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Tasting Almost 40 Years of Norton Wines!

Vintage Norton Wine Tasting

Blog Posts / 11.17.23

Last week, we were incredibly lucky to host a once-in-a-lifetime wine tasting to kick off the American Wine Society‘s visit to Missouri! Their annual National Conference was held in St. Louis this year from November 9th-11th. Dr. Joe Fiola, Specialist of Viticulture and Small Fruit at the University of Maryland Extension and annual presenter at the American Wine Society National Conference, decided it would be the perfect opportunity to share some of the Norton wines in his private library he has collected over the years, many of which were produced by Stone Hill Winery.

Wines ready to be decanted, poured, and enjoyed!

We were thrilled to have been asked to help host the event and were happy to add some more wine to the mix! The tasting included 24 wines spanning 35 years, 3 states, and 6 producers. Our evening primarily examined Norton wine across the years, but it did include some standout white wines and dessert wines as well to bookend the celebration.

Wines Sampled:

  • 1991 Stone Hill Winery Brut Sparkler
  • 2004 Stone Hill Winery Chardonel
  • 1985 Stone Hill Winery Norton
  • 1987 Stone Hill Winery Norton
  • 1988 Stone Hill Winery Norton
  • 1991 Stone Hill Winery Norton
  • 1992 Stone Hill Winery Norton
  • 1993 Stone Hill Winery Norton
  • 1994 St. James Winery Private Reserve Norton
  • 1994 St. James Winery Norton
  • 1994 Stone Hill Winery Norton
  • 1995 Horton Vineyards Norton (Virginia)
  • 1996 Hermannhof Winery Norton
  • 1997 Hermannhof Winery Norton
  • 1998 Stone Hill Winery Norton
  • 1999 Stone Hill Winery Norton
  • 1999 St. James Winery Norton
  • 2001 Valenzano Winery Cynthiana (New Jersey)
  • 2008 Adam Puchta Winery Norton
  • 2009 Adam Puchta Winery Norton
  • 2011 Adam Puchta Winery Norton
  • 2020 Adam Puchta Winery Norton
  • 1992 Stone Hill Winery Late Harvest Vignoles
  • 175th Anniversary Stone Hill Winery 21 Year Barrel Aged Cream Sherry

To kick off the evening, we had to get everyone in a celebratory mood, so the bubbles came out with our 1991 Brut Sparkling wine. Done in the traditional méthode champenoise, the Brut received 36 months of maturation on the lees in bottle after secondary fermentation. Through this extended bottle aging prior to disgorging, the sparkling wine develops tertiary character from the yeast lees which translate to biscuit or brioche-like flavors and refined effervescent structure. As we tasted the wine, we realized it still had all the incredible richness of an aged champagne and bright, fine bubbles which kept the wine lively.

Certainly, the most surprising wine of the night was the 2004 Stone Hill Winery Chardonel. Our Chardonel is comparable to an oaked Chardonnay, which often have the ability to age for about 5-7 years. Opening up a nearly 20 year old Chardonel, we were unsure what would be left. Amazingly, it was incredibly clean and aromatic while still having classic Chardonel character. The color was clear and golden, and the wine continued to share aromas and flavors of crisp apples, buttery biscuits, peaches, and nectarines.

After finishing with our starter sparkling wine and Chardonel, we were ready to move to the main act, the first flight of Norton wines. For ease of discussion and to readily enjoy this many wines, we split up the 20 Norton wines into flights of 4-6 wines based on their vintages. We tasted from oldest to youngest, with the first flight being the 1985-1992 Norton wine vintages and the final being 2008 to 2020. After each flight, we voted on our favorite of the flight. Surprisingly, the votes were relatively spread out for most flights, with almost all wines receiving a vote from someone as their favorite wine of the flight! The aged Norton wines expressed classic varietal character such as blackcurrant, dark brambly fruits, cherry, plum, mocha, earthy spiciness akin to sage or thyme. While the younger Norton wines were far more fruit forward, the aged Norton wine vintages exhibited more savory character as well as including a chocolate, coffee, and mocha tertiary note which added complexity to the wine.

To end the night, we shared two incredibly rich and delicious dessert wines. First, we enjoyed a 1992 Stone Hill Winery Late Harvest Vignoles which is truly the nectar of the gods and a testament to the exceptional character of the Vignoles grape and its ability to produce world-class wines. The wine had a golden hue and a magnificent complexity, sharing aromas of apricots, peaches, and floral honey. On the palate, it expressed honey, butterscotch, and gentle tropical fruits and stone fruits. Finally, we served the 175th Anniversary Cream Sherry (still available only at the winery), aged for 21 years in barrel before being bottled in 2022. Exhibiting a deep golden amber color, it is an elaborate wine with distinct and rich aromas and flavors coming across. Starting with crystalline honey and butterscotch, it develops into toasted caramel notes with expressive nuttiness and finally showcases abundant fruit character including nectarines and apricots.

Attendees ready to start enjoying wine!

We had twenty people in attendance, including many of our friends from the Missouri Wine Industry as well as out-of-state guests Dr. Fiola and his wife, grapevine Extension Coordinator at Rutgers University Dr. Gary Pavlis, as well as wine chef and sommelier Tony Lawrence. Our winemaker emeritus Dave Johnson, working with us from 1978 to 2020 and becoming the United States’ most awarded winemaker during this time, was able to attend and enjoy these wines. This was incredibly special as Dave created, honed, and defined Norton wine in its modern varietal style as a big, full-bodied dry red which brought it back as an important American wine grape once again and led to its further adoption by other Midwest and Eastern wine producers and grape growers. Everyone had an incredible time exploring older wines and specifically the age-worthiness of Norton grapes and wine. The Norton wines held up beautifully and showcased that these wines are wonderful to drink now, or save for many years for a very special occasion.  They are sure to wow you!

If you are looking to try your own older Norton wine vintages, we have a few select older vintages for sale from our library year round. Otherwise, if you are looking for the premier Norton wine experience, join us for our annual Norton Dinner and 10 Year Vertical Tasting held each year in April. The event features a sparkling wine and hors d’oeuvres reception in our cellars, a 10-year vertical tasting of the last ten vintages of Norton wines in our Sherry House, and finally a three course gourmet dinner with wine pairings in our Vintage 1847 Restaurant.

Join us for our Norton Dinner and 10 Year Vertical Tasting!