New scale rates riesling from dry to really sweet
Among the many innovations wineries have made in the Northwest, the latest is to help consumers understand what sort of riesling they are getting. The new aid is a scale printed on the back of some labels rating the wines as either dry, medium dry, medium sweet and sweet. A little triangle printed above the scale points to where the individual bottle falls in the mix. Pacific Rim's 2008 Dry Riesling sets the triangle directly in the middle of the dry quadrant, for example. Seattle Times wine adviser Paul Gregutt hopes other wineries adopt the scale as a good start.
Special to the Seattle Times
Pick of the week
Pacific Rim 2009 Riesling; $10
What used to be labeled Johannisberg riesling (the term is now illegal) is the style here. It's Yakima Valley fruit, 2.2 percent residual sugar, 11.5 percent alcohol. In other words, it's the classic Washington tasting-room riesling, only better. Opulent and fruity, with apricots, star anise, mint and a spicy streak that lifts the flavors. (Young's-Columbia distributes)
PACIFIC NORTHWEST wineries are often credited with being pioneers, for proving that good grapes could be grown, and good wines made, in places once thought inhospitable. But their more important pioneering achievements extend well beyond the exploration of Oregon hills and Washington deserts. They cut to the very core of American winemaking — past, present and future.
It was in Oregon that pinot noir first achieved international acclaim. Washington where merlot first staked a legitimate claim to greatness. Oregon again where Dijon clones and unoaked styles elevated chardonnay to more sophisticated levels. Washington where syrah has been shown to express a rainbow of flavors that touch down in the Rhône on one end, the Barossa on the other. Oregon grew the country's first pinot gris. Washington is the country's largest and best producer of riesling. And on and on.
Recognition for these regional accomplishments has been slow to arrive, but there are encouraging signs that it is gaining momentum. An important trade publication, "Wine Business Monthly," recently took notice of Washington's ongoing contributions when it named two newcomer wineries to its annual "Hot Small Brands" list. Pacific Rim was ranked first, and Wines of Substance second in a list of 10. Abacela (a southern Oregon winery specializing in Iberian grapes) came in fourth, and an impressive new Idaho winery — Cinder — was No. 5.
Pacific Rim, a riesling specialist I profiled last Aug. 16 in this magazine, made its first wines at its new Washington facility (just outside Richland) in 2006. Production is already up to 140,000 cases a year, 90 percent of it riesling. There are 11 different rieslings, a remarkable number for a single winery. Among them are single-vineyard wines (one of which, Wallula, is also biodynamic); an organic riesling, and both dry and sweet rieslings.
The three core wines, which all sell for about $10, feature an innovative new sweetness scale on the back of each bottle. At the last biannual Riesling Rendezvous conference sponsored by Chateau Ste. Michelle, representatives of the International Riesling Foundation proposed that such a graphic be adopted throughout the industry as an aid to consumers.
It is way overdue. Apart from German rieslings, which are confusing in a different way, no country in the world has figured out how to label the wines systematically so consumers know whether the wine they are buying is dry, off-dry, sweet or really, really sweet. A few wineries have begun putting "Dry" on the label, but there are no fixed standards. I've had dry rieslings that tasted rather sweet, and sweet rieslings that, because of their high acidity, tasted quite dry.
This new scale is simply a straight line divided into four quarters: Dry, Medium Dry, Medium Sweet and Sweet. A triangle hovering over the top indicates where on the scale the wine you are purchasing falls. It's not perfect, but it's a good start.
Pacific Rim's 2008 Dry Riesling sets the triangle directly in the middle of the dry quadrant. At just under 1 percent residual sugar, that seems right. It's aromatic with a mouthwatering juiciness that invites another glass. Drink it with umami-laden Asian fare, grilled fish or cured meats.
Pacific Rim's 2009 Sweet Riesling sets the triangle at the sweet end of the medium sweet quadrant. That translates to 8.5 percent alcohol and 7 percent residual sugar. It's a perfect wine for those who enjoy blush wines but want to explore something more interesting than the standard white zin.
Right in the middle is the winery's newest offering, labeled simply riesling. It's my Pick of the Week.
About Wine Adviser
My column is all about sharing the joy of exploring all the world of wine. I want to guide people to make inspired choices, and encourage them to try as many different styles of wine as they can. I will always seek out the best wines at the best prices. Wine Adviser runs on Sunday in Pacific Northwest Magazine.
When vice president of Sub Pop Records Megan Jasper isn't running things at the office, she's working in her garden at her West Seattle home where she and her husband Brian spend time relaxing.