The Rise of Oregon Riesling

Is it the new Pinot Noir?


After wrapping up my time at the International Pinot Noir Celebration, I made my way over to Nick’s in McMinnville, a real wine country institution whose back room has seen many a tasting and heard many a vineyard plan being hatched. It’s a great place for dinner, too, not to mention a late night game of pool with a few rounds of cocktails, but on this day I was off to attend a post-IPNC tasting of Riesling.

I love my Rieslings a little drier than most, but a little bit of playful sweetness is not something I turn my back on. While Germany can claim the title of Riesling king of the world, it’s a grape that is capable of great things in some surprising regions. (Witness the brilliance of Australian Riesling, for example). So, it was not surprising to hear that a group of Oregon producers intended to make Riesling a local phenomenon!
While Oregon is intimately linked with Pinot Noir, it has struggled a bit with white varieties. Pinot Gris seems to be the white wine most closely associated with the state, but the truth is that much Pinot Gris coming from Oregon is no more interesting or distinctive than versions coming from anywhere else. It certainly has not proven to be the grape to hang the state’s hat on.

Seeing as this is Pinot Noir country, it’s surprising that Chardonnay hasn’t done a better job establishing itself here. I think it’s due in part to a bit of a style issue, as well as friction in the marketplace, because I tasted some truly delicious Chardonnays while I was in Oregon. Nonetheless, I was at Nick’s today to taste Riesling. The selection on offer was presented courtesy of the Oregon Riesling Alliance, a group of Oregon wineries promoting Riesling. No surprise there.

One thing that does set these wineries apart though is their adoption of the International Riesling Foundation’s Taste Profile Scale that ranks a wine’s perceived sweetness. This scale takes into account both acidity and sugar, helping people to find wines that best suit their palates and taking away some of the mystery surrounding Riesling.

I tasted the following 25 wines, generally in order of increasing sweetness, and skipped the last 5 or so truly sweet wines. In general the wines were lovely, exhibiting good purity to their fruit, yet lacking some of the minerality that makes the best German versions so good.  The prices for most of these wines make a pretty compelling argument for trying them, and I thought several were really singing and distinctive. They’re wines I look forward to trying again. The sweetness meter that the Oregon Riesling Alliance is promoting certainly will help the consumer identify wines that work with their palates, though it would be nice to  see a definitive Oregon Riesling style emerge from this range at some point.

Check out all the reviews after the jump.

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  • Snooth User: Masaryk
    71775 16

    Two of the best examples of Oregon Riesling are:

    2009 Couer de Terre Riesling
    2009 Schöne Schlucht Riesling

    They might be smaller production than the above mentioned wines, but aren't those the ones that really show the potential?

    Aug 24, 2010 at 3:16 PM

  • Snooth User: Masaryk
    71775 16

    Oh, and I would be remiss if I didn't mention also:

    2007 Hillcrest Riesling DRY “Orsatian”

    Southern Oregon Riesling at its finest.

    Aug 24, 2010 at 3:23 PM

  • Snooth User: Gregory Dal Piaz
    Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
    89065 238,748

    Would love to try them. Look forward to searching them out next time I'm in the region.


    Aug 24, 2010 at 4:34 PM

  • Snooth User: Drea23
    563427 1

    Williamette Valley Vineyard has an amazing Riesling. Every time I go home to Oregon to visit, I have to go by the winery and pick up a few bottles.

    Aug 24, 2010 at 6:51 PM

  • Snooth User: dewman
    102018 6

    I went into my local vintner last month and asked for a dry riesling. He had 3, and I selected the 2008 Foris Vineyards Riesling. It was good stuff.

    Aug 24, 2010 at 6:55 PM

  • Snooth User: dmcker
    Hand of Snooth
    125836 5,000

    Good, useful overview, Greg. Haven't had any Oregon rieslings in a while, but I'll be keeping my eye out for some of the Elk Cove, Chehelem and Willamette VV versions you mention....

    Aug 24, 2010 at 7:13 PM

  • Snooth User: realfish
    558339 16

    Don't forget the Finger Lakes in upstate NY when you think of rieslings, Herman Weimer has been producing a great riesling for decades!

    Aug 24, 2010 at 8:30 PM

  • Snooth User: rrosen47
    369881 1

    The top of the list should include Alsace Rieslings - Seppi Landmann is an excellent producer.

    Aug 25, 2010 at 12:19 AM

  • may I recommend a reisling from Wairarapa, New Zealand.

    Aug 27, 2010 at 6:58 PM

  • Snooth User: hoges
    Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
    573364 10

    riesling the new great white !!

    Sep 06, 2010 at 8:58 PM

  • Snooth User: sarhay618
    180148 5

    Can anyone recommend rieslings from Michigan? I am going to be traveling along the coast of Lake Michigan soon and want to know if there are any good stops along the way?

    Sep 23, 2010 at 3:21 PM

  • Snooth User: Barryd389
    451822 1

    You're missing out on Riesling if you haven't gone through 15-20 Michigan's upper-lower penninsula's offerings. Just look at the big the California Wine Competitions' results over the past couple of years. They'll compete with the Pac Rim's offerings any day.

    Sep 23, 2010 at 4:38 PM

  • Snooth User: bpkrug1
    585913 6

    Qualitaswein Mit Pradikat, Spatlese or Auslese, German Reisling from the Mosel-Saar-Ruwer, aside, there are many very good Reislings available on the market. Two, of my three, current farvorite Reislings, come from California. The first, the 2007, 'Raddog', California Reisling, is just $6.99/bottle. This wine has a classic Reisling nose, and a slight amount of residual sugar, that is balanced by refreshing acidity. Delicious! The second, from the 2008 vintage, is vinted and bottled, by 'Bogle Vineyards', a winery out of Clarksburg, California. This wine received a 98 point score from the commercial wine judges, at the California State Fair. Just $7.99/bottle, with peach/apricot flavors, and a good acid level, that balances it's refreshing finish. Neither, wil be perceived as dry. However, if dry is what your looking for, try the 2009, 'Pewsey Vale', Eden Valley, Dry Reisling from South Australia. This wine is a bit pricey, at $14.99/bottle, but offers aromatics, that, though not Germanic in character, are still a very good representation of the diverse Reisling grape. It's a lot tougher to make a good dry Reisling, than one with residual sugar, and still keep both your nose and palate interested. This wine was grown in a vineyard established in 1847, by Joseph Gilbert, who initally planted 16 acres with various grape varieties that included Reisling. A good wine with historical significance. I was fortuneate to taste my first Reisling at the, 'Charles Krug Winery', in Napa Valley, in 1962. Together with my fraternal grandfather, my uncle, my father, and my two older brothers, I was invited to a private railway car next to the tasting room, for a extra special tasting of all their wines. Something I will never forget. I appreciate the comments in this forum, despite the fact that I haven't seen Reisling bottlings from either the Finger Lakes, or the the Michigan penninsula available in northern California. I would welcome the experience.

    Sep 24, 2010 at 4:21 AM

  • Snooth User: HRCarey
    603807 1

    Arcane Cellars Riesling was Best of the Bite in Portland this year. It's estate fruit and delicious.

    Oct 07, 2010 at 2:46 PM

  • Snooth User: Good Works Wine Club
    Hand of Snooth
    799422 20

    One of the best is Winfield Estate Semi-Dry Riesling which is a private label from Willamette Valley Vineyards mentioned above. You can only get it thru the Good Works Wine Club, go to their website. The price is right too.

    Mar 16, 2011 at 7:03 PM

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