Thursday, January 27, 2011

ZAP, Zin, Zoom!

The Zinfandel Advocates and Producers (ZAP) Zinfandel Festival kicked off today in San Francisco. Dedicated to all things Zin, the festival is in its 20th year of bringing a wider audience - and respectability - to a once-maligned and unknown California grape.

Zins tend to be robust reds bursting with spice and fruit with a long, soft finish. I recently had the
Oak Ridge Ancient Vines Zinfandel that displayed all of the above characteristics and then some. Made from 50 - 100 year old vines, the Oak Ridge is a concentrated, elegant wine with soft tannins and hints of leather and cinnamon under big fruit flavors. I haven't had a zin in some time and the Oak Ridge reminded me of what a great zin can taste like. And since Zinfandel is not as well-known as, say Cabernet Sauvignion or Merlot, you can find some great values. The Oak Ridge will set you back only $12.99.

Both the Oak Ridge and the fact that ZAP is underway got me thinking about another grape that is struggling for acceptance, respectability and a wider-audience: The Norton. Like Zinfandel, the Norton is an American original. It was introduced in the mid-nineteenth century, and has recently been rediscovered and has a growing and loyal following. Like most things with a growing and loyal following, people who have discovered Nortons can't believe how few people know about the grape and the wine made from it.

Also like Zinfandel, the Norton grape makes big, robust wines. Mellow, oaky and dry with liquorice and blackberry flavors and a deep, violet color. Norton wine lovers should look to Zinfandel for inspiration for how to grow a wider following for their preferred wine. And some are. Leading the way is
Chrysalis Vineyards. Chrysalis currently has four Nortons on offer and is the host of the annual Norton Wine and Bluegrass Festival.

Another similarity between Zinfandel and Norton is that both grow well in a very limited area. Zinfandel doesn't grow exceptionally well outside of California (unless you count its twin, the Primitivo grape in Italy) and Norton has really only thrived in Missouri and Virginia.

Both varietals are native American Grapes that produce deep, hearty wines. And both grapes are very particular in where they grow well. Zinfandel serves as a great example of where Norton can be as a varietal provided people continue to try and enjoy the wine.


  1. As for your comment "Norton has really only thrived in Missouri and Virginia", let me add that there are now 236 Norton wineries in 23 states with maybe the best coming from the states you mentioned. But don't let this hamper you in your travels since there are some remarkable examples to be found in other states; as: White Oaks (AL), Mount Bethel (AR), Three Sisters (GA), Century Farms (TN), Elk Creek (KY) and Stone Mountain Cellars (PA). When in Virginia, do not overlook Castle Gruen (a "drink now" Norton, Cooper Vinyeard (maybe the best East coast Norton year in and year out), DuCard Vineyard (observe what a new winery can do with young plants), Chrysalis (if you are willing to spend the $$ and let the wine rest for another four years) and Rappahannok Winery (Norton producer with strong California ties). Missouri touts 81 Norton producers and a few that are unique for varying reasons would be Blumenhof Vineyards (German atmosphere with a nice summer experience Norton); Heinrichshaus (German vintner with the knowledge to know what should be done with his American Cynthiana [Norton] grapes); Stone Hill's Cross J (a remarkable example), Montelle & Augusta Wineries (maybe the introduction standards which you should begin your Norton explorations), Peaceful Bend (a new generation of vinters), and Westphalia Vineyards (sulfite free and a know brain Norton winner).

  2. Thanks for all of the Norton suggestions! I had no idea there were so many different varieties of the grape and that they were flourishing in all of the places you mentioned. If I am ever traveling through those states, I will make sure to check them out.