Coastal Diamonds: The Rieslings of Oregon
About every two years, I get an invite to attend the International Pinot Noir Celebration in Oregon's Willamette Valley. The event continues to be one of the best run and highest quality wine events in the country, with a fantastic combination of excellent wine and equally fantastic food. More about Pinot Noir in a day or two. In addition to attending one of the best wine parties around, IPNC also gives me (and a number of other wine writers) the excuse to do something slightly less expected: taste a lot of Oregon Riesling. Each year following IPNC, the Oregon Riesling Alliance holds a tasting of a recent vintage. Most people still have no idea that Oregon even grows Riesling, yet amidst the crowded hills of Pinot Noir, there lie an increasing number of Riesling vineyards. So many, in fact that continuing to describe these growers as experimental is as inaccurate as it is unfair.
Riesling has actually been planted in Oregon since the very first days of Oregon viticulture. Pioneering vintner Richard Sommer, whose 1960's Hillcrest Vineyards winery was one of the state's earliest forays into wine, included Riesling as part of his plantings. By 1980 Riesling actually accounted for 25% of the state's plantings. But then Pinot Noir came along and as often happens when a region discovers a gold mine, Riesling all but disappeared.
Today Oregon has close to 800 acres of Riesling, spread across the Umpqua Valley, the Rogue Valley, the Colombia River Valley, and of course, the Willamette Valley. From the perspective of broad climate measures, Oregon fits nicely in the known range for growing Riesling, which likes a cooler climate, known as Region 1 to climate scientists. Other winegrowing areas in Region 1 include Burgundy and Germany's Rhine region.
WINES WITH A SCORE AROUND 9
2011 Love & Squalor "Antsy Pants" Riesling $28
Pale gold in color, this wine smells of mandarin oranges, pink grapefruit, and a hint of candle wax. In the mouth, juicy mandarin zest, pink grapefruit flesh, and lemon pith are beautifully balanced and fresh, with bright, mouthwatering acidity. Very pretty. 54 cases produced.
WINES WITH A SCORE BETWEEN 8.5 AND 9
2012 Love & Squalor Riesling, Willamette Valley $18
Palest greenish gold in color, this wine has a very distinctive nose of ripe pear and ripe papaya aromas. In the mouth, bright tropical fruits, including papaya, mix with pink grapefruit and delicate acidity that has a nice balance to it. Quite distinctive and interesting. Dry. 440 cases produced.