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Oregon Riesling on the Rise

Monday, December 16, 2013

Washington has long laid claim to Northwest Riesling. The grape is frequently the state’s most produced variety and Chateau Ste. Michelle is the world’s largest Riesling producer.

Things are different to the south where all of Oregon’s wine offerings stand in the shadow of its signature grape, Pinot Noir. Lately, however, a number of producers in Oregon have shown an increased interest in Riesling with several showing particularly impressive results.

At 718 acres, Riesling is Oregon’s fifth most planted variety behind Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, Chardonnay, and even Syrah – though much of that grape is planted to the south. Acreage has risen from 558 acres in 2003 to a high of 798 in 2010 before receding slightly to its current number. In contrast, as of 2011 – the date of the last USDA acreage survey - Washington had 6,320 acres of Riesling under vine, though there are still more plantings of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Chardonnay.

Washington and Oregon Rieslings are quite different in style. While Willamette Valley and eastern Washington aren’t too far from each other as the crow flies, the climates could not be much more different. If Washington’s tagline is “the perfect climate for wine” then Oregon’s would be “a difficult climate for wine".

While Washington wine grape growing is usually relatively serene, Oregon grape growing is not for the faint of heart, as this year’s seven inches of rainfall in three September days so amply demonstrated. The Willamette Valley can be a challenging area to produce wine, though many succeed at creating world class offerings year after year despite the varying conditions. Lacking eastern Washington’s consistently warm, sunny days and the level of control that drip irrigation provides, it is always a wild ride in Oregon. These challenges are, of course, part of what allows the state to craft such compelling Pinot Noir, a grape that often thrives on the margins.

Given the cooler climate, Oregon’s Rieslings can often bring higher acidity than many of their Washington counterparts. They also command higher prices. For example, few Washington Rieslings (such as Eroica, Poet’s Leap, Pacific Rim’s Biodynamic Riesling, and several wines from Rasa) cost north of $20. In contrast, most of the wines reviewed below are above that mark.

The reason for this is that cropping at the tons per acre that Washington does would not be possible even in the warmest of years in Oregon. To wit, according to the Oregon Wine Board, Oregon’s 718 acres of Riesling produced 1,812 tons for 2.52 tons per acre. In contrast, Washington’s 6,320 acres produced 31,700 tons in 2011 for 5 tons per acre – and 2011 was a very cool year. It's not uncommon for Riesling to be cropped much higher.

What’s the future of Oregon Riesling? A number of wineries have shown that top quality bottles can be produced in the state, and there are enough producers interested in the grape – Trisaetum alone makes six different bottlings - that Riesling should continue to make inroads. Still, with Oregon firmly established as Pinot Noir country and Washington producing an abundance of Riesling, it might remain a niche grape for the state. But that doesn’t make the existing wines any less enjoyable.

Chehalem Wines Three Vineyard Riesling Willamette Valley 2011 $22
(Excellent) An aromatically appealing wine with mineral, citrus, and apricot. The palate is off dry showing an exquisite balance that persists all the way through the finish. Drinks best at 58 degrees. 100% Riesling. Ridgecrest, Stoller, and Corral Creek vineyards. 2.5% Residual Sugar, 2.83 pH, TA 10.5. 480 cases produced. Sample provided by winery. Reviewed November 26, 2013

Trisaetum Riesling Ribbon Ridge Estate J&A Frey Vineyards Ribbon Ridge 2012 $24
 (Excellent) Draws you into the glass with honeysuckle, mineral, and peach. The palate is medium dry with sweet, rich fruit flavors that linger harmoniously on a long finish. 100% Riesling. 11.0% alcohol. 2.4% Residual Sugar. 500 cases produced. Sample provided by winery.  Reviewed November 26, 2013

Brooks Ara Riesling Willamette Valley 2010 $25
(Good/Excellent) A moderately aromatic wine with notes of petrol, mineral, citrus rind, and green apple. The palate is tart and dry, austere in style with electric acidity. 100% Riesling.  Yamhill Vineyards and Brooks Estate. 11.5% alcohol. 4.7g/L Residual Sugar. 9.8g/L TA. 300 cases produced. Sample provided by winery.

Penner Ash Wine Cellars Riesling Willamette Valley 2012 $20
(Good/Excellent) A zippy wine with notes of lime, white peach, crushed flowers, and slate. The palate drinks dry with mouthwatering acidity. 100% Riesling. Aged in stainless steel. 10.5% alcohol. 11.90g/L Residual Sugar. 8.1g/L TA. 450 cases produced. Sample provided by winery.

Alexana Winery Riesling Revana Vineyard Dundee Hills 2012 $28
 (Good) An aromatic wine with nectarine, red apple, and spice that drinks just a touch off dry. 100% Riesling. 11.3% alcohol. 8.3g/L Residual Sugar. TA 6.80 g/L. 500 cases produced. Sample provided by winery.

Anne Amie Vineyards Estate Dry Riesling Yamhill-Carlton 2012 $20
 (Good) An aromatic wine that smells sweet with floral notes, ripe peach, overripe red apple, and spice. However, the palate drinks bone dry with tart, bright acidity and a spice filled finish. 100% Riesling. 0.69% Residual Sugar. 8.9g/L TA. 11.9% alcohol. 880 cases produced. Sample provided by winery.

Argyle Winery Riesling Eola-Amity Hills 2011 $18
(Good) An aromatically appealing wine with lime zest, white peach, and wet stone. The palate drinks off dry with a lingering finish. 100% Riesling. Lone Star Vineyard. 1.3% Residual Sugar. TA 7.8 g/L. 1,070 cases produced. Sample provided by winery.

Willamette Valley Vineyards Riesling Willamette Valley 2012 $14
(Decent/Good) An aromatic wine that ventures into the tropical with dried pineapple along with floral notes. It drinks medium sweet but doesn’t quite have the acid to hold it up. 100% Riesling. 8.70% alcohol. 16,590 cases produced. Sample provided by winery.

Elk Cove Vineyards Estate Riesling Willamette Valley 2011 $19
(Decent) An aromatically intriguing wine with wintergreen, mineral, apricot, and citrus. The palate is medium bodied, tart and drinks dry with a textured feel. 100% Riesling. 12% alcohol. 8g/L Residual Sugar. 800 cases produced. Sample provided by winery.

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3 comments

  1. Jameson Fink Says:
  2. I'm also a fan of Chehalem's Sext, the sparkling Riesling. (It might be more frizzante than full-on sparkling.) Great brunch wine or with spicy fare.

     
  3. Hi Sean,

    It’s always great to see a light shining on Oregon’s Riesling! Contrary to what many believe, Oregon has been producing ridiculously good Riesling for decades and some of the earliest recognition comes from the Wine Spectator, scoring many Rieslings 90+ in the 90s.

    We have Richard Sommer to thank as he planted Riesling near Roseberg (known as the Umpqua appellation now) back in the 60s. Since then, Riesling continues its ever-shifting path of styles and personality, growth and attrition. In the early 80s, Riesling accounted for nearly a quarter of Oregon’s production. In the mid nineties, acreage dwindled to 524 acres but a rebound is on the horizon. Today’s Oregon Rieslings are full of life and passion, rich in personality and expression and I love every single wine listed here, cheers!

     
  4. Thanks for the historical perspective Pamela. Much appreciated!

     

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