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stirring the lees with james molesworth

A Sit Down With Bodega Norton

Photo by: David Yellen

Posted: Nov 29, 2007 9:58am ET

I sat down with Michael Halstrick, president, and Jorge Riccitelli, chief winemaker, of Argentina’s Bodega Norton yesterday, as they were in town to promote their new icon wine.

Halstrick, whose family also owns the Swarovski crystal company, has steadily piloted Norton’s growth over the past few years. The winery now produces over 1.5 million cases annually and is doing better business in the U.S. than ever before—180,000 cases annually (up from around 40,000 a few years ago).

“If you’re in the wine business in Argentina and you haven’t been growing, you’re doing something wrong,” joked Halstrick.

Indeed, Argentina has been on a run over the last five years (you can reference my current annual report here), and the number of higher-end bottlings has also proliferated.

Bodega Norton’s entry into the triple-digit price tag fray is their debut release of the 2003 Bodega Norton Gernot Langes Luján de Cuyo. The wine is a blend of 70 percent Malbec, sourced from Norton’s oldest vines in their Lunlunta vineyard, along with some 50-year-old Cabernet Sauvignon vines from their La Colonia vineyard and a drop of young Cabernet Franc vines.

The wine, named for Halstrick’s stepfather, also marks the first time Bodega Norton’s winemaker has used Cabernet Franc.

“I wanted to make a wine different from the Norton range,” explained Riccitelli. “I also wanted to make a wine that was both approachable now, but could also age, so that’s why I added the Cab Franc, for its tannins.”

Riccitelli got some advice on his Cabernet Franc from the technical director of Cheval-Blanc, the Bordeaux property that produces one of the world’s top versions.

“When he visited in ’02, he gave me advice on when to harvest, because the window of opportunity to get really ripe tannins is very small for Cabernet Franc,” said Riccitelli.

The wine is impressive, with alluring toast, layers of raspberry and currant fruit, and a lovely underlying edge of loam. Also prominent is the Cabernet Franc, even though there’s only 5 percent in the blend. The finish shows a lingering note of spicy tobacco and gravel, not unlike a ripe St.-Emilion. (A formal review based on a blind tasting of the wine will appear soon.)

As is typical for icon wines, the Gernot Langes is both pricey (set to retail at $110 per bottle) and limited (only 665 cases produced, with 150 coming to the U.S.). No, it’s not your everyday wine. And because of its low production, it won’t have much of an impact on the image of Argentine wine among consumers.

But it does join a steadily growing group of high-end wines from Argentina, including the single-vineyard wines from Achával-Ferrer and Viña Cobos as well as Luca’s Nico bottling, Nicolas Catena’s Catena Zapata and Malbec Argentino and more. Individually they have little impact, but as a group they can exert enough influence to steadily improve the image and quality of Argentina’s wines.

All of which is a double-edged sword of course: Increasing competition resulting in better quality being the benefit, steadily increasing prices being the detriment.

Steve Kirchner
Huntington —  November 29, 2007 1:08pm ET
just curious... if 180000 cases out of 1.5 million come to the U.S. - how are the rest distributed?
James Molesworth
November 29, 2007 1:17pm ET
Steve: I don't know the country-by-country breakdown for Norton's exports, but the U.S. market is their main export market. And they do export wine to 50 countries...
Anacleto Ludovic
paris france  —  November 29, 2007 2:58pm ET
james, us is their main market? i tought it was Uk?I have recently been to England and I was amazed by the selection of wines they have. I believe that in new world wines or comonwealth wines, UK is the main importer and platform.regardsLudovic
Fred Brown
November 29, 2007 8:57pm ET
We have seen Norton wines in Peru and Ecuador as well as everywhere we went in Argentina itself. I wouldn't be surprised if their domestic sales far exceeded their US sales, and maybe all exports.
Jon C Martinez Dds
Overland —  December 1, 2007 8:42pm ET
Dear Mr. Molesworth,I am not sure where to submit this comment, but I want to thank you for suggesting La Mere Germaine in Chateauneuf du Pape. The food was impecable and the service charming. The Mistral was with us the whole time and that led us to spend our last two days in the Luberon, where it was less windy. We visited Domaine de la Citadelle and the Musee Tire Bouchon (corkscrew museum). If you never have been to Menerbes, you need to go out of your way and tour the over 1,300 corkscrews. There oldest one dates back to the mid 17th century. They also have one of the best wines I have tasted in a long time. The 2003 Les Ultimes (2,500 BOTTLES produced) was absolutely amazing. Unfortunately, it is not exported. But I bought a few. Once again thanks for the suggestion. Happy Holidays.Jon Martinez
James Molesworth
December 2, 2007 12:04pm ET
Jon: You can always post about CdP here...!
Geronimo Dotel
dominicanrepublic —  December 4, 2007 9:30am ET
Dear James I always read your Blogs,I was recently at a private tasting organized by El Catador a winner restaurant of the Wine spectator award of excellence in Santo Domingo,Dominican Republic and was attended by the enologist of Bodegas Norton and they introduced to us a wine made out of Malbec more than 65% and Cabernet Sauvignon 35% named Perdriel Centenario ,have you ever tried this wine,any comments?Thank you !Geronimo Dotel,Dominican Republic.
James Molesworth
December 4, 2007 1:20pm ET
Geronimo: I'm not familiar with that exact label - I have had a wine from Norton which in the U.S. is labeled as Perdriel Single Vineyard. Sometimes wines have different labels for different export markets - though I do not know if that is the case here.

The Perdriel Single Vineyard I've tried is a red made from various amounts of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Malbec, and I have liked it in the past. The last vintage I was sent for review was the '02.
James Molesworth
December 5, 2007 3:03pm ET
Geronimo: I checked with the winery, and the Perdriel Single Vineyard I have reviewed is in fact a different wine from the Perdriel Centenario. The Centenario which you had is available only in South American markets...
Geronimo Dotel
dominicanrepublic —  December 14, 2007 2:39pm ET
Dear Mr.Molesworth,Thank you for your feed back on the Bodegas Norton Perdriel Centenario.I actually wanted to get back to you earlier despite my efforts but finally I got some additional information.As for that wine,what goes in the mix is a higher percentage of Malbec and some Cabernet Sauvignon,Where as the Perdriel Single Vineyard is mainly Cabernet Sauvignon with a little inclusion of Merlot and Malbec.The research was worthy after all.Thank you!Geronimo Dotel.

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