Wednesday, March 2, 2011

The Heart Has Its Rieslings

Greetings, loyal libation lovers! I know it's been a while since I updated, but my hiatus from blogging hasn't stopped me from tasting. I've got a lot of catching up to do. Let's start by examining two recently tasted wines made from a favorite grape of mine - Riesling.

Riesling gets a bad rap. People consider it a cheap, syrupy-sweet wine favored predominantly by young consumers with uncultured palates. For many years, the vast majority of domestically available Riesling was exactly that, so the reputation is not unfounded. However, I do feel it is unjustified. In the past two decades the American palate has evolved - we are now importing German and Alsatian Rieslings of good quality, and producing some of our own that are truly standouts in their category. But there's still a lot of mediocre and even bad Riesling out there, some from otherwise highly reputable producers. That's why I'm here to help.

The most important trick I've learned for finding good Riesling, whatever style you like, is to buy Washington Riesling. The exquisite drainage provided by the Ice Age granite deposits in the Columbia Valley is comparable to the same found on the steep slate terraces of the Mosel Valley in Germany. The Riesling produced is of exceptional character and, like its German cousins, tends to exhibit nice minerality.

I'm not trying to hate on California. It's just that I've never had a Californian Riesling that's measured up. That's why I was so excited to try the Bogle Riesling. I'm a huge fan of Bogle. I honestly feel they're one of the most consistent value brands out there. Guaranteed to be an accessible, crowd-pleasing, food-friendly pour well worth the sticker price.

When I first smelled the Bogle Riesling, I was impressed. For a Californian Riesling it was surprisingly complex, with a floral-forward nose of honeysuckle, jasmine, chamomile, and white tea, highlighting aromas of juicy white peach, nectarine, and mandarin. I confess, the excitement I had been too nervous to feel upon purchasing now began to grow. As I sipped, I prepared myself to finally, after all these years, taste a California Riesling I liked.

But it was not to be. Like all it's brethren before it, the Bogle Riesling fell flat on the palate. Tart, heavy-handed lime up front, followed by mandarin and more chamomile. On the finish, the ungainly tartness was replaced by a saccharine sweetness. Over all, it was unbalanced and sub-par - the ONLY unimpressive bottle of Bogle I've ever had. How sad. That being said, it was still miles ahead of any other California Riesling I've experienced, in that it was at least tolerable. I did finish my glass. I was just hoping for more.

Date: 2/15/11
Wine: Bogle Riesling
Grapes: Riesling
Vintage: 2009
ABV: 13.5%
Origin: California
Color: light gold
Nose: honey, honeysuckle, jasmine, white peach, nectarine, white tea, mandarin, chamomile
Palate: tart lime, orange, chamomile. A bit saccharine on finish with unbalanced acid. 
Price: $7

More is exactly what I got from the Pacific Rim Riesling, but that's not surprising. Pacific Rim was founded by people just like me - crazy about the versatility offered by the Riesling grape, but frustrated by the lack of quality Rieslings in the market. So they did something radical, and founded a winery devoted exclusively to Riesling. And of course they did it in Washington State's Columbia Valley. Today "only" 90% of their wines are still Riesling, but they're some of the most consistently high-quality Rieslings available. Their dry Riesling is the driest I've ever tasted, and the best in that category. Their sweet, on the other hand, is the sweetest non-dessert Riesling I've ever had, but it's still exemplary. Their middle ground bottle, simply labelled "Riesling," is no exception.

The nose is nothing short of seductive, oozing honey-drenched chamomile and nerula, followed bu luscious, juicy D'anjou pear, white peach, nectarine, and a hint of lemon zest. The exposition on the palate is much the same. Sweet up front with a squeeze of lime on the finish with the palate-cleansing acidity ... something more that lingers. Some sort of resinous herb flavor. It's not quite pine, not quite juniper, and not quite rosemary. I'm sure a more cultured palate than mine could nail it down. But whatever it is, it's delightful. The impeccable balance throughout the wine perfectly masks the 2.3% residual sugar. It blends in more seamlessly than some Rieslings at 1.7%. Definitely put this one in your face.

Date: 2/23/11
Wine: Pacific Rim Riesling
Grapes: Riesling
Vintage: 2009
ABV: 11.7%
Origin: Columbia Valley, Washington
Color: light gold
Nose: honey, chamomile, lemon, nectarine, white peach, white tea
Palate: same with a squeeze of lime on the finish. Sweet up front with a nice cleansing acidity on the finish. some sort of resiny thing - sticky nectar?
Price: $9

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