Riesling: Washington’s greatest grape?

Wine Press NorthwestAndy Perdue

We’ve known it for years, but now it is confirmed: The Pacific Northwest is Riesling country.

Perhaps the greatest white wine grape in the world performs beautifully throughout the Northwest, as demonstrated by our judging of 130 examples.

In fact, we tasted Rieslings from 23 different Northwest appellations, and each of the four major regions — Washington, Oregon, British Columbia and Idaho — were represented amid the best wines.

Also showing well:

* Ste. Chapelle, Idaho’s largest and oldest producer, led the charge for the overachieving Gem State by earning four “Outstanding” ratings.

Our judging took place in mid-April at the Clover Island Inn in Kennewick, Wash. Our judges were Winnie Alberg, a wine professional in Ellensburg, Wash.; Kristine Bono, a guest services expert for Col Solare on Red Mountain; Justin Michaud, assistant winemaker for Goose Ridge Estate Winery near Richland, Wash.; Mike Rader, a longtime member of Wine Press Northwest’s tasting panel; Coke Roth, an attorney and international wine judge; Dave Seaver, a Wine Press Northwest tasting panelist; Jay Drysdale, a wine professional from Vancouver, British Columbia; and Ken Robertson, a columnist for Wine Press Northwest. Winemaker Kate Michaud was a silent judge who checked the wines for faults.

On to the results:


Ste. Chapelle NV Sparkling Riesling, American, $7: Idaho’s largest and oldest producer has crafted sparkling Riesling for many years. Though this carries the “American” designation, the grapes are 100% Snake River Valley Riesling. It opens with aromas of fresh caramel, toffee, brioche and angel food cake, followed by mouth-filling flavors of apricots, limes, lemons and ripe peaches. It’s a sexy sparkler that finishes dry despite its 3.85% residual sugar. (1,600 cases, 11.5% alc.)

Ste. Chapelle 2008 Winemaker’s Series Late Harvest Riesling, Snake River Valley, $21: This is not your typical sweet Riesling. Rather, this finely crafted upscale dessert wine is made in the style of a Sauterne with aromas of apricots, caramelized apples and spicy botrytis. On the palate, it is a big, rich, tasty wine with flavors of cream soda, ginger, apricots and golden raisins. Enjoy this with creme brulee, blue cheeses, fresh fruits and nuts. (1,700 cases, 10% alc.)

Ste. Chapelle 2011 Winemaker’s Series Riesling, Snake River Valley, $7: Maurine Johnson has worked at at Idaho’s oldest winery for a quarter-century and was elevated to head winemaker just prior to the 2011 harvest. Based on the quality of this wine, Ste. Chapelle is in good hands with her in charge. It opens with complex aromas of mint, apples and candle wax, followed by mouthwatering flavors of peaches, oranges, limes, pineapples and apricots. It’s fairly sweet at 3.37% residual sugar, but the typical Snake River Valley acidity keeps everything bright and lip-smacking good. (1,000 cases, 12% alc.)

Ste. Chapelle 2011 Winemaker’s Series Special Harvest Riesling, Snake River Valley, $9: This wine is built to appeal to those with a bit of a sweet tooth, but the 7.3% residual sugar doesn’t take away from its quality. Up front, it offers aromas of orange zest, ripe pears, juicy peaches and luscious kiwis. On the palate, the honeyed mouth feel and poached apple flavors are balanced with just the right amount of acidity. Enjoy with a plate of cheeses and fresh fruits. (6,520 cases, 10% alc.)

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