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 over 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. Late Harvest Rieslings were evaluated with tastings of brie cheese and artisan bread, and lightly sweet Windmill cookies from Trader Joe's. Vintages of wines tasted varied from 2006 to 2010 with most being from the years 2009 and 2010.
For accompanying savory cuisine, one of Riesling’s most appealing qualities is its freshness in the nose and on the palate. Firesteed Riesling offers bright lemon, melon, floral and citrus aromas leading to a lip-smacking palate with flavors of crisp apple, lemon zest, honeysuckle and a kiss of vanilla on the finish. A high-ranking wine in our tastings, participants very much appreciated its affinity for crab cakes and the other components of the meal.
Planted in the 1970s, Cold Creek Vineyard is one of Washington’s oldest and most acclaimed vineyards, located in a pocket 38 miles east of Yakima, but south of the Columbia River and Wahluke Slope. Riesling fruit from this vintage was picked over a four-week period, giving the winemaker more blending options. Look for aromas of apple, peach, baking spice and citrus leading to a rich palate with flavors of stone fruits, vanilla and spice with a citrus finish…great with crab cakes.
Vineyard & Winery
The winemakers at Kiona have always had a special way with Riesling, selecting fruit from a variety of Washington AVAs to make complex and flavorful wines that are superb accompaniments to food. This wine was appreciated by our tasters for its aromas and flavors of dusty pear, apple, citrus and floral notes. A touch of effervescence on the palate refreshes the mouthfeel and brightens the flavor sensation of Dungeness crab.
A to Z
This wine placed high in our ratings for its complexity and great Riesling flavors and aromas. Honeysuckle, citrus, white berry and lush tropical fruits dominate the aroma, while flavors of peach, mineral, lime zest and honey prepare the palate for tasty crab cakes. On the palate one notices a hint of residual sugar making this wine a great foil for spicy Thai cuisine or other Asian dishes.
The inimitable Charles Smith produces this tasty Riesling each year adding his fun loving flair to both the name of the wine and the artwork. Get your ninja on and give your crab a healthy karate chop. Intriguing aromas of pear, mineral and floral perfume lead to a crisp palate of melon, apple and lime zest flavors that set off crab cakes perfectly.
Buried Cane wines are named
after a time-honored Washington State practice used to protect grape
vines from frigid winter temperatures where low-growing vine canes are
buried under the soil, then unearthed after winter freezes pass. Each
individual wine is named with a term common to woodcut printing. This
delicate Riesling offers aromas of
jasmine, orchard blossom, citrus and
peach. The palate pairs well with delicate fresh Dungeness crab meat
with light flavors of pear, mineral and melon.
Winemaker Holly Turner crafted this tasty Riesling from grapes harvested at the venerable and well-respected Bacchus Vineyard north of Pasco. The wine tastes slightly sweeter than off-dry and thus adds spicy Thai food to its list of potential food pairings. Look for aromas and flavors of ripe pear, lemon zest, melon and light tropical fruits.
North by Northwest represents wines made from inland grape-growing appellations of the Columbia River Basin of Washington and Oregon. The brand is owned and wines are made by King Estate near Eugene, Oregon. This Riesling hails from the Wallula Benches Vineyard near Kennewick, Washington, perched high above the Columbia River as it makes its turn west to head for the Pacific Ocean. Bright aromas of apple, citrus and tropical fruits lead to an off-dry palate with flavors of apple/pear, lemon zest and mineral. A nice crisp finish pairs very well with crab cakes and fresh crab.
Just to be clear, this container is equal to four, 750ml bottles of wine. My experience with Black Box white wines is that they keep fresh in the refrigerator for up to a month. If you want to have a crab-friendly wine on hand during summertime crab season (my neighbors on the island go out every weekend to harvest a few of the tasty crustaceans), then you’ll not find a better choice. Aromas of pear, apricot and peach lead to a tasty palate with flavors of stone fruits, citrus, honey and vanilla.
Milbrandt Vineyards has some
of Washington’s best Wahluke Slope and Columbia Valley vineyard sites
totaling nearly 1,600 acres. This wine was crafted from Riesling
harvested in mid-December from Evergreen and Pheasant vineyards at 32.3
Brix (% sugar by weight). A two-month fermentation at cold temperature
resulted in this unctuous nectar of 12.8% residual sugar. Ripe aromas
of apricot, pear, orange zest and baked apple lead to rich flavors of
peach, honey, anise and baking spice – a dandy tot for dessert sipping.
Grapes for this unctuous Late Harvest Riesling were harvested in late November of 2008 at Lewis Vineyard in the eastern Yakima Valley. Having a moderate alcohol content of 9.5% and plenty of residual sugar at 23%, the wine best stands alone rather than accompanying a sweet dessert. Aromas and flavors of apricot, tea leaf, caramel and rich orange blossom make for enjoyable postprandial savoring.
The grapes for this wine were harvested at just 25.4 Brix. which doesn’t really make it late harvest, but it is a very tasty wine at a very appealing price point. Rather than serving as a dessert, try it with spicy Asian cuisine or spicy crab cakes (if you’re making your own, just add a pinch of cayenne). Aromas and flavors of honey, apricot, citrus and creamy vanilla are clean, and the mouthfeel is well balanced.
Wines from Other Areas
A top-rated wine in our Riesling tastings, this wine seems to confirm the winery’s claim that organic grapes make better wine. Classic aromas of pear and apple mingle with hints of honey and orchard blossom. The palate is perfectly balanced with flavors of citrus, pear and honey leading to a delicate finish that whispers, “enjoy me with fresh Dungeness crab.”
Say G’Day to a Riesling bargain from Australia! Showing classic Riesling character (including the tiniest hint of petrol in the nose), this wine also placed high in our Riesling rankings. Look for racy aromas of citrus, pear and mineral leading to a crisp, dry palate with flavors of pear, melon and orange zest.
Imported by Ste. Michelle Wine Estates, the Villa Maria line of wines offers good value for wines from exclusive New Zealand growing regions including Marlborough. This fresh dry Riesling offers aromas of peach and apple with hints of vanilla, grapefruit and mineral. The palate is crisp with flavors of apricot, lemon and flinty mineral. It is very tasty with crab cakes and other light fare.
If you like your white wines "green," then you might choose Bota Box for its efforts in green packaging. The box is made from 100% post-consumer fiber assembled with cornstarch instead of glue, inks are soy based and the whole shebang is recyclable. Oh, and the wine inside is delicious! Look for forward aromas of honeysuckle, citrus and melon with flavors of green apple, grapefruit and stone fruits.
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