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Wine Review: Missouri’s Norton worthy of recognition

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If Riedel, the premier glassware maker of the wine industry, has designed a glass specifically for Missouri’s own Norton grape wine, then I believe that Show-Me State wines should be worthy of your interest.

I also believe that this reporter, and all the other wine columnists in this country, are mugwumps, with our mug on the West Coast of this country and our wump residing in the rest of the world. We often do not even recognize local wines.

There are wineries in every one of the 50 states, including more than 100 located right here in Missouri. In fact, I once owned the southernmost vineyard in the continental United States, Together Vineyards of Sunrise, Florida, an experimental vineyard and winery in concert with Florida State University. The goal was to develop grapes that could grow in Florida and produce world-class wines.

Everything that we know about wine originated in “the old country,” and we base our judgments and opinions on parameters set up well over a century ago. Americans have always cut their own trail, and that is the secret of our success as a nation. So, why should we judge American wines, made from American grapes, by those antiquated standards?

The U.S. government has recognized Missouri as a major wine grape producing and wine making region, and it was the first region in this nation to be awarded the honored designation of the American Viticultural Area title in September 1987. The easiest way to find a winery near you is to Google them. There are many wineries in and around the city of Hermann, Missouri, and a Germanic-style Oktoberfest held every year in October is definitely worth a visit.

Many of Missouri’s grapes were created by crossbreeding domestic wild grapes with classical European varieties to result in fruit that will tolerate specific growing conditions such as cold winters and hot, humid summers. Among these was Missouri’s favorite red wine grape, the Norton, which was bred in the early 1800s. By 1830, the vine had taken up residence in Missouri, where it thrived and today is the official state grape.

A Norton wine is, in its general character, similar to Californian and European red wines, so it should not take a leap of faith to give one a fair and unbiased trial. The basic characteristics of a Norton wine are the flavors and aromas of dark summer berries, vanilla, bittersweet chocolate and often a background of oak depending on if the producer gave the wine any oak aging. As with any wine, the flavor and aroma will vary from producer to producer, but the basic flavors and quality of the Norton grape will always shine through.

Unfortunately, wine snobbery has caused many of the experts to turn their noses up at local wines because the grapes do not carry a classical pedigree. Among the producers of premium wines from Missouri grapes is the St. James Winery. The people at St. James are serious winemakers and have garnered many medals for their wines at some of the world's most prestigious wine shows around the country and abroad.

There often are many other wine varieties besides Norton to choose from: red, white and rose, dry, semi-dry and sweet, so a family trip to a local winery will result in a wine to please everybody. Of prime importance, when you visit a local winery, please make sure that you have a designated driver.

Wine columnist Bennet Bodenstein can be reached at frojhe1@att.net.

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