By Chuck Hill
Wines of the Week Archive
The white wine grape Riesling (reez’ ling) originated in the Rhein region of Germany, and is grown predominantly in Germany’s steep river valleys with the best examples coming from the Rhein and Mosel areas. In the New World, Riesling was first planted in places that took advantage of the early ripening characteristic of the varietal. Wine regions in cooler northern climates produced the first and best U.S. Rieslings. Today, Washington’s Chateau Ste. Michelle is the largest producer of Riesling in the world at more than 600,000 cases annually.
We will delve more into Riesling’s history in future columns of this series, but we must now pull a cork or two and get to the topic at hand. Riesling offers aromas and flavors of apple, pear, flowers and citrus. On the palate, crisp acidity makes it a superb food wine, specifically with many types of shellfish. Our tastings were conducted with crab cakes (made from high quality canned crab) and fresh Dungeness crab caught locally. Chef Ted’s gourmet crab cakes were prepared in two styles: a traditional style served with a lemon-caper-chive sauce; and a superb Asian style with lime, basil, curry paste and rau ram (Vietnamese Coriander), served with a mildly spicy Thai-style sauce.
Near the banks of the Willamette River near Salem, Oregon, is Arcane Cellars at Wheatland Winery. The nearby Wheatland Ferry links Marion County with the south end of Yamhill County and is a great attraction for landlubbers who would like a $2 adventure. But don’t forget to stop at Arcane Cellars to try their delicious Riesling! Top rated by our tasters, it offers ripe apple and floral aromas with bright pear and apple flavors in an off dry style.
Another top favorite with our tasters, NXNW Riesling is a project of King Estate Winery near Eugene, Oregon. This large Oregon winery expanded production from Oregon Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris and Chardonnay to take advantage of Washington State fruit of both red and white varieties. Aromas of floral perfume, tropical fruit and mineral lead to a crisp, dry palate featuring spicy flavors of pear, apple and citrus - great with crab cakes.
The Cold Creek Vineyard is near the geographic center of the Columbia Valley AVA and is one of the oldest vineyards in Washington State - planted in 1973. Fruit from the vineyard produces complex and characterful wines of Riesling, Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot. An off-dry style with crisp acidity to balance, look for aromas and flavors of peach and apricot with notes of citrus and mineral.
Chateau Ste. Michelle
This wine, described by winemaker Bob Bertheau as “our any day Riesling,” is nicely balanced in an off-dry style, still with ample acidity to pair well with crab cakes and many other lighter foods. Bright aromas of lime zest, pear and peach lead to a refreshing palate of apricot and citrus with notes of vanilla and mineral.
The Kiona Vineyard was one of the first planted on Red Mountain, now a much-heralded AVA known throughout the world. The oldest vines date from 1975 plantings and produce exceptional, complex wines. This tasty Riesling is labeled as “dry” though it has a fresh, off-dry character that makes it a good food wine as well as a wine one can sip as an aperitif. Aromas and flavors of apple, pear and citrus mingle with mineral and herbal notes.
The Dionysus Vineyard in Washington’s Columbia Valley is the sole source of fruit for Arbor Crest’s Riesling. This 153-acre vineyard is planted to Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Chardonnay with small blocks of Petit Verdot, Semillon and Riesling. This wine has a discernable sweetness to balance the crisp acidity and offers aromas and flavors of stone fruits, honey-lemon and pear with notes of mineral of earthy herbs.
This is a wine that not everyone understands. With aromas and flavors of peach, candy apricot, honeysuckle and apple, everyone jumps on board and pours a glass to accompany their tasty crab cakes. As the wine breathes and warms slightly, Riesling purists appreciate notes of petrol, earth and flint, which are typical in Riesling wines produced under certain circumstances. Not everyone gets it, and words like “kerosene” get bandied about… but it is a tasty wine and true to Riesling character.
Amity produces this Estate Dry Riesling only in the best vintages and crafts it in such a style to accompany seafood of all types. Look for aromas of pear drop candy, apricot and earthy mineral with light notes of petrol. On the palate the wine offers flavors of white peach, citrus and flint.
The Lewis Estate Vineyard was planted in 1998 at the foothills of the eastern end of Rattlesnake Ridge. Dunham Cellars produces several superb wines from Lewis Vineyard fruit including their flavorful Riesling. Aromas of tropical fruits, floral perfume and peach lead to an off-dry palate with stone fruit and apple flavors finishing with crisp acidity.
Pheasant Valley Winery
Pheasant Valley Winery is located near the Columbia River Gorge in Oregon’s Hood River Valley. Among the first organic vineyards and wineries, owners Scott and Gail Hagee lead the Columbia Valley in sustainable farming practices with more than 20 years as certified pear and apple orchardists. This is a delicate wine with aromas and flavors of apple and baking spice, mingling with light notes of mineral and citrus.
This wine wins over the consumer with the price point, and delivers a quality sip for those seeking a lightly sweet, peachy Riesling with a crisp finish. Pacific Rim is obsessed with Riesling, producing 10 different Riesling wines from vineyards throughout Washington’s Columbia Valley. The winery is a strong proponent for the versatility of Riesling, and we must agree that it pairs well with crab cakes.
Woodward Canyon Winery
Woodward Canyon Dry Riesling has been a favorite of many wine lovers for years. This bottling is slightly different, a blend of two vintages. (The vintage Dry Riesling should reappear with the 2012 vintage.) The aroma is reminiscent of a late-harvest style with notes of ripe pear, baked apple and spice. The concentrated palate offers peach butter, mineral and creamy apple.
“This wine is not your typical Riesling. It is an initiative to restore the reputation of old world German Rieslings and to showcase how well old vines can grow in the Willamette Valley. It reveals terroir more than any other white varietal.” This wine offers aromas and flavors of apples, stone fruits and pear with notes of mineral and honey. There is also some Riesling petrol character. The palate is dry and crisp with acidity.
Wines from other areas:
Trefethen Family Vineyards
The winery that is now Trefethen Vineyards was founded in 1886 as Eshcol Winery. In 1968 Eugene Trefethen and his wife Katie purchased Eshcol and six surrounding properties to establish Trefethen Vineyards. Restoration began and in 1988 Trefethen was placed on the National Register of Historic Places as the only 19th-century, wooden, gravity-flow winery surviving in Napa County. Their elegant Dry Riesling is made in a style that more wineries should emulate: subdued mineral nose with notes of peach and apple and a balanced palate that pairs very well with food.
This was a top-scoring wine in our recent tasting, crafted by winemaker Jim Klein at Mendocino-area winery Navarro Vineyards. Showing the quintessential Riesling nose of spicy apple and pear, the wine adds notes of mineral, floral perfume and just a hint of petrol on the palate. It has superb balance with ample acidity to accompany any lighter meal.
After you come in from crabbing on Puget Sound – like my neighbors on Camano Island, it is time to invite your friends over (thanks Jerry and Delores) to crack some legs and claws and perhaps grill up a succulent crab cake or two. This apple-peach-and-honey flavored wine from Black Box will serve a crowd of crab lovers and save you enough money to gas up the boat for the next day’s crab-pot set.
Mirassou Winery has been growing grapes and making wine in California for more than 150 years and pioneered wine grape growing on the Central Coast in the 1960s. Night and early-morning harvesting ensures that cool Riesling grapes arrive at the winery for a cool fermentation that preserves the delicate fruity character. Aromas of peach, apricot and spice lead to the palate which leans to flavors of apple and pear with hints of citrus and slight notes of petrol. It is a very tasty wine with crab cakes and other lighter foods.