Washington’s original wine grape is once again the state’s most dominant variety, both in quality and quantity.
While this might seem like old news — great Riesling has been growing in the Columbia Valley for more than a half-century — Washington growers and winemakers continue to find exciting new areas to grow the grape.
In the past couple of years, we’ve seen two of the state’s newest viticultural areas emerge as Riesling country, much to the delight of wine drinkers. Lake Chelan, in the northwestern corner of the Columbia Valley, is a warm, high-elevation region that is showing tremendous promise. And Naches Heights, near the city of Yakima, is the state’s newest appellation, and even though it has just a few acres of grapes so far, our recent judging of 130 Northwest Rieslings shows the potential is amazing.
In the past decade, the tonnage of Riesling in Washington has tripled from about 10,000 tons to more than 31,000, surpassing Chardonnay as the state’s top wine grape.
For the Northwest’s largest wine producer, Riesling is perhaps its most important grape. As a company, Ste. Michelle Wine Estates makes more Riesling than any other in North America. And its flagship winery, Chateau Ste. Michelle, produces in excess of 1 million cases, more Riesling than any other winery in the world.
While Washington is by far the largest Riesling producer in the Northwest, it isn’t alone. Oregon and British Columbia make superb Rieslings, and Idaho has specialized in the German variety for more than 30 years.
Here are some of the best Rieslings we judged. Ask for them from your favorite wine merchant or contact the wineries directly.
Naches Heights Vineyard 2010 Riesling, Columbia Valley, $13: We love this wine for the clarity of its fruit expression, exuding floral, peach and mineral aromas and flavors. It’s bone dry, yet the gorgeous fruit offers a layer of plush elegance that provides perfect balance and a crazy long finish.
Chateau Ste. Michelle 2011 Riesling, Columbia Valley, $9: While this Riesling is definitely off-dry at 2.23 percent residual sugar, the low pH of 2.97 gives it ample acidity for perfect balance. It’s a beautiful wine with aromas of melon and orange rind and flavors of tropical fruit, grapefruit and apple. Buy this by the case and enjoy it all summer long.
Indian Creek WInery 2011 White Riesling, Snake River Valley, $9: The long list of aromas leads with hints of banana cream pie, pear, apple, apricot jam and Circus Peanut candy, and it’s packed with pleasing notes of minerality, Juicy Fruit gum, baked Granny Smith apple, honey and canned pear.
Mt. Hood Winery 2010 Riesling, Columbia Gorge, $16: This wine’s cool-climate nature shines in the glass. It opens with aromas of orange zest and a hint of petrol, giving way to full-mouth flavors of ripe orchard fruit. At nearly 3 percent residual sugar, the sweetness marries with the ripe fruit and the crisp acidity.
Vin du Lac 2010 Lehm Riesling, Lake Chelan, $20: This is one of the finest white wines we’ve tasted from Lake Chelan grapes. It opens with aromas of dusty apples, pears and minerals, followed by flavors that include quince, spices and Granny Smith apples.
Kiona Vineyards Winery 2011 Riesling, Washington, $10: There’s a lot to like in this value-minded bottling of Riesling, starting with aromas of toffee, tropical fruits and pears. On the palate, it reveals flavors of grapefruits, oranges, lemons and melons. It shows off a big, bright palate that beautifully balances its 2.7 percent residual sugar.
Charles Smith Wines 2011 Kung Fu Girl Riesling, Columbia Valley: $12 This white wine explodes with aromas of florals, passionfruit, pineapples and kiwis, followed by superb flavors of limes, lemons and bright apples. The 1.8 percent residual sugar is perfectly balanced with acidity, giving way to a pleasing finish.
Andy Perdue and Eric Degerman are the editors of Wine Press Northwest magazine. For more information, go to www.winepressnw.com.