Four hundred years after the Spanish first brought the vine to the Americas, wineries like Bodega Norton are carving out an excellent global reputation for the distinctive flavour and quality of Argentinian wines.
Established in 1895 by an English engineer, Bodega Norton has a long and illustrious wine-producing history and is today one of Argentina’s most prestigious and popular wineries.
Its five sprawling estates, spanning some 1,265 hectares are located in the premium area of Mendoza, the Primera Zona, from where, under the watchful eye of chief winemaker Jorge Riccitelli, the majority of grapes are sourced.
The individual estates each specialise in different varietals planted to make the most of the area’s unique terroir, altitude and climate. The result is an annual bounty of high-quality grapes that in the skilful hands of Norton’s winemakers are transformed into a range of premium wines with a variety of excellent characteristics.
Dedicated to excellence, the team is led by President and CEO Michael Halstrick. Since taking the helm in 1991, Halstrick has steered the winery to become one of Argentina’s most renowned global exporters and its extensive collection of quality wines is available at many of the best hotels and restaurants throughout the region.
Bodega Norton’s Chief Winemaker Jorge Riccitelli was the first Argentine to be crowned Wine Enthusiast’s Winemaker of the Year in 2012. He has been with the award-winning winery since 1992 and has crafted many favourites like the Norton Reserva Malbec, Privada and Gernot Langes, available now at selected outlets throughout the region. Exquisite Taste was privileged to catch up with the man and talk briefly about his wines and the future.
E: I’ve heard people describe your winemaking style as elegant – how would you describe it?
Jorge: Elegant describes it very well. My intention is to always make a well balanced wine; everything should fit together perfectly to give a fantastic experience for the nose and palate. But the most important thing is that the flavours of the individual grapes are the dominant feature of the wine.
E: What do you think defines Bodega Norton?
J: We are one big family! But, in terms of winemaking I can say we make very honest and typical authentic Argentinian wines. I believe this is the reason why people in Argentina and all around the world love our wines.
E: What is the difference between the Reserva and Barrel Select ranges you produce?
J: In the Reserva range we are looking for elegance and balance. The oak is well integrated, it supports the body and structure rather than dominating. In the Barrel Select range we seek the best of both worlds. So there’s some oakiness from the barrel but also a lot of fruit – it’s a fantastically balanced wine. The grapes we use for the Reserva range come from older vineyards too, typically 30 to 50 years old, which adds body, while for the Barrel Select range we use grapes from vineyards around 30 years old.
E: Gernot Langes is billed as your icon wine. What makes it so special?
J: Well it is an outstanding wine and one we only make in the best vintages. Gernot Langes is blended from the best grapes grown from the oldest vines in the top vineyards of Norton. The Malbec percentage comes from Finca Lunlunta where the vines are over 100 years old, very low yield but with outstanding concentration and structure. This is also the reason why we can only produce around 5,000 bottles, which makes it a really very limited and a rare wine. The nose is complex and elegant aromas reflect the character of the grapes. In the mouth it’s velvety and harmonious with complex black fruits that persist in a long and vibrant finish.
E: In the past, you have described your wines as happy. I’m curious, what makes a wine happy?
J: For me a happy wine is a wine with character, with great expression, where the individual grape is the dominant feature. There was a trend to produce very powerful and oaky red wines, but they lost some of their character and individuality and, in some cases, even the differential between wine-growing countries or grape varieties was blurred. I tend to think of these as sad wines.
E: What did the 2012 Winemaker of the year award mean to you on a personal level?
J: This award meant a lot to me, not only on a personal level but for the whole winery. In order to make great wines you need a lot of helping hands, especially in the vineyards. It was the first time that a winemaker from South America received this award, which made it even more special, and I was very honoured and touched that I was chosen. For me winemaking is not a job, it is a passion and a philosophy of life. I am a very happy and blessed man to be able to do what I love.
E: Bodega Norton is celebrated as one of the region’s leading wineries and the wines are enjoyed all around the world. Of all your own wines, do you have a favourite?
J: Malbec. However the most important thing about wine is to share and enjoy it with family or friends, even the best bottle of wine is better with the right company.
E: Argentinian wines have evolved immensely over the last few decades. What are the challenges ahead?
J: The simple challenge is to teach people what Argentinian wines are like and to taste them so they can have the personal experience.
Tasting and pairing the Norton Reserva:
A Selection of Wines Specially Reserved Because of Their Exceptional Features
The Norton Reserva collection is crafted by only using carefully selected grapes from vineyards over 30 years old. The wine is aged in French oak barrels and then bottle-aged before release in both vintage and non-vintage formats.
Norton Reserva Malbec
Characterised by elegance and complexity, the heady blend of fruit and oak has turned this 100% Malbec into a popular go-to wine. Aged for 12 months in first- and second-use French oak barrels it presents a deep red colour with casual hints of purple. A lively number with notes of ripe black fruits, violets and a lingering hint of tobacco, it is the perfect social drink and superb paired with charcuterie and other red meats, especially the more earthy steak cuts. The fruitiness complements most spicy dishes and works very well with a hot Indian lamb or beef curry.
Norton Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon
A powerful, oaky 100% Cabernet Sauvignon with a deep ruby colour and complex aromas. Bold ripe red fruits with dark chocolate notes concentrate the nose whilst in the mouth the fruits, tannin and spiciness add to the impressive layers. Ideally suited to social occasions or paired with rich hearty red meat dishes or try it with hot or cold charred peppers and tomato for something fresher.
Norton Reserva Chardonnay
The Norton Reserva Chardonnay is a gorgeous yellow with subtle greenish tints. On the nose it’s an explosion of ripe citrus fruits, with mineral notes and vanilla adding complexity and style. In the mouth experience a buttery balance and a long and lingering finish. Perhaps the perfect wine for balmy outdoor dining and ideal served with light and delicate seafood like prawns and steamed or grilled fish. It also pairs extremely well with creamy pasta or risotto.