Wine & Spirits - August 2012 - (Page 18)
In cool climates all over the world, from Bernkastel to Bio Bio, there is no better lens to place than riesling. Its broad range of ﬂavors and jittery, hair-trigger transparency serve as a barometer for climatic variation and regional typicity like few other varieties on earth. Dry riesling has emerged as the bellwether white in North America’s northernmost vineyards. Here’s a look at where the dry style performs best.
by Patrick J. Comiskey
Oregon’s wine industry began with riesling; Richard Sommer planted the variety in the Umpqua Valley in the 1960s. By the ’70s it had migrated north to the Willamette Valley, where most of the state’s riesling now grows, performing best in volcanic soils like those found in the Eola Hills. Chris Williams of Brooks Winery says, “In volcanic soils the vines don’t over-vigor; plus, the ocean breezes from the Van Duzer corridor cool things oﬀ at night, maintaining acidity.” The long, cool growing season in the Willamette Valley runs from late April through late October or November, frequently resulting in lean, high-toned wines with herbal accents and Granny Smith apple and citrus ﬂavors—though in 2008 and 2009, with their luxuriously warm autumns, a high-toned peach accent was not uncommon. Despite racy acidity, Oregon rieslings aren’t known for their minerality. The exceptions are Chehalem Mountain wines , where the soils, especially on the north side of the range, are comparable to Columbia Valley’s wind-blown loess. Top examples: Chehalem, Brooks, Tunkalilla, Penner Ash.
The country’s largest regional producer at 1.5 million cases a year, Washington State originally planted riesling for its winter hardiness. In Washington’s best vineyards, riesling has a long growing season, starting late and ﬁnishing late, with vines devoting energy to physiological ripening as the nights grow cooler in September. Subregions cool enough to exploit this climatic scenario include the West Yakima Valley, Lake Chelan and the high country northwest of the Wahluke Slope, where Evergreen Vineyard is located, one of the state’s most respected riesling sites. The best Washington rieslings have bright fruit tones, a ﬂavor set that hints at peach but keeps itself planted in citrus elements—lime, grapefruit, lemon pith. The wines frequently boast great concentration, purity and focus. Texturally they oen impart a talc-like mineral delineation, which some consider a mark of the windblown loess soils common to the Columbia Valley. Top examples: Eroica, Poet’s Leap, Paciﬁc Rim, Kung Fu Girl.
California’s riesling producers gamely ﬂout the conventional wisdom that the state is too warm for such a cool weather grape. Tell that to Stony Hill, which has been producing a steely Napa Valley iteration since 1957. Or try convincing Stu and Charles Smith of Smith-Madrone, who have been making riesling at 1,750 feet since 1977. The state continues to produce its share of inexpensive, semi-sweet bottlings, the fruit for which comes largely from Monterey County But California’s best riesling may come from Anderson Valley in Mendocino County. The cool coastal valley has one of the longest growing seasons in California, with autumn nights plunging 40 degrees from daytime temperatures. “I think one of the overriding things is the amount of acid we end up with in these grapes in the middle of October,” says Ted Bennett of Navarro Vineyards. “Riesling is a much longer season up here than pinot noir. It’s the last white variety to come in.” California rieslings are fruit-forward, many possessing peach and apricot ﬂavors with accents of jasmine and ginger not uncommon. In the Anderson Valley, green apple seems to be more prevalent. “Sometimes you get a little lemon curd, or citrus, and sometimes, a hint of charcuterie,” explains Bennett. “But the wines are mostly about balance and minerality.” Top examples: Navarro, Greenwood Ridge, Handley, Lazy Creek.
At nearly 50 degrees latitude, the Okanagan Valley is the most northerly site for riesling on this continent, and quite possibly the most extreme. The vineyards, mostly planted on alluvial fans, beneﬁt from the mitigating breezes oﬀ the 85-milelong Okanagan Lake. Where Washington boasts long summer days, the Okanagan Valley days are longer still, with a comparable cool autumn ripening period, allowing for extremely late harvests. This results in some of the most thrillingly racy rieslings in the world, as electric and nervy as the wines of Australia’s Clare and Eden Valleys. David Paterson, winemaker at Tantalus Winery, attributes the abundant acidity in BC rieslings partly to the widespread use of clone 21B, from the Rheingau. He says it has an uncanny ability to retain acid even at high sugar and physiological ripeness levels—the effect is bone dry, even when the wine is not. “The same levels would taste candied in other clones,” he says. Top examples: Tantalus, Mission Hill, Nk’Mip, Sumac Ridge.
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Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Wine & Spirits - August 2012
Wine & Spirits - August 2012
Fined & Filtered: Lou Bustamante on cocktails aged in cask and bottle
Spirits: Tonic + Gin Reviewed by Lou Bustamante
North American Riesling
Tapas in the Capital of Cava
Prosecco + Prosciutto
Cirò & La Cucina Calabrese
Summer on the Road in Sonoma
Rías Baixas/Vinho Verde
Northeast Italian Wines
American New Releases
Imported New Releases
Joshua Greene on moscato’s sweet disruptions
Wine & Spirits - August 2012