Oregon’s Overlooked Gem: Riesling

Have you tried an Oregon Riesling lately?


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The wine business is relentlessly trendy, so it’s natural to want to dazzle your geekiest pals by pulling out a bottle of “the next big thing.”

Here’s a tip: Everything old is new again.

In Oregon, Pinot Noir rules the reds, no question. But what’s been getting the buzz among Oregon’s white wines? Riesling, the grape that first defined Northwest viticulture in the 1970s.

At a tasting of Knudsen-­Erath wines in the late 1980s, it was a 12-year-old Riesling—not a Pinot—that won my heart. It had aged beautifully, with a glorious bouquet of flowers, fruits and stone. The original asking price? About $4.

Today, these overlooked gems still offer exceptional value.

At Trisaetum, founded in 2003 in the Ribbon Ridge AVA, Winemaker James Frey focused on Riesling from the start, despite the ­economic risk.

“Most people I knew chided me for planting Riesling on prime Pinot Noir land,” says Frey.

So why pursue it?

“I fell in love with Riesling for much of the same reasons others do,” he says. “Its acidity, its ability to age and transform over time and the wide range of styles in which it can be made. It is, when done well, a rather magical wine.”

Still, there’s no need to specialize in the grape in order to make great Riesling.

Chehalem produces Pinot Noir, Gamay, Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc, Chardonnay and even a Grüner Veltliner. But this pioneering producer also makes up to a half-dozen different Rieslings annually.

Founder and co-­winemaker (with daughter Wynne) Harry ­Peterson-Nedry first took up the Riesling banner because, he says, “We had 30- to 40-year-old vines being pulled out to plant Chardonnay, and that’s a travesty.”

Perhaps more importantly, says Peterson-Nedry, “Riesling responds to site, canopy, viticulture and crop load much the same as Pinot Noir.”

Fortunately for consumers, Riesling can produce better wine at higher yields than Pinot Noir. Industry veteran Bill Hatcher started A to Z in 2002 as an outlet for high-quality, low-cost Oregon wines.

The company motto—“Aristocratic wines at democratic prices”—sums up the philosophy well, and Riesling is an important part of the product mix.

Smart consumers will make Oregon Riesling an important addition to their shopping carts. 

Top Oregon Rieslings

A to Z Wineworks

The 2013 Riesling ($15) carries a hint of sugar, but the juicy acidity and fruit flavors make it a versatile wine.

Chehalem

Chehalem produces a sparkling Riesling called Sext; a Three Vineyard cuvée; the Wind Ridge Block and the old-vine 2012 Corral Creek Vineyards ($29). Try that one for its graceful composition and citrus, apple and wet stone notes.

Trisaetum

As many as eight Rieslings are released each year. Try the 2013 Ribbon Ridge Estate Dry Riesling and the off-dry 2013 Ribbon Ridge Estate Riesling (each $24) for glimpses of the Trisaetum magic.

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