Riesling, the noble grape of Germany, may be the quintessential Pacific Northwest wine.
Each of the four sections in our corner of the wine world — Washington, Oregon, British Columbia and Idaho — have a long history of making riesling, producing delicious and distinctive styles. The various soil types, influenced by glaciers, wind and/or volcanoes, play critical roles. Long growing seasons and cool nighttime temperatures allow for flavor development and the preservation of natural acidity.
As a result, riesling is crafted in a broad range of styles, from bone-dry to sweet nectar. And the resulting wines pair deliciously well with Northwest cuisine, particularly seafood and Asian-influenced dishes.
In the summer 2019 issue of Wine Press Northwest magazine, we blind-tasted more than 60 examples of riesling. Following are five of the top wines, according to the judges. (See the entire list of rieslings that received an “Outstanding!” rating at www.winepressnw.com, and ask your favorite wine merchant about these or contact the winery directly.)
• Chateau Ste. Michelle 2017 Dry Riesling, Columbia Valley, $10: The No. 1 wine in this judging continues to set the bar at many levels for riesling in the U.S. It is nicknamed “Baby Eroica” because of a somewhat similar tasting profile to the iconic Eroica, and the winemaking tandem of Bob Bertheau and David Rosenthal leaves considerably less residual sugar on their Columbia Valley dry riesling than it does the Eroica.
The vintage continues its own tradition with a clean and classic nose of Bosc pear, white peach and lemon. Across the palate, it’s a riesling lover’s dream in its blend of tree-ripened nectarine and orange flavors that finish with lemon/lime and a lick of peach pit for complexity. Enjoy with crab, scallops, mild cheeses, Asian dishes or Indian curries.
• Brooks Wine 2017 Brooks Estate Vineyard Riesling, Eola-Amity Hills, $32: Thanks to matriarch Janie Brooks Hueck, it can be argued that no winemaker on the West Coast geeks out and gets to play with as many presentations of riesling as Chris Williams at Brooks near Salem, Ore. And he doesn’t need to walk far from the panoramic tasting room to check on these vines.
Its nose is remarkably fruity and floral with a whiff of honey that leads to an intense structure of ripe stone fruit on the palate. Refreshing kumquat acidity provides plenty of tension for the 1.4 percent residual sugar.
• Jones of Washington 2017 Riesling, Ancient Lakes of Columbia Valley, $10: There’s no surprise when a wine by Victor Palencia rises to the top of any judging, particularly with aromatic whites. The nose of watermelon, lemonade and flecks of minerality essentially gives away its Ancient Lakes roots. On the attack, it’s racy and lively with honeydew melon, kiwi fruit, pear and apple, backed by river rock and fresh mint. The finish is bone-dry, despite the 1.6 percent residual sugar.
• Goose Ridge Vineyards 2018 Estate Riesling, Columbia Valley, $18: At some point in the not-too-distant future, look for this riesling to list “Goose Gap” as its American Viticultural Area, and winemaker Andrew Wilson is poised to make headlines with it. Intense and dense aromas of melon, lemon and yellow rose petal lead to flavors of cantaloupe, white peach and starfruit.
• Long Shadows Vintners 2017 Poet’s Leap Riesling, Columbia Valley, $20: Famed German producer Armin Diel created the riesling template at Long Shadows for founder Allen Shoup, and Walla Walla winemaker Gilles Nicault recently has taken over the direction of Poet’s Leap while expanding the Nine Hats tier. He relies on his relationship with Sagemoor Vineyards and maintains a trocken style that’s deliciously mouthwatering.
White peach, lemony and wildflower aromas come with a faint whiff of petrol, which are followed by a beautifully flavorful blend of rosewater, Meyer lemon and nectarine that’s capped by Mandarin orange.