveratrol than Cabernet, so if you’re familiar with the ‘French Paradox,’ drinking Norton is a good thing.”
Best Vintage: LeRoy considers the 1992 vintage the best bottle of Norton that Hermannhof has ever produced. “Everything was put together right in the vineyard—good sugar, great acid balance, and hang time.”
In Stores Now: The 2004 Norton, according to LeRoy, is “fairly smooth, with hints of blackberries and brambles, and an earthy finish.”
Stone Hill Winery
Stone Hill has been making Nortons ever since owners Jim and Betty Held started caring for the first batch of vines in the mid-1960s. Winemaking continues to be a family affair at Stone Hill, with Jon Held as GM, and his brother, Thomas Held, as sales director. “Norton, with its high acid content, is not an easy wine to make—definitely not for technically challenged winemakers,” Jon Held tells us. “The secret is what we do in the vineyards. We do an extensive shoot thinning to open the canopy (leaf cover) up—that’s what gives the wine its nice flavor.”
Recommendations: Stone Hill’s 2009 Norton recently won the 2011 C. V. Riley Award for Best Norton. Stone Hill also produces the award-winning Cross J Norton, which 2009 vintage is good to drink now, but Held recommends letting it age a few more years. “One hundred percent Norton peaks in eight to 10 years, but 12 years is my preference.” Another excellent vintage, 2001, is at its peak, and is only available for purchase at the winery.