One of the most underrated wine categories in the Northwest wine country is that of Oregon riesling. Because of the dominance of pinot noir in the Willamette Valley, it simply is not economically feasible to plant the noble German grape.
Last year’s Oregon Vineyard and Winery Census Report, prepared for the industry by Southern Oregon University, showed riesling is losing ground. There were 754 acres of Riesling planted in 2014. A year later, there were just 724 acres.
However, the price per ton for riesling in Oregon stood at $1,547 in 2015. The same amount of pinot noir yielded $2,280. Yet, there’s still a strong interest in riesling, and those who continue to grow it on average fetched $530 more per ton than in 2014.
When you taste a delicious Oregon riesling, you’ll find out what we’re being deprived of.
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Chris Williams, the longtime winemaker at Brooks Wines near Salem, produces more styles of riesling than anyone in the Pacific Northwest.
“It’s the one thing I like to drink no matter how I feel. There’s always a riesling for the mood and making it is really fun,” he said. “I love to make pinot, but riesling is just really fun.”
Riesling from Oregon – compared with Washington – isn’t always easy to find, so it’s best to ask for these at your favorite wine merchant or contact the winery.
Chehalem Wines 2014 Corral Creek Vineyards Riesling, Chehalem Mountains, $29: Harry Peterson-Nedry and his daughter, Wynne, continue to be among the Pacific Northwest leaders for riesling. The latest production from their 1983 planting north of Newberg is dry yet flamboyant. It has more flesh than most in its fruit, yet is downright bouncy in its spirit.
Brooks Wines 2015 Brooks Estate Riesling, Eola-Amity Hills, $24: Brooks shows as much passion for riesling as anyone in the state, and pulls these biodynamically farmed berries straight off its showpiece estate. It’s redolent of white orchard fruit with citrus acidity and a thread of minerality in the background. There’s just a touch of sweetness, which plays well with seafood and light appetizers.
Yamhill Valley Vineyards 2014 Riesling, Willamette Valley, $18: The riesling program at this winery near McMinnville works with the second-oldest vineyard in the area. This off-dry offeringsuggests a German spätlese with notes of dried Granny Smith apple, lime, jasmine and fusel and fusel. There’s terrific acidity to balance the residual sugar of 2.5 percent and rich mouth feel. It’s rather reminiscent of the Old World.
Argyle Winery 2014 Nuthouse Master Series Riesling, Eola-Amity Hills, $30: Nate Klostermann takes 20 percent of the lot and ferments it completely dry in neutral oak for 16 months. The remainder goes through stainless steel, and the result is a complex riesling that is essentially dry. Aromas include grilled peach, apricot, dried pineapple and cinnamon spice, which lead to flavors of Gala apple, pear butter and an lasting injection of lemon/lime acidity.
Seven of Hearts 2015 Tualatin Estate Riesling, Willamette Valley, $21: Grower/winemaker Byron Dooley shows a special passion and interest for riesling. He dives deep with these 43-year-old vines. Here’s another great example of riesling as a seafood wine. Its bone-dry profile of Granny Smith apple, nectarine, lemon/lime and slate makes for a scintillating finish for oysters.
Anam Cara Cellars 2013 Dry Riesling, Chehalem Mountains, $22: Nick and Sheila Nicholas found a sweet spot to grow riesling atop a hill above the town of Newberg. Their dry riesling stands apart as lithe,with clout. Not heavy-handed – just convincing for its rippling stride against a dry, minerally background.
Love & Squalor 2014 Riesling, Willamette Valley, $20: Matt Berson and his Portland Wine Co. are at the forefront of the riesling movement in the Willamette Valley, and he presents this with crystalline acidity and scant sugar. Apple, ginger, those yellow spices and some tropical fruit tones make for a complex and geeky finish of lemon juice.
Armonéa Wines 2015 Wine Country Farm Late Harvest Riesling, Dundee Hills, $30: This is an expensive neighborhood for vineyards, which makes this dessert riesling from Breyman Orchard Road a delicious novelty. Ken Wright cellarmaster Alberto Alcazar makes it a fun exploration, starting with a lovely nose of apricot jam, lavender honey and burnt cream. Inside, it’s pleasant and sweet with flavors of baked apricot, poached pear and nougat.
Eric Degerman and Andy Perdue run Great Northwest Wine. Learn more about wine at greatnorthwestwine.com.