Oregon rieslings are here to serve in summer
Most Washington riesling is planted in irrigated sage land, east of the Cascades. In contrast, Oregon's riesling grapes are grown in cooler sites west of the Cascades. As a result, their rieslings emphasize floral aromas and elegant, racy, fine-tuned structures.
Special to the Seattle Times
Pick of the WeekPacific Rim 2010 Riesling; $10
RIGHT ON THE borderline between dry and sweet, this richly fruity, low-alcohol (11.5 percent) riesling is packed with flavors of peach, apricot, pear, a hint of mint, and a streak of wet stone. There is a lot going on for such an inexpensive wine. (Distributed by Young's-Columbia)
AS I WROTE in last week's column, Oregon wineries are starting to look outside the comfortable but confining box of being known exclusively for pinot noirs. Emerging wine regions are usually tagged with a single varietal as their signature wine — at least as far as they are known at all. But, eventually, a versatile, diverse and authentically original wine region, which Oregon certainly is, must spread its wings.
Much of the state's expansion into new grapes and wines has occurred outside the Willamette Valley, where pinot noir is still king. Southern Oregon has been subdivided into several viticultural regions, where experimental plantings of grapes such as tempranillo, albariño, grenache and gruner veltliner have shown excellent promise.
In addition, Oregon shares three important wine regions with Washington. The Columbia Gorge, Columbia Valley and Walla Walla AVAs all spill into our neighbor state. Washington marketers have done a far better job of promoting them, and they are all closely identified with this state. But that is probably going to change. In truth, Oregon and Washington are almost perfect complements to each other. Even where they share the same grape, the style of the wines that are made from that grape tends to be quite distinctive.
A perfect example is riesling. Washington is the nation's leader in riesling production. The wines come in a full range of flavors, from bone dry to achingly sweet. But all share a deep, vibrant core of fruit and balance that intensity with a trapeze-worthy display of sugar and acidity.
Most Washington riesling is planted in irrigated sage land, east of the Cascades. In contrast, Oregon's riesling grapes are grown in cooler sites west of the Cascades. As a result, their rieslings emphasize floral aromas and elegant, racy, fine-tuned structures — what the French call nervosity.
A somewhat informal group of Oregon riesling producers has aligned as the Oregon Riesling Alliance (www.oregonriesling.org). I recently sat down with several of the founders and tasted through a range of wines from 16 producers. The alliance was formed to address an alarming trend.
As Chehalem's Harry Peterson-Nedry bluntly acknowledges, "We were going down in acreage at a fairly rapid rate. We had 30-to-40-year-old vines being pulled out to plant Dijon clone chardonnay, and that's a travesty!"
Elk Cove's Adam Campbell added that "There were producers with no vines, and growers with vines and no buyers. We are trying to get them together and keep those riesling vines in the ground."
Happily, the trend has been reversed. Riesling plantings in Oregon are up 50 percent in the past seven years, 265 new acres since 2004.
The quality has always been there. These are often thrilling, but almost always reliable wines, especially suited for summer sipping. There are very few Oregon wineries that you could call riesling specialists, but Chehalem, a riesling pioneer, and Trisaetum, an exciting newcomer, are two to look for.
Chehalem, now almost 30 years old, makes up to half a dozen versions. The three I tasted included a marvelous sparkling version, named Sext, with alcohol at just 7 percent and a Moscato-like orange character. Chehalem's 2009 Dry Riesling and 2009 Corral Creek Riesling both offer tart, mineral-driven flavors at moderate alcohol levels.
Trisaetum is located in the Ribbon Ridge appellation. A tasting room and art gallery showcase owner James Frey's work as both winemaker and artist. In 2010 at least five rieslings were produced — two dry, two off-dry and one reserve, all from estate-grown grapes.
Among my other favorites are Alexana, Anam Cara, Daedalus, David Hill, Elk Cove, Lemelson, Oak Knoll, Penner-Ash and Ponzi. My best advice on finding these wines is to contact the wineries directly, via their websites.
About Wine Adviser
My column is all about sharing the joy of exploring all the world of wine. I want to guide people to make inspired choices, and encourage them to try as many different styles of wine as they can. I will always seek out the best wines at the best prices. Wine Adviser runs on Sunday in Pacific Northwest Magazine.