pacific rim: putting the wow in kung pao

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

A visit to the Pacific Rim winery, an industrial box on the dusty outskirts of Richland, Washington, is always enlightening. The creative brain of Randall Grahm, the business and marketing savvy of Nicolas Quillé, the dedication to immaculate winemaking with a focus on Washington riesling, all make this an exceptional project. But there is always more going on than just great winemaking, though there is plenty of that.

Pacific Rim is one of a handful of Washington wineries using social media to great effect. On his Facebook page, Quillé, winemaker and general manager for Pacific Rim, will occasionally post up valuable riesling-related stats, such as this note from a few months ago:

“Looking over the 13 weeks Nielsen data,” he wrote, “riesling is showing the fastest growth among all major varietals. Riesling is ahead of chardonnay, white zinfandel, merlot, cabernet sauvignon, pinot grigio, sauvignon blanc, syrah, zinfandel, pinot noir and sangiovese, growing at 8.2% versus last year. Now riesling is clearly a larger category than zinfandel (believe it or not) and I would not be surprised if within 6 months riesling takes over syrah. Riesling now represents 2.5% of all wine sold in the USA which is about twice what it was 3 years ago.”

On YouTube there are a pair of history-laden Riesling 101 - Part One
Riesling 101 - Part Two videos, tied into another new project – case boxes (recyclable of course) with colorful graphics and slogans such as “There’s a riesling for everything” … “Put some wow in your Kung Pao” … “Chill out your chipotles.” The idea is to encourage case stacks that also convey useful information about matching riesling to food.

Pacific Rim now makes 140,000 cases a year, 90 percent of it Washington riesling. There are 11 different riesling SKUs, including single vineyard wines, biodynamic, organic, dry, sweet, off-dry, sparkling, dessert, and ice wine. The three core wines (pictured above) all sell for around $10, and feature the new sweetness chart, along with useful technical information, on the back. Pacific Rim is the best winery in the country at combining gorgeous graphics with totally geeked-out technical information. New releases:

Pacific Rim 2008 Dry Riesling – a “trocken” style – just under one percent residual sugar, fermented with native yeast and aged on the lees, giving it textural interest. It’s aromatic with a mouth-watering juicyness (not too puckery) that invites – make that demands – another glass. Alcohol is a moderate 12.5 percent.

Pacific Rim 2009 Riesling – Quillé calls this his Johannisberg-style riesling, though the term (once quite common in Washington) is now illegal on labels. The newest addition to the Pac Rim lineup fills in a missing gap in the steady march up the residual sugar ladder. It’s all Yakima valley fruit, 2.2 percent residual sugar, 11.5 percent alcohol – in other words, the classic Washington tasting room riesling – only better. Opulent and fruity, with apricots, star anise, mint, a very nice spicy streak that lifts it up, and adds a lot of complexity. Smooth and supple, it coats the palate, captures some floral highlights, even a bit of marshmallow. A very sophisticated take on the classic style.

Pacific Rim 2009 Sweet Riesling – here the wine reaches 8.5 percent alcohol, and 7 percent residual sugar, with plenty of backing acidity. A perfect transition from white zin for the new wine consumer. Simple, but balanced and pleasurable, with flavors of peach, sugar, Meyer lemon, and orange candy.

Pacific Rim 2009 Organic Riesling – priced a little higher at $14, this hits 10.5 percent alcohol, and 3.6 percent residual sugar. Excellent acidity keeps the sugar balanced, showcasing well-integrated flavors of mixed fruits, some caramel, and a slight buttery softness in the finish.

At the top end are the two single vineyard releases, and both have been dropped significantly in price, from $32 to $22.

Pacific Rim 2008 Solstice Vineyard Riesling – just 200 cases of this Germanic wine from a 1972 planting. Alcohol is 12.4 percent, residual sugar 1.4 percent; the wine flinty, displaying dense citrus rind phenolics, great length, and subtle traces of honey. Lingering threads suggest everything from apples to papaya. This one, says Quillé, is “spankier – a leather and spikes kind of wine.” Woo-hoo – spank me!

Pacific Rim 2008 Wallula Vineyard Biodynamic Riesling – the first vineyard in Washington state to be certified biodynamic, this unique wine is the ripest in the group at 13.8 percent alcohol and 1.4 residual sugar. Full-bodied, it leans into stone fruits and light tropical. Still a few months away from release, it tastes a little sugary, the higher alcohol adding to the impression of sweetness. All these wines are highly recommended.


Dr. Christian G.E. Schiller said...

Pacific Rim produces outstanding Rieslings. I am a big fan of their wines. The dry Riesling used to be an inter-continental blend with 20 percent grapes from Germany. I am not sure they still produce this wine. Do they?

Jo Diaz said...

Love your title! So Grahm-ar-esque...

PaulG said...

Dr. Schiller - the Pacific Rim dry riesling is now 100% Washington fruit. They no longer import grapes from Germany. I believe it got too expensive, and their focus now is strictly on Washington grapes.

Thad W. said...

I am really impressed with Pacific Rim rieslings, as well as their chenin blanc and gewurtz. Nicolas is doing some amazing work with Washington riesling. In fact, I believe he may very well be establishing the benchmark from which all other WA rieslings will be measured.

Jason said...

This is what is broken with wine blogging. Great content, followed by three comments, two of which are merely attempts to divert some traffic. The third commenter didn't read the post thoroughly enough to actually find out that the title of the post is actually lifted from Pacific Rim/Randall Grahm....

Unknown said...

Thank you all for the support!

We'll keep working hard to push the limits of what Riesling ought to be in this country!



Thad W. said...

Jason, I am not seeking to divert traffic by including a link to my coverage of Pacific Rim wines. Rather, I am hoping to extend the dialogue on these wines by sharing my subjective perspective drinking them.

If I am the "third commenter" you're referring to here, then what business is it of yours to dictate what I or anyone else want to comment on with regard to this post?

Put another way, who appointed you to police comments on Paul's blog? Isn't that his job? And why no link to who you are and who you represent?

Jeff V. said...

I would like to point out Pacific Rim's Sparkling Riesling "White Flowers" as one to try.
Sourced from a single vineyard in the Yakima Valley, this bottle of bubbly should get WAY more attention than it does.
For me, it is the best bottle of bubbles from WA.

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