Washington has long had a reputation for crafting world-class riesling, with the first plantings as early as 1880, pre-dating statehood by at least a decade.
Today, riesling remains a force in Washington, being the No. 4 grape, trailing cabernet sauvignon, merlot and chardonnay in total tonnage harvested.
It topped 40,000 tons in the 2016 harvest, doubling from the previous 10 years. The largest user of riesling is Chateau Ste. Michelle in Woodinville, which makes more riesling than any single winery in the world, but after winemaker Bob Bertheau is done, there’s still plenty of riesling left.
Here are several examples of Washington riesling not made by Ste. Michelle. Ask for them at your favorite wine merchant or contact the wineries directly.
Milbrandt Vineyards 2016 Evergreen Vineyard Traditions Riesling, Ancient Lakes of Columbia Valley, $13: The Ancient Lakes in general and Evergreen Vineyard in particular have proven to be a great spot for growing world-class riesling and helping to spark the grape’s renaissance in the U.S. as a key contributor to Ste. Michelle’s Eroica project. Aromas of white flower petals, juicy peaches and crisp apple lead to flavors of Asian pear, Golden Delicious apple and hints of minerality.
Ryan Patrick Wines 2016 Olsen Brothers Vineyard Riesling, Yakima Valley, $12: Winemaker Jeremy Santos dipped into this top riesling vineyard in the relatively cool Yakima Valley to craft this marvelous white wine. Aromas of limestone, honeydew melon and appealing honeysuckle gives way to flavors of spice and ripe apricot, with bright acidity balancing the touch of residual sugar. This is a wine of great structure and mouthfeel, and it won a gold medal and best of class at the 2017 Wenatchee Wine Awards.
Finn Hill Winery 2016 Corfu Crossing Vineyard The Gnome Riesling, Columbia Valley, $20: Woodinville winemaker Rob Entrekin works with the Lawrence family’s Corfu Crossing Vineyard along the Royal Slope, and at 1,675 feet elevation, these clone 12 plantings rank among the highest in Washington. This slightly sweet riesling presents aromas of peach and poached pear with apricot skins. A touch of spritz leads to lemon, apples and honey with a touch of maraschino cherry juice on the midpalate. Peach dominates the finish, joined by a bit of tension from the acidity and a pinch of coriander.
Rocky Pond Winery 2015 Clos CheValle Vineyard Riesling, Lake Chelan, $19: Ron Bunnell took an intriguing approach to the decade-old riesling blocks that the Dufenhorsts acquired and farm overlooking the south shore of Lake Chelan. Harvested on Sept. 25 during that record-hot vintage, it spent six months in neutral oak and finished with just a touch of residual sugar. That winemaking creates aromas of dried pineapple, pear and candy corn with jasmine.
Gård Vintners 2014 Lawrence Vineyard Grand Klasse Reserve Riesling, Columbia Valley, $24: Aryn Morell has made his mark with big reds for Napa icon Dennis Cakebread’s Mullan Road project, Ardor Cellars, Tenor and his own Alleromb brand. His work here for the Lawrence family and their Gård Vintners program shows a deft touch with riesling. Josh Lawrence grows the noble German white grape at nearly 1,700 feel elevation, making it one of the loftiest plantings in Washington. The family with Scandinavian roots dubs its reserve program as “Grand Klasse,” and Morell takes a special approach to this dry riesling by fermenting it in 67 percent new French oak for several months and then bottle-aging it for nearly two years.
Andy Perdue and Eric Degerman run Great Northwest Wine, an award-winning media company. Learn more about wine at www.greatnorthwestwine.com.