blind tasting: oregon rieslings and a surprise ringer

Monday, July 01, 2013

I have always felt that Riesling had an important place in the hierarchy of Oregon white wines. Grown almost entirely on the west side of the state, it establishes a flavor profile significantly different from Washington’s Columbia Valley versions. In my mind, Oregon Rieslings fall somewhere between the high acid, delicately floral efforts from the northern Okanagan Valley in British Columbia, and the bright, vivid, stone and tropical fruit-laden wines of Washington.

A sample case of a dozen Oregon Rieslings arrived a week or so ago, with wines from vintages 2009 through 2012. Most of the producers were familiar to me, and half had previously been reviewed in the Wine Enthusiast. But I had not had the opportunity to do a blind tasting of a dozen different wines at once, and just for fun I threw in two ringers, and invited two wine-savvy buddies to taste with me and vote on our favorites.

There were no losers anywhere in this group, although a few wines seemed a bit thin and green. The styles ranged from bone dry to Auslese-level sweet (in fact, one of the ringers was an Auslese from the Mosel), which meant that after tasting one of the sweeter wines, it was important to rinse the glass and take a bite of a cracker to refresh the palate.

The Mosel wine was identified as a ringer by all three of us. The second ringer was my own Waitsburg Cellars 2012 Riesling, one of a lineup I’ve named The Aromatics. No one, myself included, guessed it as the ringer, perhaps because it seemed to fit nicely into the diverse lineup of vintages and styles that were assembled.

My favorite wine of the tasting, which also finished number one in our group vote, was the 2012 Alexana Revana Vineyard. I’d only tasted this producer once before – the 2010 bottling – and I liked it very much then. Here it was a clear favorite, rich and medium dry, loaded with lemon, orange and citrus scents and flavors, and graced with a lush, textural, mineral-drenched mouthfeel.

My #2 wine was the 2012 Trisaetum Ribbon Ridge Estate, which has often rung my bell in the past. Two of us ranked it #2, so there was a pretty good consensus that placed it a close second to the Alexana. In my W/E reviews, the 2010 got an 89 point score (a Dry bottling was rated 90); the 2011 earned a 94 (the Dry version right behind at 93). The review on the 2012 will be posted shortly on the Wine Enthusiast website.

My #3 wine was the 2010 Amity Wedding Dance Riesling, previously reviewed. It had developed a rather mature diesel streak that I found quite pleasing, and very Germanic. It gained length and complexity for some hours after being opened, which also ramped up the ranking.

My #4 wine was a tie between the 2010 Maximin Grunhauser Auslese from Schlosskellerei C. Von Schubert, and my own 2012 Waitsburg Cellars. This was a tough call, because the two wines were quite different, and I totally recognized the German wine. Although this tasting was done completely blind, I did know that there was a German ringer in the group, and so it was fairly easy to spot. My own wine slipped past me however; I thought it was one or the other of the two top wines. (The Alexana's vintage and overall style were almost exactly the same, though the price is double the Waitsburg Cellars.) But placing a solid #4 out of 14 wines was not a disappointment, and since neither I nor Sean Sullivan will be reviewing the Waitsburg Cellars wines, this seemed the fairest setting to give the Riesling an objective look.

For more on Oregon Riesling, visit the Oregon Riesling Alliance website.

NOTE: Waitsburg Cellars was fortunate to have all four wines submitted to Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate receive excellent reviews. I confess, being on the other side of the rating system was a new and heart-thumping experience for me. But the scores were respectable, and the written notes showed that Jeb Dunnuck, the newly-installed Washington state reviewer, had given the wines a close and careful look. For the record, I have never met Mr. Dunnuck, never spoken or corresponded to Mr. Dunnuck, and have absolutely no connection to him in any life, past, present or future. So I hope that even my severest critics can consider his reviews of Waitsburg Cellars wines impartial.

Given his lackluster appraisal of Washington Rieslings as a category “overall mediocre quality...” which concluded “...once you get beyond a few interesting efforts, I see no reason to come to Washington for this variety” I felt that Dunnuck’s notes on the Waitsburg Cellars Riesling were quite positive:

“A solid Riesling that has good typicity, with tropical and lychee styled fruit, the 2012 Riesling (100% Riesling that’s all from the Minick Vineyard, vinified all in stainless steel) is medium-bodied, fresh and balances its sugar and acidity beautifully with a clean finish. Overall easy drinking and delicious, it will be a crowd pleaser and should be consumed over the coming handful of years. Drink now-2015.”

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