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08.04.2014

Coastal Diamonds: The Rieslings of Oregon

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About every two years, I get an invite to attend the International Pinot Noir Celebration in Oregon's Willamette Valley. The event continues to be one of the best run and highest quality wine events in the country, with a fantastic combination of excellent wine and equally fantastic food.

More about Pinot Noir in a day or two.

In addition to attending one of the best wine parties around, IPNC also gives me (and a number of other wine writers) the excuse to do something slightly less expected: taste a lot of Oregon Riesling. Each year following IPNC, the Oregon Riesling Alliance holds a tasting of a recent vintage.

Most people still have no idea that Oregon even grows Riesling, yet amidst the crowded hills of Pinot Noir, there lie an increasing number of Riesling vineyards. So many, in fact that continuing to describe these growers as experimental is as inaccurate as it is unfair.

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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 close to 800 acres of Riesling, 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.

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I've had the opportunity to taste the member wines of the Alliance three times over the last five years, and have greatly enjoyed watching the development of the wines as a cohort. The 2008s and 2009s generally had a little extra weight around the middle, with a high amount of variability in quality amongst the group. The 2010s and 2011s benefited from cooler vintages, and the higher resulting acidity levels made for a much more lively bunch of wines. Those two vintages also saw a corresponding rise in quality and consistency across the board, with far fewer wines dipping towards the "awful" end of the scale.

This year's tasting clearly showed the same trend of rising quality throughout the lineup of wines, though the warm and generous 2012 vintage didn't have the lift and electricity of the 2011. Still, many producers were able to achieve excellent balance, and I found more than a few examples of still racy acidity despite the more lush quality of the wines. A few bottles of 2013 crept into this lineup as well, and they suggested a welcome return to the higher acidity of the 2011 vintage.

Quite notably, barely any of the 2012 wines truly disappointed. Variations in quality and winemaking experience manifested quite clearly, but across the board the wines continue to improve in balance and deliciousness.

As in previous years, according to the tasting's organizers, the wines below represent the vast majority of Rieslings made in Oregon.

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.

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WINES WITH A SCORE AROUND 9

2011 Love & Squalor "Antsy Pants" Riesling $28
Pale gold in color, this wine smells of mandarin oranges, pink grapefruit, and a hint of candle wax. In the mouth, juicy mandarin zest, pink grapefruit flesh, and lemon pith are beautifully balanced and fresh, with bright, mouthwatering acidity. Very pretty. 54 cases produced.

2013 Bethel Heights Riesling, Willamette Valley $18
Palest gold in color, this wine smells of linalool and green herbs. In the mouth, bright and pure pear and apple flavors are tinged with pink grapefruit and a hint of exotic spice. A tiny hint of sweetness balances the citrus pith and wet chalkboard quality of the finish. Excellent. 120 cases produced.click to buy.

2013 Trisaetum "Ribbon Ridge Dry" Riesling, Willamette Valley $24
All but colorless in the glass, this wine smells of poached pears in simple syrup and white flowers. In the mouth, the wine has a bright floral high note, with ripe pear and wet stone underbelly that is pretty and delicious. Excellent acidity and a whisper of sweetness make this quite drinkable. 343 cases produced. click to buy.

2013 Trisaetum "Wichmann Dundee Dry" Riesling, Dundee Hills, Willamette Valley $24
Palest greenish gold in color, this wine smells of green apple and clover honey. In the mouth, clover honey, pear, and white flowers have a wonderful, ethereal brightness thanks to juicy acidity. Nice wet stone minerality lingers in the finish along with a pink grapefruit sweetness. Lightly sweet. 94 cases produced.

2012 Foris "Dry" Riesling $14
Near colorless in the glass, this wine smells of white flowers and mandarin zest. In the mouth, beautiful mandarin zest and juice mix with clover honey and white flowers for a gorgeous mélange of flavor. Excellent acidity and length, with a nice crystalline minerality. Zippy citrus notes linger in the finish. There's a slight sweetness to the wine, despite being labeled dry. 1020 cases produced. click to buy.

2013 Alexana "Revana Vineyard" Riesling $28
All but colorless in the glass, this wine smells of pears and linalool. In the mouth, pears, white flowers and pink grapefruit mix with a touch of honey. Excellent acidity and balance, with lingering pink grapefruit and honey through the finish. Slightly sweet / off dry. 627 cases produced. click to buy.

2013 Chehalem "Wind Ridge Block" Riesling, Willamette Valley $29
Palest gold in color, this wine smells of green apple and sweet cucumber. In the mouth, wonderful lime zest and green apple flavors have a bouncy brightness thanks to excellent acidity. Nice white flowers layer over lime and pink grapefruit that linger for a long time in the finish. Tastes mostly dry, but just a faint sweetness lingers in there to suggest the modest residual sugar.

2011 Brandborg Riesling, Umpqua Vally $16
Palest gold in the glass, this wine smells faintly of paraffin and lemon zest. In the mouth, super juicy lemon zest and tangerine flavors burst on the palate with juicy acidity. Mandarin zest lingers in the finish. 808 cases produced. click to buy.

2013 Trisaetum "Wichmann Dundee Off Dry" Riesling, Dundee Hills, Willamette Valley $24
Near colorless in the glass with a faint gold color, this wine smells of linalool and honey. In the mouth, very pretty linalool and pear flavors mix with bright, zingy citrus juice that keeps the mouth watering for a long time in the finish. Lightly sweet. 131 cases produced.

2012 Brooks "Estate" Riesling, Eola-Amity Hills, Willamette Valley $25
Pale gold in the glass, this wine smells of struck match, mandarin zest, and honey. In the mouth, juicy mandarin zest, honey, and pink grapefruit pith have a wonderful balance, and a zingy, electric acidity. Long finish. Lightly sweet. 100 cases produced.

2012 Montinore "Almost Dry" Riesling $14
Near colorless in the glass, this wine smells of white flowers and honey. In the mouth., beautiful white flowers mix with wet stones and delicate, lacy acidity. Notes of citrus linger in the finish. Gorgeous and delicate. Faintly sweet.click to buy.

2012 Anam Cara "Nicholas Estate" Riesling, Willamette Valley $22
Palest gold in the glass, this wine smells of wet stones, pears, and white flowers. In the mouth, beautiful wet stones and white flowers possess a slightly softer acidity, but that doesn't detract much from a wonderfully mineral and bright quality that is very compelling. Lightly to moderately sweet. 200 cases produced.click to buy.

2013 David Hill "Estate" Riesling $18
Pale greenish gold in the glass, this wine smells of honey and white flowers. In the mouth, mandarin juice and honey mix with wet stones and bright, boisterous acidity. Nice length and balance. Moderately sweet. 210 cases produced. click to buy.

2012 Brooks "Tethys" Riesling $25
Light amber gold in color, this wine smells of candied orange peel and honey. In the mouth bright flavors of honey, orange peel, and tangerine juice mix with a bright acidity and a faint apple cider sourness that is quite appealing. Excellent acidity and length. Moderate to very sweet. 250 cases produced. click to buy.

2010 Big Table Farm "Brooks Estate Vineyard" Riesling $25
Light yellow-gold in the glass, this wine smells of gunflint and a hint of paraffin. In the mouth, saline flavors of pink grapefruit, struck match, and wet stone have a wonderful citrus brightness to them that is quite compelling. Very pretty. Dry. click to buy.


WINES WITH A SCORE BETWEEN 8.5 AND 9

2012 Love & Squalor Riesling, Willamette Valley $18
Palest greenish gold in color, this wine has a very distinctive nose of ripe pear and ripe papaya aromas. In the mouth, bright tropical fruits, including papaya, mix with pink grapefruit and delicate acidity that has a nice balance to it. Quite distinctive and interesting. Dry. 440 cases produced. click to buy.

2012 Elk Cove "Estate" Riesling, Willamette Valley $19
Palest gold in color, this wine smells of mandarin zest and lime zest. In the mouth, bright mandarin and lime mix with pear and green apple for a nicely rounded juicy package. Faint sweetness and bright acidity complete the ensemble. Slightly off-dry. 1200 cases produced. click to buy.

2012 Brooks "Yamhill Vineyard" Riesling, Yamhill-Carlton District, Willamette Valley $25
Palest greenish gold in the glass, this wine smells of mandarin zest and Fuji apple. In the mouth, Fuji apples, mandarin orange segments and a bit of mixed citrus zest have a nice bouncy brightness thanks to excellent acidity that lingers for a long time in the finish. 100 cases produced.

2010 Alexeli Riesling, Willamette Valley $??
Pale gold in color, this wine smells of paraffin, honey, and green apple. In the mouth green apple, pink grapefruit, honey and white flowers mix beautifully with lacy acidity and a stony chalky brightness that lingers for a while in the finish. Faintly sweet.click to buy.

2013 Trisaetum "Medium" Riesling, Ribbon Ridge, Willamette Valley $24
Palest gold in the glass, this wine smells of linalool and white flowers. In the mouth, bright pear and linalool flavors mix with green apple and faint mixed citrus flavors, amidst decent acidity and moderate sweetness. 286 cases produced.

2013 5Q "Anonymity, Corral Creek" Riesling $??
Palest gold in the glass, this wine smells of pears, green apples and white flowers. In the mouth, pear and green apple flavors have a nice light floral overtone. Delicate, lacy acidity leaves the mouth watering as green apple, cucumber and white flowers linger in the finish with a citrus edge.

2012 Ovum "Memorista " Riesling $20
Near colorless in the glass, this wine smells of white flowers, pears, and candied grapefruit. In the mouth, silky flavors of apple, pear, and pink grapefruit have a nice balance between off-dry sweetness and bright acidity. Nice and long. Lightly sweet. 100 cases produced. click to buy.


WINES WITH A SCORE AROUND 8.5

2011 Brooks "Ara" Riesling, Willamette Valley $28
Pale gold in color, this wine smells of mandarin zest and wet stones. In the mouth bright mixed citrus zest and wet stone flavors have a wonderful smoothness and silkiness with a bright snappy zip thanks to excellent acidity. Dry. 290 cases produced.

2012 Chehalem "Three Vineyard" Riesling, Willamette Valley $22
Pale gold in color, this wine smells of mandarin segments in syrup, and grapefruit. In the mouth, juicy mandarin and grapefruit flavors sit on top of a chalky-stony quality that lingers through the finish with the barest whisper of sweetness.

2012 Chehalem "Corral Creek" Riesling, Willamette Valley $29
Pale gold in the glass, this wine smells of mandarin oranges and white flowers. In the mouth very pretty mandarin and tangerine flavors mix with silky rainwater minerality and a deeper chalky quality that lingers in the finish. The acidity is somewhat softer than I would like, but the flavors, quite nice. Tastes slightly off-dry, despite having very little residual sugar.

2013 Trisaetum "Coast Range Dry" Riesling, Willamette Valley $24
Palest greenish gold in color, this wine smells of mixed citrus and pears. In the mouth, exotic citrus flavors have a mellow silkiness and a delicate acidity with a faint hint of sweetness, despite being technically dry. 352 cases produced.

2011 Alexana "Revana Vineyard" Riesling $28
Pale gold in color, this wine smells of paraffin, pomelo and baked apple. In the mouth, baked apple and honey flavors mix with pear and wet stones. A nice chalky quality lingers in the finish. Good acidity, but feeling a little disjointed at this point in its evolution. Mostly dry. 545 cases produced.

2012 Anam Cara "Dry Nicholas Estate" Riesling, Willamette Valley $22
Palest greenish gold in the glass, this wine smells of citrus zest, a hint of paraffin, and pink grapefruit. In the mouth, pink grapefruit flavors and wet chalkboard mix with citrus zest and a touch of peach. Dry. 420 cases produced.

2013 Tartan "Sunnyside Vineyard" Riesling, Willamette Valley $25
Basically colorless in the glass, this wine smells of honey and a hint of yeastiness. In the mouth, juicy lemon and honey flavors mix with a hint of yeastiness through the finish. Lightly sweet. 120 cases produced.

2013 A to Z "Medium " Riesling $15
Near colorless in the glass, this wine smells of pear and mandarin zest. In the mouth, bright pear and honey flavors have a delicate acidity and nice length, plus a silky texture. Pleasurable, but not overly complex.

2013 Chehalem "Sext Ridgecrest" Riesling, Willamette Valley $24
Near colorless in the glass, with a very fine and faint bubbles, this wine smells of white flowers and pears. In the mouth, bright pear and juicy linalool flavors have a moderate sweetness and nice lean acidity. Pleasurable, but not overly complex.

2012 Mad Violets Riesling, Dundee Hills, Willamette Valley $??
Near colorless in the glass with a faint hint of gold, this wine smells of grapefruit pith and white flowers. In the mouth, honey and pink grapefruit flavors mix with subtle acidity and faint sweetness.

2013 Sweet Cheeks "Vintage" Riesling $??
Near colorless in the glass, this wine smells of bright linalool and pear. In the mouth, juicy pear and honey mix with pink grapefruit. Softer acidity but good complexion overall. Nice finish. Light to moderately sweet.


WINES WITH A SCORE BETWEEN 8 AND 8.5

2011 Brooks Riesling, Willamette Valley $20
Pale blonde the glass, this wine smells of apples and grapefruit zest. In the mouth, tart pink grapefruit and green apple skin flavors have a lean, SweetTart flavor that is mouthwatering thanks to excellent acidity. A light chalky note on the finish. Dry. 550 cases produced.

2012 Ponzi Riesling, Willamette Valley $20
Pale gold in the glass, this wine smells of wet stones and white flowers with notes of orange peel. Orange peel flavors mix with wet stones and white flowers in the body of the wine, with slightly subdued acidity. Tart bitterness, and more sensation of the acidity lingers in the finish. 100 cases produced.

2013 Trisaetum "Coast Range Off Dry" Riesling, Willamette Valley $24
Palest gold in the glass, this wine smells of linalool and pears. In the mouth, bright pear and pink grapefruit flavors have a light yeasty quality to them. Softer acidity, and moderate finish. Lightly sweet. 228 cases produced.


WINES WITH A SCORE AROUND 8

2012 Argyle "Nuthouse" Riesling, Willamette Valley $30
Near colorless in the glass with a hint of blonde highlights, this wine smells of orange zest and wet stones. In the mouth, orange zest and wet stones mix with soft, somewhat limp acidity. While the flavors are good, this wine doesn't have the snap that I would like. Perhaps in part due to the acidity, this wine tastes lightly off-dry. 1100 cases produced.

2012 Lemelson "Dry " Riesling, Willamette Valley $19
Palest gold in color, this wine has a very light funk to its nose, with aromas of citrus pith and wet stone. In the mouth, citrus pith and pink grapefruit flavors mix with a little green apple, and a nice chalky underbelly. The acidity is slightly less balanced than I would like. Dry. 483 cases produced.

2012 Brandborg Riesling, Elkton $16
Pale greenish gold in the glass, this wine smells of wet stones and a slightly odd disinfectant note that is alarming. In the mouth, linalool and green apple flavors mix with a nice stony note. Nice acidity, and not much trace of that odd note in the nose. Dry. 540 cases produced.

2012 Brooks "Bois Joli Vineyard" Riesling $22
Palest gold in the glass, this wine smells strongly of wet chalkboard, bitter cut grass, and honey. In the mouth, somewhat austere flavors of wet chalkboard, nut skin and green apple turn towards citrus notes in the finish. 150 cases produced.

2013 Methven "Beekeeper" Riesling $??
Near colorless in the glass, this wine smells of wet stones, slightly funky old socks, and citrus pith. In the mouth, clover honey and orange zest mix with slightly softer acidity. Faintly sweet.


WINES WITH A SCORE BETWEEN 7.5 AND 8

2013 Methven Riesling, Willamette Valley $??
Near colorless in the glass, this wine smells of slightly yeasty clover honey and wet stones. In the mouth silky flavors of rainwater and citrus pith mix with green apple and white flowers. The softer acidity means this wine comes across as slightly flabby, however. Lightly sweet.


WINES WITH A SCORE AROUND 7.5

2012 Sweet Cheeks "Dry" Riesling $20
All but colorless in the glass, this wine smells of mandarin zest and white flowers. In the mouth, bright and clean flavors of citrus pith and wet stones have a pleasant simplicity, but not much more going on than that. Nice citrus zest and pith lingers in the finish. Lightly sweet. 512 cases produced.


WINES WITH A SCORE AROUND 7

2012 Bethel Heights Riesling, Willamette Valley $18
Palest gold in the glass, this wine smells of cooked apples and poached pears. In the mouth, slightly odd flavors of poached pears and baked apples mix with pear skin and nutmeg. Softer acidity and somewhat short on the finish. 160 cases produced.


WINES WITH A SCORE BETWEEN 6.5 AND 7

2012 Hyland Estate Riesling, McMinnville, Willamette Valley $25
Pale gold in color, this wine smells of yeast and honey and dried citrus peel. In the mouth the wine has an unusual character: a yeasty woodiness that is quite odd and somewhat off-putting. Dry. 200 cases produced.


WINES WITH A SCORE AROUND 5

2011 Viento "Retro " Riesling $??
Palest gold in color, this wine smells of paraffin and the nylon plastic of inflatable pool toys. In the mouth the wine has a plasticky quality that overshadows pear and citrus flavors and remains quite off-putting through the finish.

Images courtesy of the Oregon Riesling Alliance.

Comments (1)

gideon bronte wrote:
08.05.14 at 1:40 AM

First time in years, wine scores of 9 and not a single one > $30 Miracles do happen here at vinography once in a while!!!! :)

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