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Best Producers

USA: U.S. Norton & Lemberger

Wines Named Norton & Lemberger?
For the wine consumer jaded by the chocolate and vanilla worlds of Cabernet and Chardonnay, a little diversity in the nightly wine selection can offer a welcome respite from the onset of enological boredom. Though hardly the "next new thing" there are a number of varietals that are regional specialties around the country, waiting to surprise the unsuspecting wine tourist and provide a welcome change of pace. Two of the more interesting wines are made at opposite ends of the country from a pair of unusual grapes, Norton and Lemberger.

Norton was originally propagated in 1835 by D.N. Norton in Richmond, Virginia. The grape was the final product of Norton’s efforts to develop a varietal that would be eminently suited to Virginia’s warm and humid climate.

Today, in both Virginia and Missouri, Norton makes a very attractive red table wine. It is deep and inky in color, with a fragrant plumy character. Though low in tannin, it is often aged in barrel, and in the case of Missouri’s Mount Pleasant Winery in particular, it is heavily extracted and well structured. In character, it might be most easily described as lighter in body than a Merlot while fuller than a Pinot Noir, with a natural streak of lean acidity. Eastern Sangiovese perhaps?

As for Lemberger, the scene shifts to Washington State. Lemberger is a varietal that is widely planted in Central Europe, particularly Austria, where it is known as Blaufränkisch. Washington State Lemberger tends to be dark in color, with a racy grapey character. The wines are nearly devoid of tannin but retain a nervy level of acidity. This leads to the inevitable comparisons with Gamay or perhaps more appropriately, Dolcetto. In that it is an early drinking zesty red that lends itself to immediate gratification, there is more than a nugget of truth to the comparisons. Finally, John Rauner, the proprietor of Yakima River Winery and a fierce proponent of Lemberger, claims that the varietal is one of few in the world that doesn’t contain histamines, a compound to which some people are allergic. Histamines or not, Lemberger is still an interesting wine in its own right, and one day may deserve to be called the "Nouveau of the Northwest."

Premier Producers
Hermannhof (Norton & Chambourcin)
Kiona (Lemberger)
Mount Pleasant (Norton/Cynthiana)
Stone Hill (Norton)


Great Producers
Hogue (Lemberger)
Horton (Norton)
St. James (Norton)


Dependable Producers
St. Julian (Chancellor & Chambourcin)
Shenandoah Vineyards (Chambourcin)
Wollersheim (Marechal Foch)
Yakima River (Lemberger)

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