The Cynthiana/Norton vines are hitting veraison in my test vineyard 1.5 weeks after the Chambourcin. The two varietals couldn't be more different. Chambourcin hails from the much-maligned French-American hybrid stock while Cynthiana is 100% pure indigenous, a naturally occurring hybrid of
vitis aestevalis. Chambourcin has loose clusters with large, dark berries while Cynthiana has tight little clusters with small berries. You can get some incredibly dark, rich wines out of either, though Chambourcin excels in a less tannic must with less maceration. Both of them make a very nice red wine and have fared well in the test vineyard.
It's easy for me to overlook Cynthiana despite the fact that it performs wonderfully in our region. But I'm something of a contrarian and this varietal is our Missouri state grape, thus my plans to plant Cab Franc in my commercial bloc. Were the total acidity a little lower, Cynthiana would stack up well against any red out there, and I think there's huge potential for blending a touch with some varietals that tend to get a little flabby. When you consider the trend toward large, fruit-saturated, high-alcohol wines made with extra-ripe fruit, a little Norton/Cyn could add some needed backbone and bite without resorting to acid blends off the shelf. I'll certainly experiment with a Cab Franc/Cynthiana blend, maybe 90/10, when I have the chance.
One problem with Norton/Cynthiana is the dual name. I like the latter while the former is more recognizable. Add this schizophrenia to its regional nature and the anti-American varietal stigma and it's got a long way to go to gain wider acceptance. I'm not sure the day will arrive when this varietal will make a splash in the wine press, though good stories abound. Paul Roberts has written extensively about this varietal, and there's a very amusing sequence in his book, From this Hill, My Hand, Cynthiana's Wine where he brings some splits of his homemade Norton to the great houses of France to solicit some feedback.
So when I talk about larger plantings of vinifera, I sometimes feel like I'm neglecting a local upstart cultivar that makes a very nifty wine. But then there are plenty of folks in the area making some good Cynthiana. And there are other folks out there promoting this varietal, so I still think it has a bright future.