Horton Vineyards’ The Tower Series norton (2013) is dark purple in color. One sort of peculiar thing here is that this wine does not, in the nose or taste, come off as overly fruity when you first open it. It has an almost old world feel, which was not what I expected. Fruit becomes much more apparent with a little air. This fruit is mostly dark but there is more than just that. Ripe plum, blackberry with some raspberry come forward over time.
The tannins, initially, seem almost absent but they are more subtle than absent. I expected this wine to be MORE tannic. Some of the pieces I've read on the grape made me think it was going to be "tannin-mania." In this case, at least, this isn't true even though this wine appears to have spent significant time in oak (the Horton website said 14 months but I am unsure if this is true of every vintage).
The wine also has pretty solid acidity to give it backbone. If you like your wines earthy? This might be your thing. Maybe like a pinotage with some balls. At various points I saw the truth in comparisons to syrah from warmer climates. Trying to hang one of the other, more familiar grapes ON this wine, however, is a tough thing to do. It is its own thing. Yet, this being so, this norton still isn't a bizarre wine. There are much stranger wines made from vinifera grapes.
There are even books dedicated largely to discussion of norton.
Doing some cursory research you will find varying reports as to what norton is: a hybrid between a European and American grape created by Dr. Daniel Norton, an accidental hybrid he discovered or is it something else. Some sources suggest norton (the grape, folks are fairly certain Dr. Norton himself was human) is a mostly of the native Vitis aestivalis with Vitis vinifera also in the family tree. There are also repeated suggestions that another American grape family is in the gene pool (Vitis lambrusca). But the most convincing source, Davis Viticultural Research, states that Vitis cinerea is the likely native component in the wine while still including Vitis vinifera in the family tree.
There are many opinions and many of these are based on reasonable assumptions but there have been many "reasonable assumptions" about one grape being related to another (or BEING another) that have turned out to be wrong. The best thing to do is to leave that to experts in genetics. You will also see the name cynthiana but is cynthiana really the exact same thing as norton? Some say yes, some say it isa mutation of norton (as pinot blanc is of pinot noir).
One thing to note when dealing with native varietals here in the USA the wine need only include 51 percent of the native varietal to use only that varietal on the label (with other varietals it has to be at least 75 % of that varietal). Beyond norton, Horton produces pinotage and the little grown French grape (adopted by Uruguay), tannat. They also do other French, Portugese and Italian varietals.
Generally there are two types of people who write about norton-those who are advocates and those who despise it on principle. Being objective this is a solid, fairly complicated red that seems almost austere at first then shows its inner fruitiness as it opens up. Keep in mind this wine goes for about $15: do not expect a Burgundy Grand Cru. This wine has charms of its own and it certainly has complexity. It won't appeal to everyone but iat the least it makes you want to taste more of the varietal.
If you grab a bottle of this keep it in the bag when you serve it to your friends and serve it without comment. Serious palates will maybe get there is something odd going on here. Many will, however, not get this is an American variety-- especially if they've had niagra, concord or scuppernong wines. Some who see the word "Virginia" on a label will dismiss the wine out of hand. Coming soon we plan to search out more Norton, from Missouri for certain and possibly other locations.