who has the best lineup of rieslings in the pacific northwest?

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Full disclosure – I skipped out on the Riesling Rendezvous earlier this week, so this is not a comprehensive I-tasted-450-Rieslings-in-two-hours “overview” of the state of the art. But I do in fact taste many, perhaps most of the Rieslings made here in Washington and Oregon, and I taste under carefully controlled conditions. At home, at length, in my favorite stemware, with ample time and no distractions.

There’s little argument that Washington makes excellent Rieslings. Among its many wineries, Ste. Michelle Wine Estates produces more Rieslings than any winery in the world. The range and breadth and depth of their offerings is beyond comprehensive. And their best wines are very much the equals of any in the region, which is to say, in the entire country.

Dozens – perhaps hundreds – of other Washington wineries produce a few Rieslings, and there are more than a few that are world class. Looking over the last year or two of my Wine Enthusiast reviews, I see 90+ scores given to numerous vintages of Long Shadows (Poet’s Leap), Dunham Cellars (Lewis Estate), Nefarious Cellars (Stone’s Throw Vineyard), Ste. Michelle & Dr. Loosen (Eroica), Pacific Rim, Januik (Bacchus Vineyard), Efesté (Evergreen Vineyard) and others.

But let’s look at who is a true Riesling specialist.

The first name to come to mind is Pacific Rim. Originally a single wine produced by Randall Grahm, it spun off to be a Washington-based Riesling specialist some years ago. Winemaker/GM Nicolas Quillé has done a truly marvelous job with a lineup that includes as many as a dozen different wines. There are single vineyard wines, biodynamic wines, dry, off-dry, sweet and sparkling wines. And there are other Riesling-producing regions here in the far north that bear scrutiny. Idaho. British Columbia. And Oregon.

Oregon may yet turn out to be the best Riesling producing region in the entire Northwest. Though not a huge presence in Pinot Noir country, several of Oregon’s Willamette Valley wineries craft excellent examples. Alexana, Chehalem, David Hill, Ponzi, Penner-Ash and Sineann all spring to mind. And given that these grapes are grown west of the Cascade mountains, the wines are significantly different in style from the bright, dense, vividly explosive Rieslings made throughout Washington.

The best Oregon Rieslings are more elegant, more subtle, often more floral and delicate, and lower in alcohol, yet never lacking for structure, depth or detail. A few years ago a new winery, specifically dedicated to Riesling (and now also to Pinot Noir) debuted, and I’ve tracked these wines carefully ever since. Trisaetum, whose Pinots I wrote about earlier this week, introduced its first Rieslings about five years ago, and I would submit there is no winery in the country with a better lineup.

I wrote James Frey to ask about his Riesling fermentations and he replied “regarding my Riesling... in 2012 I had 82 small Riesling ferments (logistically a challenge but I believe helps create greater complexity). Of these ferments, roughly 70% were done in stainless steel barrels, 20% in neutral oak puncheons, and 10% in concrete eggs. Each fermentation vessel brings something a little different to the mix. The Estates Reserve is a combination of all three – stainless steel, neutral oak, and concrete eggs. A little higher percentage of the neutral oak and concrete egg as both these bring a little more texture and complexity that I look for in the Reserve.”

For sheer focus, power and explosive beauty, these are wines you absolutely must try. The most recent releases include two each (dry and off-dry) from the estate vineyards, along with a reserve. All five are spectacular. As always, full reviews and scores will appear in a future issue of Wine Enthusiast.

Trisaetum 2012 Coast Range Estate Dry Riesling
Yamhill-Carlton District; $24
274 cases; 12%
Yet another fruit-powered, lip-smacking Riesling from Trisaetum, this brings a basket of yellow apples, tart limes, Bosch pears and a slice of pink grapefruit into perfect harmony. Leesy, textural, long and utterly refreshing, it finishes with a nice kick of bracing acidity.

Trisaetum 2012 Coast Range Estate Riesling
Yamhill-Carlton District; $24
438 cases; 11%
This is the medium-dry Riesling from this estate vineyard, a notch lower in alcohol than the Dry bottling, and overall a bit rounder. It carries the same excellent texture, length and mix of ripe fruits, with pears and nectarines taking center stage.

Trisaetum 2012 Ribbon Ridge Estate Dry Riesling
Ribbon Ridge; $24
309 cases, 12%
The Ribbon Ridge estate, adjacent to the winery, delivers beautifully-ripened fruit – so ripe in fact that the first impression is of sweet tree fruits, although the wine is actually quite dry. Peaches, citrus and nectarines are in the mix, and when the tangy acidity kicks in, a long, mineral-driven ride across the palate ensues.

Trisaetum 2012 Ribbon Ridge Estate Riesling
Ribbon Ridge; $24
462 cases, 11%
Lovely details of honeysuckle and apple blossoms lead into lush flavors of gooseberry jam, lemon curd and apple butter; the mind reels at the complexity. It’s all in perfect balance, the fruit set against bracing acidity, the hint of sweetness rounding out the mouthfeel, and the whole flavor circus rolling merrily along through an extended finish.

Trisaetum 2012 Estates Reserve Riesling
Willamette Valley; $32
133 cases; 10.5%
This limited reserve incorporates the best of 82 different lots, some done in stainless steel, some in neutral oak, and some in concrete eggs. Phenomenal concentration reveals a wine packed with powerful fruit flavors that cover the spectrum of citrus, apple, peach and pear. The luscious combination is supported with natural acidity and an underlying minerality. It’s deep, long and satisfying, with the structure to age for decades.

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