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08.05.2012

Treasure in the Hills: Tasting Oregon's Rieslings

sunset.png"Pssst. Hey buddy. Wanna taste some Riesling?" said the shadowy figure in the trench coat from behind a tree. I must say, I wasn't surprised at this open solicitation in broad daylight amidst the festivities of the International Pinot Noir Celebration. After all, it had happened to me once before -- a mysterious invitation to slip away from the orgy of Pinot Noir for something a little more.... racy.

In fact, I've come to eagerly anticipate the opportunity to check in on the progress of Oregon's least known wine trend. In the land of hills awash with fantastic Pinot Noir, more and more vintners are beginning to experiment with Riesling, thanks to the successful efforts of some pioneers.

Quite honestly, it's somewhat uncharitable to characterize the efforts of Oregon producers as mere experimentation at this point. They've even gotten themselves an organization: the Oregon Riesling Alliance, whose bi-annual e-mail invitation I've so blatantly twisted into my own film-noir fantasy above.

Riesling has actually been planted in Oregon since the very first days of Oregon viticulture. Pioneering vintner Richard Sommer, whose 1960's Hillcrest Vineyards winery was one of the state's earliest forays into wine, included Riesling as part of his plantings. By 1980 Riesling actually accounted for 25% of the state's plantings. But then Pinot Noir came along and as often happens when a region discovers a gold mine, Riesling all but disappeared.

Today Oregon has more than 750 acres of Riesling planted, spread across the Umpqua Valley, the Rogue Valley, the Colombia River Valley, and of course, the Willamette Valley. From the perspective of broad climate measures, Oregon fits nicely in the known range for growing Riesling, which likes a cooler climate, known as Region 1 to climate scientists. Other winegrowing areas in Region 1 include Burgundy and Germany's Rhine region.

And the Rieslings keep popping out of the woodwork. The folks from the Oregon Riesling Alliance that put this tasting together were chuckling about how they keep discovering new bottlings that no one knows about, a fact that highlights the somewhat low profile of both the Oregon Riesling Alliance and those vintners they would desire as members.

Having last tasted the 2008 and 2009 vintages, I found the 2010 and 2011 wines to be generally better across the board thanks to higher acid levels in all the wines. Flabby Riesling with low acid is a sacrilege in my book, and that was the primary complaint I had for a bunch of wines in 2008 and 2009. While there continued to be a couple of producers that shone above others, my impression of the whole field of wines was one of a much stronger showing by the middle of the pack. The average quality of the wines was higher across the board. Whether this was merely thanks to what mother nature handed winemakers, or their improving skills and relationship to the grape I cannot say. What I can say is that for $18 you can get a darn good bottle of Riesling from Oregon now, which is something everyone should celebrate.

According to the tasting's organizers, the wines below represent the vast majority of Riesling bottlings in Oregon. There are a few that are known to be missing, and probably a few more that are simply still below the radar.

I have arranged my tasting notes in descending order of scores and the prices provided are by and large those given to me by the producers.

TASTING NOTES:

2011 Brooks "Tethys" Late Harvest Riesling, Willamette Valley
Medium gold in the glass, this wine smells of candied grapefruit and a hint of apple cider. In the mouth the wine explodes with acidity and flavors of apple cider, candied grapefruit, and exotic citrus. Even though this wine has 12.5% residual sugar it has a staggering 16.2 grams of total acidity, which makes it taste only slightly off dry. Unusually flavored for a Riesling, but fantastic. 9.1% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $25

2010 Argyle "Nusshaus" Riesling, Eola-Amity Hills, Willamette Valley
Near colorless in the glass, this wine smells of honey, pears, and grapefruit. In the mouth the wine is lightly sweet with grapefruit, pear, and wet stone flavors that meld seamlessly with bright acidity and a wet chalkboard finish. Very pretty. 8% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $18.

2010 Brooks "Ara" Riesling, Eola Hills/Yamhill, Willamette Valley
Pale greenish gold in the glass, this wine smells of white flowers, lime juice, and wet chalkboard. In the mouth a deep stony wet chalkboard quality pervades the wine with hints of lime zest and lime juice that linger in the finish. Austere, with fantastic acidity, and a really compelling liquid stone quality. Dry. 11.5% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $25. click to buy.

2011 Chehalem "Three Vineyard" Riesling, Willamette Valley
Palest greenish gold in the glass, this wine smells of green apple and lemon juice. In the mouth, bright green apple, pear, and mandarin orange citrus flavors have a delicate but zingy acidity which carries the wine over a bright stony granite floor. Yum. Dry. 10.5% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $21.

2010 Elk Cove "Late Harvest" Riesling, Willamette Valley
Near colorless with a hint of green, this wine smells of bright lemon and honey with notes of wet stone. In the mouth lemon juice and wet stone flavors collide amidst bright acidity, which leaves the mouth watering. Almost 5.7% residual sugar, but the high acidity leaves the wine tasting only faintly sweet or off dry. 8% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $20. click to buy.

2010 Montinore "Sweet Reserve" Riesling, Willamette Valley
Pale gold in the glass, this wine smells of apple, pear, and honeysuckle. In the mouth this wine tastes of pears, honey, and apples with wonderfully bright acidity and a stony minerality that makes for a very balanced, complete package. Excellent acidity, lovely mouthfeel. Dry. 10% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost:$15. click to buy.

2011 Montinore "Sweet Reserve" Riesling, Willamette Valley
Palest greenish gold in the glass, this wine smells of white flowers and green apple. In the mouth, green apple and white flowers flavors have a wonderfully sweetness to them with excellent balanced acidity and a deep wet stone undertone. A complete package with silky texture. Moderately sweet. 10.80% alcohol. Score: around 9. Cost: $15. click to buy.

2011 Trisaetum "Ribbon Ridge Estate" Riesling, Ribbon Ridge, Willamette Valley
Palest gold, near colorless in the glass, this wine smells of white flowers and honey. In the mouth a light sweetness conveys flavors of pear, apple, and mandarin orange touched with white flowers and honey. Classically composed and wonderfully balanced. Bright and juicy. Off-dry to lightly sweet. Score: around 9. Cost: $24. click to buy.

2010 Argyle Riesling, Eola-Amity Hills, Willamette Valley
Palest greenish gold in the glass, this wine smells of grapefruit and wet stone. In the mouth, bright pink grapefruit and wet stone flavors mix with a floral note and only a hint of sweetness. Excellent minerality and balance. Off-dry. 10% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $18. click to buy.

2010 Argyle "Minus-Five" Riesling, Eola-Amity Hills, Willamette Valley
Light gold in the glass, this wine smells of baked apples, honey, and apple cider. In the mouth flavors of apple cider, honey, candied orange peel and mandarin oranges mix quite prettily amidst moderate sweetness and excellent acidity. 11.3% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $30.

2010 Brooks Riesling, Willamette Valley
Palest greenish gold, this wine smells of star fruit, white flowers, and wet stones that have been doused by a mid-afternoon rainstorm. In the mouth the wine offers bright and tart lemon pith and pink grapefruit flavors, and leaves the tongue a little chalky. Austere, with great acidity. Dry. 11.5% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $18.

2010 Brooks "Sweet P" Riesling, Eola-Amity Hills, Willamette Valley
Near colorless in the glass, this wine smells of cut grass and green apples with a sweet snap pea aroma that is somewhat unusual. I swear the name of this wine is not unduly influencing this tasting note. In the mouth, sugar snap pea flavors mix with lemon juice and pink grapefruit for a very unusual, quirky, and tasty concoction that is quite pleasant. Off dry. 8.6% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $22. click to buy.

2011 Chehalem "Corral Creek" Riesling, Chehalem Mountains, Willamette Valley
Palest gold in the glass, this wine smells of crisp apples and lemon juice. In the mouth bright apple and unripe pear flavors mix with lemon juice mandarin orange and a wonderful wet stone quality. Great acidity, nice balance. Excellent overall. Dry. 10.50% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $24. click to buy.

2011 Chehalem "Sext" Riesling, Willamette Valley
Near colorless in the glass with very tiny bubbles, this wine smells of wet chalkboard and lemon blossoms. In the mouth the wine is slightly sweet, with very soft, delicate carbonation, and flavors of lemon juice, green apple, and pears. Delicious. 7% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $24. click to buy.

2011 Lemelson "Dry" Riesling, Willamette Valley
Pale gold in the glass, this wine smells of linalool and white flowers. In the mouth, bright lemon zest and lemon juice mix with pink grapefruit and a smooth silky texture. Delicate, lacy acidity and wonderful balance. Dry. 12% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $20. click to buy.

2010 Lemelson "Dry" Riesling, Willamette Valley
Pale gold in the glass, this wine smells of green apples, lime zest, and wet stones. In the mouth, wet stones, lime zest, and green apple mix with a chalky sharp acidity that is quite pleasing. Stark and austere, this wine is nonetheless a pleasure to drink. Dry. 12% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $19. click to buy.

2010 Penner Ash Riesling, Willamette Valley
Palest gold in the glass, this wine smells of a hint of paraffin, wet stone, and grapefruit. In the mouth bright stony acidity and wet chalkboard flavors marry to tart grapefruit and citrus zest flavors that are quite compelling. Dry and tart. 11.50% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $23. click to buy.

2011 Trisaetum "Coast Range Estate " Riesling, Yamhill-Carlton, Willamette Valley
Palest gold in the glass this wine smells of white flowers, lemon zest and a hint of green apples. In the mouth, green apples, white flowers and lemon zest meld beautifully together with fantastic acidity and not a hint of sweetness. Dry. Lovely 12% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $24. click to buy.

2011 Trisaetum "Coast Range Estate Dry" Riesling, Yamhill-Carlton, Willamette Valley
Palest gold in the glass, this wine smells of grapefruit and wet stones. In the mouth a faint sweetness accompanies flavors of white flowers, wet chalkboard, and a tart pink grapefruit citrus zing. Yum. Dry. 12% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $24. click to buy.

2011 Brooks "Medium Dry - Bois Joli" Riesling, Eola-Amity Hills, Willamette Valley
Light greenish gold in the glass, this wine smells of wet chalkboard, petrichor, and green apple. In the mouth green apple and lime juice mix with lots of tart green apple flesh, with a hint of sweetness that is swept away with searing acidity. Very pretty, if a bit austere. 10.1% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $22. click to buy.

2011 Anam Cara "Dry" Riesling, Chehalem Mountains, Willamette Valley
Pale greenish gold in the glass, this wine smells of wet stones, lime zest and unripe green apples. In the mouth, bright stony lime zest and wet slate flavors have a very nice complexion, and bright acidity leaves the wine dry and crisp on the finish. Dry. 9.1% alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $22. click to buy.

2011 Chehalem "Wind Ridge Block" Riesling, Ribbon Ridge, Willamette Valley
Near colorless in the glass, this wine smells of apple and pear and wet stone with a hint of flowers. In the mouth wet slate and pear and apple flavors have a fantastic acidity. The wine has more than 2% residual sugar, but the acidity is so high that the wine tastes totally dry. 10% alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $24.

2010 Elk Cove "Estate" Riesling, Willamette Valley
Palest greenish gold in the glass, this wine smells of wet chalkboard and pink grapefruit. In the mouth the wine has a bright fresh pink grapefruit and wet slate flavor profile that is quite pleasant. Excellent acidity, juicy and delicious. Dry. 12% alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $19. click to buy.

2011 ENSO Riesling, Willamette Valley
Pale greenish gold in the glass, this wine smells of cut green grass and Juicyfruit gum. In the mouth bright acidity and juicy grapefruit and a hint of honey mix with a stony minerality that is quite nice. The flavor profile is a bit unusual, but the wine is clean and tasty. Dry. 11.4% alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $20.

2011 Foris Riesling, Rogue Valley
Palest gold in the glass, this wine smells of wet stones, wet leaves, and a hint of white flowers. In the mouth the wine is liquid stones and white flowers with excellent acidity. There's a slight sense of diluteness to the wine, but the flavor profile is good. Nice finish. Dry. 11% alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $14. click to buy.

2009 Montinore "Estate Reserve" Riesling, Willamette Valley
Pale gold in the glass, this wine smells of lemon zest and a hint of paraffin. In the mouth, wet stone flavors mix with lemon juice and a hint of lemon curd, with bright acidity and wet stone notes. Dry. 11.7% alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $13. click to buy.

2011 Trisaetum "Ribbon Ridge Estate Dry" Riesling, Ribbon Ridge, Willamette Valley
Palest greenish gold in the glass, this wine smells of lemon zest and wet stones. In the mouth lemon juice and grapefruit juice mix with a tiny hint of sweetness and a deep stony minerality that is quite nice. 12% alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $24. click to buy.

2010 Montinore "Estate Reserve" Riesling, Willamette Valley
Pale greenish gold in the glass, this wine smells of white flowers, white peaches, and sweet cucumber. In the mouth stony qualities mix with a sweet cucumber and star fruit flavor. Good acidity, clean finish. Dry. 11% alcohol. Score: between 8 and 8.5. Cost:$15. click to buy.

2010 Montinore "Almost Dry" Riesling, Willamette Valley
Light greenish gold in the glass, this wine smells of Linalool, poached pears, and white flowers. In the mouth the wine has a bright silkiness and soft acids with flavors of white flower, pears, and a hint of cucumber. Softer acidity than I'd like, but quite pretty flavors. Off-dry. 11% alcohol. Score: around 8. Cost:. click to buy.

2011 A to Z Riesling, Oregon
Palest gold in the glass, this wine smells of white flowers, pears poached in cream and a hint of sweet cucumber. In the mouth, flavors of green apple, star fruit, and cucumber have a faint sweetness to them, with much softer acidity than I would like. Slightly sweet finish. 12% alcohol. Score: between 7 and 7.5. Cost: $13. click to buy.

2010 Viento "Old Vines" Riesling, Columbia Gorge
Palest greenish gold in the glass, this wine smells of white flowers, green apple, and a hint of something odd -- plasticky. In the mouth, tart, sour green apple and lime juice mix with a wet stone quality. Dry. 10.5% alcohol. between 7 and 7.5. Cost: $18.

2011 Anam Cara "Nicholas Estate" Riesling, Chehalem Mountains, Willamette Valley
Palest greenish gold in the glass, nearly colorless, this wine smells of linalool and a little bit of wet dog. In the mouth, the wine has a bit of a wet dog quality with pink grapefruit and lemon juice. Dry. 10.6% alcohol. Score: around 7. Cost: $22. click to buy.

2008 Foris "Late Harvest" Riesling, Rogue Valley
Palest greenish gold in the glass, this wine smells of honey and grapefruit. In the mouth, flavors of pear and honey mix with pastry cream and white flowers. Much softer acidity than I would like, but pleasant flavors. Dry. 12% alcohol. Score: around 7. Cost: $12. click to buy.

2010 Viento "Old Vines Dry" Riesling, Columbia Gorge
Pale greenish gold in the glass, this wine smells of green grass, a hint of green apple and wet stones. In the mouth the wine offers somewhat dilute wet stone and unripe green apple flavors, with softer acidity than I would like. Dry. 11.8% alcohol. Score: around 7. Cost: $18.

And here's what the bottles look like:

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Comments (5)

Beau wrote:
08.06.12 at 12:02 PM

Another producer to keep your eyes open for is Teutonic Wine Company, whom I believe produces some of the best riesling in the entire state. The owners love acidity in their wines and it shows. (Their pinot noir and pinot meunier are outstanding too)

Doug Tunnell wrote:
08.06.12 at 12:31 PM

Sincere thanks for the spotlight on one of Oregon's "other" great grape varieties...but when comparing the Willamette Valley's degree days with the Pfalz, I think you're a bit off.

The weather station at Aurora in the north Willamette valley recorded 2,502 degree days during the very warm growing season from April 1 to October 31, 2006.

The same station recorded 2,078 degree days for the same period in 2011, one of our coolest, latest vintages in many years. In other words, both extremes are well above the average you provide for Germany's pre-eminant riesling region.

Alder wrote:
08.06.12 at 12:56 PM

Doug,

Thanks for the comments and the very important correction. I tried to do my homework on Willamette degree days, but obviously, the information I found was incorrect. I've made changes above.

Alder

Ryan Sharp wrote:
08.06.12 at 5:35 PM

Hey man, appreciate you reviewing our ENSO Riesling! Just wanted to let folks know that it's available at our SE Portland location and online on our website. Nowhere else really. Thanks!

08.13.12 at 8:48 AM

Great summary, Alder. I agree with Beau that Teutonic Wine Co. is one not to miss. Glad you were able to get such a comprehensive view of one of my favorite NW white wines! This continues to be the primary reason I regret missing IPNC every year!

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