Riesling was one of the first vinifera varieties planted in Washington, dating back to late 1880s. Much later, in the early 1970s, there were more acres planted to Riesling than there were Merlot.
Probably because Riesling is the most versatile, complex and food-friendly of all the noble grapes. And because back then, many, many people preferred a sweeter wine. In the next two decades, winemakers started making some Rieslings drier because of the demands of the market. We can safely say that no other varietal has been crafted to express so many different styles from bone dry to ice wines and everything in between.
Rieslings have very floral aromas, a crisp, vibrant character with peach, citrus and apple flavors that morph into apricot as they age. When noble rot or botrytis attaches itself to the skins, the resulting wine is a concentration of sugars and flavors to produce a wine of incomparable intensity.
With Ann Vogel’s Harvey’s Butter Rum Batter recipes, the versatility of Riesling was the key that unlocked the synergy door. Riesling has just the right amount of sweetness and acidity to pair with apples, pork, pineapple, ham, red pepper flakes and cheesecake.
Riesling is all over the place when it comes to residual sugar (RS). It can have a ton of RS, making it a late harvest or ice wine. Or it can have as little as a Chardonnay – around .5% – and a crisp acidity for food friendliness.
Germany has been making some stunning Rieslings for a few centuries and it’s to Riesling what Bordeaux is to Cabernet and Merlot – the bench mark. That’s why it’s so cool when German winemakers come to Washington to make wine with Washington grapes.
Washington has 6,320 acres planted to Riesling. The most expensive is the Long Shadows Poet’s Leap Ice Wine at $85 for a half (375ml.) bottle. It’s made by one of my favorite German winemakers, Armin Diehl. This being a very special and labor intensive wine, it’s to be expected.
Other Washington Rieslings are as little as $3 for a 750 ml and continue up to around $20. These more expensive wines tend to have more work put into them and are generally drier.
There are three major Riesling producers in Washington State. Hogue, Ch. Ste. Michelle and Pacific Rim. All three have received numerous medals from around the world for their Rieslings.
For the Harvey’s Pork Chops with Apple Compote, try the Chateau Ste. Michelle Columbia Valley Riesling. This wine is a blend of grapes from all around the Columbia Valley made in an off-dry style at 11% alcohol and 2.2% RS. $10.
Pacific Rim’s Columbia Valley Riesling is crisp and slightly sweeter, a lovely wine with fiery red pepper flakes and juicy sweet pineapple in the Harvey’s Glazed Ham with Pineapple Chutney. Another blend of grapes from around Columbia Valley made in an off-dry style at 11.5% alcohol and 3.1% RS.
Cheesecake was made to be paired with Riesling. That being said we’ll move to a Riesling from another longtime giant in the Washington wine industry, Hogue. Their Late Harvest Columbia Valley Riesling was picked mid-October through the first part of November. It has 11% alcohol and 5.4% RS and at $10 a bottle is a total bargain.