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.
At the top of our list was a 2010 Riesling from Naches Heights Vineyard. Phil Cline, who owns the winery, said getting fruit ripe has been a challenge the past two years in the relatively cool region above the city of Yakima.
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"That's part of the beauty," he said with a smile.
The past two years, he's picked his Riesling around Halloween at 21 brix, well below the optimal ripeness for red -- and many white -- grapes. Anke Wildman, a German native, made the 400 cases of Riesling for Cline.
Cline said the future for the Naches Heights AVA is bright yet uncertain. He estimates the potential acreage for the region is 13,000, though the best sites are taken up by cherry and apple orchards. He hopes that the success of the new AVA's wines will spur greater interest in plantings in the region.
On the opposite end is our No. 2 wine, which totaled a massive 900,000 cases and came from Washington's oldest winery. Winemakers Bob Bertheau and Wendy Stuckey gathered grapes from every part of the vast Columbia Valley.
"It's like putting the entire state of Washington in a single bottle," said Bertheau, Chateau Ste. Michelle's head winemaker.
Ste. Michelle has been ramping up Riesling production for more than a decade, and Bertheau, who arrived from California in 2003, has learned a lot about the grape through the years.
"You can screw it up really easily," he said. "Riesling is so delicate and such a transparent wine, you can tread on it a lot easier (than most red varieties). Riesling should not be about a winemaker's footprint. It's more like running a ballet company than a jazz band."
Fortunately for Bertheau, he is surrounded by Riesling experts. Ernst Loosen of Germany works with him on the Eroica project, and Stuckey, his white winemaker, earned her reputation for great Riesling in her native Australia.
At more than 1 million cases, Ste. Michelle makes more Riesling than any other winery in the world. Managing that much juice could quickly become a nightmare, which is why Bertheau appreciates the many sites throughout the Columbia Valley.
"We're still planting all over," he said. "It would be a logistical problem to have everything ripening at once. It's better to spread Riesling harvest over four or five weeks."
That's why he brings in grapes from warm sites such as the Wahluke Slope, Cold Creek and lower Columbia Basin as well as cooler regions such as Ancient Lakes, the Yakima Valley and Lake Chelan.
Riesling sales in the United States have been strong, in large part because of rising production levels of Ste. Michelle, Pacific Rim Winemakers, Hogue Cellars and other large producers. Bertheau thinks that will continue, though at perhaps a slower pace.
"The hardest thing in the world is figuring out how much Riesling you'll need in five years," he said. "I love where we are, and I think we can grow 5 to 8 percent per year."
The Ste. Michelle team likes the cooler climate in the proposed Ancient Lakes AVA, around the towns of Quincy and George. As recently as three years ago, Bertheau would have pushed to plant mostly in that region. But the past two vintages have been a good lesson.
"Having lived through the past two cold vintages have tempered that thought just a little bit," he said.
Of the 33 wines that earned our top "Outstanding" rating, Ste. Michelle had four of them, everything from its Dry Riesling to its ultra-sweet Eroica Ice Wine.
Also showing well:
* Ste. Chapelle, Idaho's largest and oldest producer, led the charge for the overachieving Gem State by earning four "Outstanding" ratings.
* British Columbia makes superb Rieslings and was well represented amid the top wines from such producers as Wild Goose, Gehringer Brothers, JoieFarm and 8th Generation.
* Oregon, best known for Pinot Noir, also is producing more Riesling. Wineries such as Mt. Hood, Troon, Trisaetum and ENSO earned our top rating.
* As expected, Washington wineries dominated the list with both large and small producers.
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:
Naches Heights Vineyard 2010 Riesling, Columbia Valley, $13: The grapes for our No. 1 Riesling came from Washington's newest appellation, Naches Heights near Yakima. The label doesn't reflect this because the AVA wasn't approved when the wine was bottled. Owner Phil Cline planted three acres of Riesling in the Naches Heights in 2003 and gets a mere 2.5 tons of fruit per acre. We love this wine for the clarity of its fruit expression, exuding floral, peach and mineral aromas and flavors. It's bone dry, yet the gorgeous fruit offers a layer of plush elegance that provides perfect balance and a crazy long finish. (400 cases, 13.1% alc.)
Chateau Ste. Michelle 2011 Riesling, Columbia Valley, $9: Who says big is bad? Nobody who drinks this Riesling, the single-largest bottling of a white wine in the Pacific Northwest. Ste. Michelle head winemaker Bob Bertheau describes this as a cross-section of Washington wine country, as the grapes came from nearly every corner of the 11-million-acre Columbia Valley. While it is definitely off-dry at 2.23% residual sugar, the low pH of 2.97 gives it the acidity for perfect balance. It's a beautiful, lush wine with aromas of melons and orange rinds and flavors of tropical fruits, grapefruits and apples. Buy this by the case and enjoy it all summer long. (900,000 cases, 11% alc.)
Wild Goose Vineyards 2011 God's Mountain Riesling, Okanagan Valley, $20: Our 2009 Northwest Winery of the Year continues to produce some of North America's finest white wines, as proven in one competition after another. Second-generation winemaker Hagen Kruger uses grapes from a vineyard high above Skaha Lake south of Penticton, British Columbia, for his finest Riesling. It has just a bit of residual sugar at 1.2%, but the bright acidity typical of the Okanagan Valley perfectly balanced the palate. The fruit is beautifully integrated from first sip through the lengthy finish, and the expression of fruit is clear and pronounced throughout.
Chateau Ste. Michelle & Dr. Loosen 2008 Eroica Riesling Ice Wine, Horse Heaven Hills, $50: While British Columbia is most famous for Northwest ice wines, leave it to Chateau Ste. Michelle and Germany's Ernst Loosen to craft one of the best. At 31% residual sugar, this was the sweetest wine of our competition. The grapes were picked Dec. 16, 2008, at the Horse Heaven Vineyard near Columbia Crest, and the resulting wine opens with aromas of yellow rose petals, caramel, spicy honey, oranges and roasted pecans. On the palate, it's a sexy, sultry dessert wine with flavors of poached apples, apricots and rich honey. This is a rare and delicious treat. (500 cases, 8% alc.)
Gehringer Brothers Estate Winery 2011 Private Reserve Riesling, Okanagan Valley, $15: Last winter, Gehringer Brothers won its third consecutive Platinum for the 2010 vintage of this wine in our annual best-of-the-best competition, and the 2011 Riesling is keeping pace -- if not exceeding it. That is ridiculously consistent at an extremely high level. This is a dry Riesling that shows off aromas of juicy tropical fruit and traces of lime and minerality. It's loaded with fruit on the palate, with flavors of oranges, gooseberries and limes. A streak of slate adds great complexity throughout. Savor this wine with seared scallops topped with a butter sauce. (1,000 cases, 13.2% alc.)
Indian Creek Winery 2011 White Riesling, Snake River Valley, $9: Here's a fun example by one of Idaho's oldest wineries of what the Gem State can do with Riesling. The long list of aromas leads with hints of banana cream pie, pear, apple, apricot jam and Circus Peanut candy, but there's also pleasing notes of minerality. When it comes to flavors, one judge said, "It's easier to eliminate stuff that it doesn't have." It's packed with Juicy Fruit gum and joined by baked Granny Smith apple, honey and canned pear. Young winemaker Mike McClure, who married into the family, achieved spot-on balance with late citrusy acidity to counteract the residual sugar of 1.5%. This bridges the gap as a cocktail and dinner wine. (300 cases, 12.4% alc.)
Washington Hills 2011 Riesling, Washington, $10: Precept Wines in Seattle purchased this longtime label many years ago and has continued the tradition of crafting superb, value-minded wines. The modest alcohol makes this an accessible wine to enjoy during any summer occasion. It opens with superior aromas of anise, fennel, apples and even Circus Peanuts candy. On the palate, it reveals more apples and licorice notes, backed with lemons and limes in the finish. It's on the pleasingly off-dry side at 1.75% residual sugar, yet the bright acidity provides perfect balance. (7,200 cases, 11.5% alc.)
Chateau Ste. Michelle 2011 Cold Creek Vineyard Riesling, Columbia Valley, $15: Regardless of the name, Cold Creek is a warm site for this estate vineyard of Ste. Michelle Wine Estates. But in a cool vintage like 2011, it's a perfect location for white winemaker Wendy Stuckey. It is loaded with aromas of orchard and tropical fruits, including some exotic lychee notes. On the palate, the 2.1% residual sugar and bright acidity balance and boost the flavors of limes, white strawberries, peach soda, lemon meringue pie and licorice. Enjoy this with curries, roasted chicken or enchiladas. (4,100 cases, 12.5% alc.)
Chateau Ste. Michelle 2011 Dry Riesling, Columbia Valley, $9: The crew at CSM affectionately refers to this wine as "baby Eroica" because of its style similarities to its Eroica Riesling. But this is a baby no more, either in style or production. In fact, the 2009 vintage of the Dry Riesling wowed an international crowd two years ago at the Riesling Rendezvous, and this vintage equally floored us. At 0.72% residual sugar, sweetness is imperceptible, and the wine shows off aromas of spices, slate, passionfruit and even nuttiness. On the palate, it offers flavors of white peaches and nectarines, as well as lemons, apples and minerality. It's a delicious wine all the way through, and it will pair well with seafood, including scallops, crab and raw or barbecued oysters. (75,000 cases, 12% alc.)
Sawtooth Estate Winery 2011 Estate Riesling, Snake River Valley, $11: Sawtooth is one of Idaho's oldest and largest producers, and the 2009 version of this wine won best in show in the 2011 Idaho Wine Competition. The Snake River Valley's high-altitude vineyards are perfect for preserving Riesling's acidity through complete ripeness. This opens with lovely aromas of orchard fruit and corn silk, as well as a tell-tale whiff of petrol. On the palate, it reveals flavors of Fuji apples, Bartlett pears, ripe peaches and oranges. The ample acidity perfectly balances the 2% residual sugar. (4,500 cases, 13.5% alc.)
Latah Creek Wine Cellars 2011 La Familigia Vineyards Riesling, Columbia Valley, $9: The father-daughter team of Mike Conway and Natalie Barnes uses grapes from a vineyard near the town of George, which many believe to be the perfect spot to grow Washington Riesling. That's hard to argue against when you consider the quality of this wine. It is a complex Riesling that reveals elegance over power. It reveals aromas of apples, lemon zest and spices, followed by balanced flavors of peaches, oranges and pears. Its 2.5% residual sugar is expertly balanced with bright, lip-smacking acidity. (1,262 cases, 10.5% alc.)
Maryhill Winery 2010 Riesling, Columbia Valley, $14: Kiwi-born winemaker Richard Batchelor didn't have a lot of opportunity to work with this grape while in California, but he's picked up the nuances in a hurry. He used grapes from the Milbrandt brothers' vast vineyards and has crafted a superb Riesling with aromas of apples, honey, spices and a touch of classic petrol. On the palate, it's a distinctive wine with flavors of ripe pears, crisp apples and a touch of lemon. It's fairly sweet at 2.85% residual sugar, but that's all backed up with bright acidity. Pair this with spicy Asian dishes or lobster ravioli in a cream sauce. (1,712 cases, 12.5% alc.)
Mt. Hood Winery 2010 Riesling, Columbia Gorge, $16: The Bickford family has farmed its land south of Hood River, Ore., for six generations, and it is quickly finding its way making superb wine. The grapes for this delicious Riesling come from its estate vines in the Columbia Gorge AVA, and their cool-climate nature shines in the glass. It opens with aromas of orange zest and a hint of petrol, giving way to full-mouth flavors of ripe orchard fruit. At nearly 3% residual sugar, the sweetness marries with the ripe fruit and the crisp acidity. This is a delicious sipper to enjoy on a sunny summer day in the Gorge. (169 cases, 11.9% alc.)
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.)
Troon Vineyard 2011 Dry Riesling, Applegate Valley, $16: Winemaker Herb Quady, who has his own winery in Southern Oregon, also produces wines for this longtime winery. This wine honors founder Dick Troon, who loved to spend time on Rogue Valley rivers. This wine impressed us with a great level of intensity and clarity with aromas of tropical fruit and apples and huge flavors of pears and green apples. (915 cases, 11.9% alc.)
Vin du Lac 2010 Lehm Riesling, Lake Chelan , $20: Larry Lehmbecker is the owner/winemaker for our 2010 Northwest Winery of the Year, and he is a great promoter of Lake Chelan and its grapes. This is one of the finest white wines we've tasted from the young grape-growing region. It opens with aromas of dusty apples, pears and minerals, followed by flavors that include quince, spices and Granny Smith apples. This will pair perfectly with shellfish, lemon chicken or grilled vegetables tossed with olive oil on a bed of fresh linguine. (371 cases, 13.1% alc.)
ENSO Winery 2011 Wheatland Vineyard Riesling, Willamette Valley, $20: This urban winery in southeastern Portland brought in grapes from the nearby Willamette Valley for this superb wine. This opens with aromas of cantaloupes, Golden Delicious apples and peaches. On the palate, it reveals flavors of Granny Smith apples, pears and peaches, all backed with minerality and tart, luscious acidity. (90 cases, 11.4% alc.)
Wild Goose Vineyards 2011 Stoney Slope Riesling, Okanagan Valley, $20: Wild Goose Riesling is as close to a sure thing as you'll find in the wine world. Professional judges in Southern California have awarded this Riesling a gold medal this spring, and our panel agrees. It opens with aromas of clean tropical notes, along with river rock and grated nutmeg. On the palate, spritzy acidity carries the wine, along with its flavors of citrus, minerals, grapefruits and oranges. Its 1.5% residual sugar is barely perceptible because of winemaker Hagen Kruger's expert touch. (420 cases, 12.5% alc.)
Trisaetum 2011 Ribbon Ridge Estate Riesling, Ribbon Ridge, $24: Ribbon Ridge is the smallest appellation in the Pacific Northwest and is best known for high-end Pinot Noir. So imagine our surprise and delight with this wonderful Riesling. It shows an amazing balancing act between sweetness (1.91%) and acidity (2.9 pH), which leads to remarkable aromas of limes, oranges, candy corn and dandelions, followed by delicious flavors of orchard fruit, oranges and lemon zest. (300 cases, 10.5% alc.)
JoieFarm 2011 Riesling, Okanagan Valley, $23: Winemaker Robert Thielicke works alongside founders Heidi Noble and Michael Dinn at one of the very finest wineries in the Pacific Northwest. Noble and Dinn come from restaurant backgrounds, so food applications are the focus of Joie's wines. The grapes for this Riesling come from the Naramata Bench and the cooler Kelowna area. It opens with luscious aromas of peaches, pears and Golden Delicious apples, followed by flavors of tropical fruits, lime zest and Granny Smith apples. Bright acidity expertly backs up all the flavors to a memorable finish. (780 cases, 12.4% alc.)
Kiona Vineyards Winery 2011 Riesling, Washington, $10: The Williams family began planting wine grapes on Red Mountain in 1975 and opened its winery five years later. Since then, Kiona has remained one of the state's top producers. There's a lot to like in this value-minded bottling of Riesling, starting with aromas of toffee, tropical fruits and pears. On the palate, it reveals flavors of grapefruits, oranges, lemons and melons. It shows off a big, bright palate that beautifully balances its 2.7% residual sugar. (5,400 cases, 12.1% 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.)
Nk'Mip Cellars 2010 Qwam Qwmt Riesling Icewine, Okanagan Valley, $60: Nk'Mip (pronounced "in-ku-MEEP") is the first aboriginal-owned winery in North America, and it has produced world-class wines since it opened a decade ago. This luscious ice wine is a delight with aromas of baked pears, apricots, cinnamon and vanilla ice cream followed by flavors of ripe pears, sweet limes and maple syrup. It's loaded with sugar at 24% residual sugar. It can stand alone as dessert after a great meal, or try pairing it with cheesecake. (188 cases, 10.5% alc.)
Gehringer Brothers Estate Winery 2011 Classic Dry Riesling, Okanagan Valley, $15: Walter and Gordon Gehringer learned their trades at the top wine universities in (then) West Germany in the mid-1970s, and their skill with Germany's top grape is apparent. This has no perceptible sugar, yet the ripeness of the fruit gives the impression of sweetness. It's loaded with aromas of tropical fruits, pears, grapefruits and lychee, followed by flavors of orchard and tropical fruits. A trace of minerality leads to a memorable finish. (1,000 cases, 13.2% alc.)
Cave B Estate Winery 2010 Riesling, Columbia Valley, $22: This winery near George, Wash., is at the epicenter of some of the finest Riesling plantings in Washington, so it's little surprise that winemaker Freddy Arredondo is crafting a superb wine. This reveals amazing aromas of apples, cinnamon and petrol, followed by plush flavors of juicy oranges, applesauce and kiwis. It's a phenomenal wine from start to finish. (146 cases, 11.5% alc.)
Charles Smith Wines 2011 Kung Fu Girl Riesling, Columbia Valley, $12: Easily one of the most unusual and eye-catching labels in the Northwest, this Riesling from the incomparable Charles Smith also has plenty to show inside the bottle. This white wine explodes with aromas of florals, passionfruit, pineapples and kiwis, followed by superb flavors of limes, lemons and bright apples. The 1.8% residual sugar is perfectly balanced with acidity, giving way to a pleasing finish. At this price and production, Kung Fu Girl can kick you in the teeth any night of the week. (65,000 cases, 11% alc.)
Hogue Cellars 2010 Riesling, Columbia Valley, $11: In its 30-year history, Hogue has hung its hat on making great Riesling from its base in the Yakima Valley. This off-dry (2.3% residual sugar) offering reminded us a bit of a Mosel halbtrocken in its expression. We loved the minerally depth of this wine, along with its complex aromas of apples and petrol and bright, oily palate that gives way to a crazy long finish. "Now this is Riesling," declared one judge. (27,000 cases, 12.1% alc.)
3 Horse Ranch Vineyards 2010 Reserve Riesling, Snake River Valley, $14: The Gem State continues to show its prowess with its No. 1 grape. 3 Horse Ranch was our Idaho Winery to Watch last year, and for good reason. This superb Riesling was crafted by omnipresent winemaker Greg Koenig, who used estate organic grapes to make a wine that reveals exotic aromas of spices, floral notes and freshly mown hay. Flavors of ripe, juicy peaches and pears are backed with well-balanced acidity and 1.8% residual sugar. (1,200 cases, 13.5% alc.)
8th Generation Vineyard 2011 Riesling, Okanagan Valley, $20: Eighth-generation winemaker Bernd Schales and his wife, 10th-generation grape grower Stefanie, are crafting some of the Okanagan Valley's most exciting wines. A year ago, 8th Generation's sparkling wine was amid our top bubblies, and now its Riesling repeats the success. This superb wine is a crossover between New and Old World styles, as one might expect, with aromas of tropical fruits alongside petrol notes. On the palate, the flavors transition from minerals and green apples to passionfruit and citrus. It's all backed with bright, lip-smacking acidity. (270 cases, 12.1% alc.)
Gamache Vintners 2010 Estate Riesling, Columbia Valley, $18: Brothers Bob and Roger Gamache have been growing grapes near the town of Basin City above the Columbia River for decades, and they launched their eponymous winery a few years ago. While they're best known for the red wines, this white offering should not be overlooked. It's remarkable in its elegance, with aromas of nectarines, grapefruits and roses, followed by balanced flavors of bright citrus melding with a touch of sweetness. (342 cases, 13.5% alc.)
Jones of Washington 2011 Estate Vineyard Riesling, Columbia Valley, $12: Who's the hottest winemaker in Washington. Arguably, it's Victor Palencia from our reigning Washington Winery of the Year. This young man who grew up in a family of farm laborers is living the American dream in every way. And he's making some of Washington's best wines, with this Riesling being no exception. It opens with inviting aromas of minerals, roses and spices, followed by flavors of apples and pears. Its bright, tight flavors give way to a style that is more elegant that opulent, making this a perfect candidate for scallops. (502 cases, 12.5% alc.)
Bethel Heights Vineyard 2010 Riesling, Willamette Valley, $18: This winery in the Eola-Amity Hills near Salem is one of Oregon's top Pinot Noir producers, and it's showing its prowess with Riesling, as well, crafting one of the finest in the state. This is a bone-dry offering with aromas of rose petals, petrol and apple peel, followed by a nice oiliness on the palate and a minerally finish. (136 cases, 12.6% alc.)
Pacific Rim Winemakers 2010 Solstice Vineyard Riesling, Yakima Valley, $32: From one of the nation's largest Riesling producers comes this small-production wine. The grapes are from Yakima Valley vines planted in 1972. This wine is basically dry (0.78% residual sugar), and it shows off aromas of Golden Delicious apples, spiced apples and walnuts. On the palate, it reveals flavors of peaches, juicy pears, lychee and beautiful minerality, all backed with delicious acidity. (200 cases, 13.9% alc.)
8th Generation Vineyard 2011 Classic Riesling, Okanagan Valley, $20: Owner/winemaker Bernd Schales has crafted a deliciously dry Riesling that shows why the Okanagan Valley is one of the great places in the world to grow this grape. It is bright and austere on the nose and palate, with aromas of roses, grapefruit and petrol, followed by flavors of minerals and green apples. The acidity is clean and lean, and this wine will please the traditional Riesling drinker. (480 cases, 11.9% alc.)
Indian Creek Winery 2010 White Riesling, Snake River Valley, $9: Mike McClure, son-in-law of founding winemaker Bill Stowe, shows consistent excellence with this grape as this older vintage isn't far behind his gold-medal caliber 2011. There are fascinating hints of botrytis in the nose, which leads with peach, pineapple and honey aromas. And he follows his template of 1.5% residual sugar with a lush entry of orchard fruit, backed by good acidity and a finish of Granny Smith peel. (300 cases, 11.8% alc.)
Fort Berens Winery 2011 Riesling, British Columbia, $18: This new project in the town of Lillooet, British Columbia, overlooks the Fraser River. This wine already has won high accolades in a top California competition, and it showed well amid its peers in our tasting. It opens with aromas of peaches and oranges, followed by flavors of apricots, minerals and orange glaze, all backed with mouth-watering acidity. (175 cases, 13.6% alc.)
Jones of Washington 2011 Late Harvest Riesling, Columbia Valley, $20: Victor Palencia let this lot hang in the estate Two Gun Vineyard near Quincy, Wash., which explains how the residual sugar (10.6%) nearly matches the level of alcohol. Think of grilled pineapple and apple pie a la mode when it comes to the aromas. Flavors are focused on tropical fruit flavors, finished with baked pear and honey. (534 cases, 10.8% alc.)
Forgeron Cellars 2010 Dionysus Vineyard Late Harvest Riesling, Columbia Valley, $19: French-born and -trained winemaker Marie-Eve Gilla uses grapes from one of Washington's oldest vineyards. Dionysus is part of the Sagemoor group that overlooks the Columbia River amid the White Bluffs north of Pasco. The resulting wine shows off beautiful aromas of tangerines, apricots and yellow grapefruit, followed by pleasing flavors of pineapples, honey and apple pie. (281 cases, 11% alc.)
Bethel Heights Vineyard 2009 Riesling, Willamette Valley, $15: This slightly older offering from one of Oregon's top producers shows off the bit of bottle age it now has. We loved this wine's aromas of apple slices and toasted pine nuts, followed by easy-drinking flavors of peaches, Golden Delicious apples and lime zest. The finish on this Riesling is lengthy and elegant. (310 cases, 11.8% alc.)
Convergence Zone Cellars 2011 Bacchus Vineyard Dewpoint Riesling, Columbia Valley, $17: This small, young producer in Woodinville's warehouse district purchased grapes from one of Washington's oldest and most respected vineyards, the Bacchus block of Sagemoor. The wine opens with aromas of roses, peaches and minerals, followed by round flavors of ripe apples backed by bright acidity. (115 cases, 12.6% alc.)
Columbia Crest 2010 Two Vines Riesling, Washington, $8: While Columbia Crest is the largest winery in the Northwest, it is overshadowed by sibling Ste. Michelle in the Riesling department. But this value-minded bottling proves Crest is no slouch when it comes to the most noble of white varieties. This opens with aromas of pears, pineapples and apricots, followed by flavors of Fuji apples, tangerines and melons. (75,000 cases, 11.5% alc.)
Indian Creek Winery 2011 Ragin' Rapids Sweet Riesling, Snake River Valley, $16: At 11% residual sugar, this is a dessert wine, and it drinks almost like an ice wine. The aromas bring to mind flan, baked caramel and lemon meringue pie. Its theme on the palate is big on apricot and Honeycrisp apple with pleasing lemon/lime acidity and finished with ripe peach and orange. (100 cases, 9.6% alc.)
Hyland Estates 2009 Riesling, Oregon, $25: Hyland is one of Oregon's oldest vineyards, first planted in 1971 in the hills near McMinnville. Today, it is owned by top winemaker Laurent Montalieu, and he is crafting a superb -- and rare -- Riesling. It is deliciously complex with aromas of rose petals and white peaches, followed by flavors of bright apples and orange zest. (150 cases, 12.3% alc.)
Vin du Lac 2010 Les Amis, Columbia Valley, $15: The majority of the Riesling for this tasty offering comes from Lake Chelan vineyards, but owner/winemaker Larry Lehmbecker also blends in Muscat and Gewuerztraminer from Lake Chelan and Snipes Mountain. The resulting wine is elegant with aromas of cool herbs, limes and papayas, followed by youthful and playful flavors of citrus and tropical fruit. We really like where this wine is going. (1,312 cases, 12.1% alc.)
Amity Vineyards 2009 Amity Vineyard Estate Dry Riesling, Willamette Valley, $20: Winemaker Darcy Pendergrass now oversees production for this longtime Willamette Valley winery and left no perceptible residual sugar in this Riesling. It opens with aromas of slate, lime zest and stone fruit, followed by dry, clean flavors of starfruit, passionfruit and green apples. We'd love this wine with raw oysters. (100 cases, 12.5% alc.)
Elk Cove Vineyards 2010 Estate Riesling, Willamette Valley, $19: Second-generation winemaker Adam Campbell crafts Riesling from estate grapes in northern Yamhill County, where he also makes some of the finest Pinot Gris in the state. This opens with exotic aromas of lime zest, lemongrass, kumquat and minerality. On the palate, it reveals apple, lemon and grapefruit. This dry wine is loaded with bright acidity. (1,220 cases, 12% alc.)
Pandora Cellars 2011 Whip and Feather Dry Riesling, Yakima Valley, $15: In the Cascade foothills town of Carnation, Wash., is this new winery. Owner Dan Williams and winemaker Sam Keirsey collaborated on this delicious Riesling with grapes from the Yakima Valley and Rattlesnake Hills. It opens with aromas of linen, apple blossoms and oranges, followed by flavors of Golden Delicious apples, peaches and fresh lime juice. (75 cases, 12% alc.)
Chateau Ste Michelle 2011 Harvest Select Riesling, Columbia Valley, $9: In 2009, this Riesling replaced the Indian Wells Riesling in Ste. Michelle's portfolio, and the production has nearly tripled. Its crowd-pleasing sweetness (5.22%) melds with aromas of oranges, spices and lemon zest and clean, bright flavors of pears and tropical fruit. Cleansing acidity beautifully backs up the residual sugar, making this a fine match with curry dishes and Tex-Mex. (160,000 cases, 10% alc.)
Chateau Ste Michelle 2008 Ethos Late Harvest White Riesling, Columbia Valley, $35: This dessert Riesling comes from white winemaker Wendy Stuckey's first season in Washington after arriving from Australia. This reserve-level wine opens with aromas of grilled pineapples, spearmint and slate, followed by flavors of caramel apples and fresh apple pie. (200 cases, 8% alc.)
Two Mountain Winery 2011 Riesling, Rattlesnake Hills, $15: Brothers Matthew and Patrick Rawn run this winery near the Yakima Valley town of Zillah, and they are producing superb, crowd-pleasing wines. This Riesling is no exception. It opens with aromas of tropical fruit and honeydew melon, followed by flavors of lemon juice, apples and pears, all backed with steely acidity. This is a boldly dry wine that will pear nicely with grilled chicken or seafood gumbo. (786 cases)
Pacific Rim Winemakers 2011 Dry Riesling, Columbia Valley, $10: Iconic California winemaker Randall Grahm started this winery in Santa Cruz, then moved it to the heart of Washington wine country before selling it to Banfi Vintners of New York. Through the transition, French-born Nicolas Quille has been the winemaker and general manager of the operation and has maintained the high quality that helps carry the story of Riesling to the masses. This dry Riesling offers aromas of peaches, melons and apples, followed by pleasant flavors of ripe pears, lime zest and minerality. (18,000 cases, 12.5% alc.)
Gehringer Brothers Estate Winery 2011 Classic Riesling, Okanagan Valley, $15: Walter and Gordon Gehringer straddle the New and Old worlds in their background and strategy, and it shows in this wine, which reveals characteristics of German and Okanagan Valley Rieslings. It opens with aromas of ripe peaches that give way to petrol notes. On the palate, it offers flavors of pears, slate and lime juice. This is a perfect wine for shellfish -- or bratwurst. (2,200 cases, 13% alc.)
Trisaetum 2011 Coast Range Dry Riesling, Yamhill-Carlton, $24: Winemaker James Frey uses grapes he planted in 2005 some 35 miles from the Pacific Ocean in the heart of Pinot Noir country. It's a superb effort with aromas of rose petals, pears and a whiff of petrol, followed by austere and elegant flavors of lemons, limes and slate. This is a perfect wine with seafood, so grab a plate of oysters and start gulping. (300 cases, 11.5% alc.)
CedarCreek Estate Winery 2011 Riesling, Okanagan Valley, $23: Ross Fitzpatrick started his Kelowna, B.C., winery a quarter-century ago, and he has guided it through great times as well as a wildfire that nearly consumed his dream. Winemaker Darryl Brooker crafted this superb Riesling that is more about elegance than power. It reveals aromas of kiwi and starfruit, followed by flavors of grapefruits and crisp apples. The winemaker suggests enjoying it with fish tacos, and we can't argue with that. (1,355 cases, 10.8% alc.)
San Juan Vineyards 2011 Riesling, Yakima Valley, $15: Yvonne Swanberg launched this winery near Friday Harbor, Wash., more than 15 years ago and has built it into one of the finest boutique producers in the state. This wine uses grapes from the Yakima Valley, and it is a dandy, showing off aromas of lychee and pineapple, followed by flavors of orchard fruit and lemon. Pair with grilled scallops. (440 cases, 12.1% alc.)
Brooks Wines 2009 Ara Riesling, Willamette Valley, $25: Portlander Jimi Brooks launched his eponymous label in 1998. When he passed away in 2004, his family continued the winery in his honor and memory. This bone-dry Riesling opens with intriguing aromas of perfumy tropical fruit, followed by a bright palate with flavors of apples and pears. (300 cases, 12% alc.)
Chehalem 2010 Reserve Dry Riesling, Willamette Valley, $24: This is one of three Rieslings made by owner/winemaker Harry Peterson-Nedry, a rare find in Oregon's Willamette Valley, where Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris and Chardonnay tend to dominate. He brought in grapes from two estate vineyards: Corral Creek in the Chehalem Mountains and Stoller in the Dundee Hills. It opens with aromas of Granny Smith apples and spices, followed by steely flavors of limes, gooseberries, lemons and pineapples. (565 cases, 11.2% alc.)
Barnard Griffin 2010 Riesling, Columbia Valley, $10: Owner/winemaker Rob Griffin uses grapes from his estate Caroway Vineyard as well as Crawford Vineyard in the Yakima Valley. It's a bright, mostly dry Riesling with aromas of slate, lime and stone fruit, followed by nicely balanced flavors of starfruit and ripe Fuji apples. (3,455 cases, 11.8% alc.)
Mercer Estates 2010 Mercer Riesling, Yakima Valley, $13: While this Prosser, Wash., winery is a relative newcomer to the Yakima Valley, the folks behind it have decades in the Washington wine business, including Mike Hogue, the Mercer family and now-departed winemaker David Forsyth. This tasty and affordable Riesling offers aromas of rose petals and a hint of petrol, followed by rich, balanced flavors of apples and slate. (3,203 cases, 12.9% alc.)
Vale Wine Co. 2011 Riesling, Snake River Valley, $14: John Danielson has lived in Idaho his entire life and has launched a second career as a winery owner. This off-dry Riesling offers aromas of Mandarin oranges and spices, followed by flavors of juicy peaches and tropical fruit. It's a tasty, complex wine. (85 cases)
College Cellars 2011 Riesling, Columbia Valley, $12: Students at Walla Walla Community College developed this delicious wine from grapes donated by Sagemoor Vineyards north of Pasco, Wash. The resulting wine is finely crafted with aromas of roses and fresh-cut apples, followed by complex flavors of starfruit, ripe pears and minerality. (67 cases, 10.1% alc.)
Pacific Rim Winemakers 2011 Riesling, Columbia Valley, $10: How much do the folks at Pacific Rim love Riesling? Well, their website domain is rieslingrules.com. This bright, beautiful wine is on the off-dry side with 3.1% residual sugar. On the nose, it shows off aromas of apple pie and tropical fruit, followed by a rich, oily palate that reveals flavors of ripe pears and slate. (34,000 cases, 11.5% alc.)
Hogue Cellars 2011 Late Harvest Riesling, Columbia Valley, $11: This is the third-largest bottling of Riesling in the Pacific Northwest, and it is a favorite amid wine lovers with a bit of a sweet tooth, thanks to the modest 5.4% residual sugar. On the palate, it offers aromas of tropical fruit dipped in honey, followed by flavors of baked pears. (115,000 cases, 11% alc.)
Chehalem 2010 Sext Riesling, Ribbon Ridge, $24: This wine from a top Oregon winery comes from an estate vineyard that contains every clone of Riesling available in the United States. It's purposely left semi-sparkling and off-dry in a low-alcohol, crowd-pleasing style. On the nose, it provides aromas of tart apples and tangy apples, while on the palate, it shows off long flavors of ripe pears and peaches. (230 cases, 7% alc.)
Pacific Rim Winemakers NV White Flowers Sweet Sparkling Riesling, American, $16: Pacific Rim's wildly popular sparkling wine is made from Riesling in the charmat method. It's left plenty sweet at 7% residual sugar and nicely expresses the grape with aromas and flavors of Granny Smith apples, minerals, pears and a touch of honey. (4,000 cases, 12% alc.)
Monster Vineyards 2010 Riesling, Okanagan Valley, $20: This second label for Poplar Grove near Penticton, B.C., plays off the legend of Ogopogo, the Loch Ness-like monster reputed to roam the depths of Lake Okanagan. This tasty Riesling opens with aromas of pineapple upside-down cake, apple pies and Key limes, followed by flavors of apricots, minerality, honey and lime zest. (190 cases, 14% alc.)
Pacific Rim Winemakers 2010 Wallula Vineyard Biodynamic Riesling, Columbia Valley, $32: This vineyard on the eastern edge of Washington's Horse Heaven Hills is now known as The Benches, and blocks of it are farmed biodynamically. This wine is just a bit off-dry at 1.5% residual sugar and opens with hints of smokiness as well as aromas of lemon pie. On the palate, it offers flavors of grilled apples and pears and a rich texture through the moderate finish. (300 cases, 11.9% alc.)
Chateau Ste Michelle & Dr. Loosen 2010 Eroica Riesling, Columbia Valley, $20: This is the wine that helped launch the American Riesling Rennaisance more than a decade ago. It's an international collaboration between Chateau Ste. Michelle and Ernst Loosen of Germany. It's built to age and tends to take more than a year in the bottle to really unwind and reveal its true character. We're just getting a glimpse of what it will develop into, with aromas of yellow rose petals and pears, followed by flavors of apricots, pears and McIntosh apples. (20,000 cases, 12.5% alc.)
AntoLin Cellars 2010 Riesling, Yakima Valley, $14: This is the first wine from a new Yakima, Wash., winery run by Tony and Linda Haralson, their grapes came from young vines, and they've made the most of them. This offers aromas of spices and Capt. Crunch cereal, followed by flavors of ripe apples, pears and pineapples. At about 2% residual sugar, this is a perfect wine to pair with Mexican dishes or a bowl of pho. (100 cases, 12.2% alc.)
Summerhill Pyramid Winery 2010 Pyramid Cellared Riesling, Okanagan Valley, $20: Best known for its scale-replica of the Cheops Pyramid, Summerhill also focuses on crafting wine from organic grapes. The fruit for this wine came from an organic grower near Okanagan Falls, and the resulting wine is loaded with aromas of Golden Delicious apples and honey, followed by flavors of apples, lemon meringue pie and apricots, all backed with bright acidity. (1,090 cases, 8.5% alc.)
Claar Cellars 2011 Late Harvest Riesling, Columbia Valley, $17: The Whitelatch family has farmed this land overlooking the Hanford Reach National Monument for decades. This sweeter (5.2% residual sugar) wine opens with exotic aromas of lilacs, saffron and applesauce, followed by flavors of apricots, fresh-cut pears and grilled pineapples. (317 cases, 11.5% alc.)
Van Duzer Vineyards 2011 Riesling , Willamette Valley, $20: This winery west of Salem uses grapes from the Dundee Hills for its tasty Riesling. This opens with aromas of gooseberries and Granny Smith apples, followed by bright flavors of lemons and Asian pears. Pair with shellfish. (200 cases, 12% alc.)
Stag's Hollow Winery 2011 Riesling, Okanagan Valley, $22: Our 2012 British Columbia Winery of the Year shows its versatility with a number of varieties, including Riesling. This wine reveals tropical fruit in the nose, as well as rich spices. On the palate, it offers flavors of pears and apples backed with ample acidity. (90 cases, 10.9% alc.)
Wild Goose Vineyards 2011 Riesling, Okanagan Valley, $19: Adolf Kruger purchased land south of Okanagan Falls in 1983 and immediately began planting Riesling. He opened the winery in 1990 with his two sons, and they have been making superb wines since. This Riesling reveals aromas and flavors of Fuji apples and rich apple butter. (1,350 cases, 12% alc.)
Vale Wine Co. 2010 Late Harvest Riesling, Snake River Valley, $19: Owner/winemaker John Danielson left a fair bit of sweetness -- 8% residual sugar -- on this dessert offering. It shows off aromas and flavors of honey, cardamom and apples and provides a rich, thick palate. Pair with soft cheeses and fresh fruit. (47 cases)
Amity Vineyards 2010 Riesling, Willamette Valley, $17: Owner Myron Redford and winemaker Darby Pendergrass have crafted a classic Northwest Riesling that opens with aromas of green apples, peaches and a hint of honey, followed by flavors of oranges, baked apples and steely minerality. (211 cases, 12.5% alc.)
Elevation Cellars 2011 Imperium Riesling, Columbia Valley, $16: This young producer in Woodinville produced this Riesling using grapes from Lawrence Vineyard on the Royal Slope and left it off-dry at nearly 2% residual sugar. The nose reveals aromas of apricots, fresh linen and Dutch apple pie. (285 cases, 12.1% alc.)
Coiled Wines 2011 Dry Riesling, Snake River Valley, $17: This is the first white wine for this young producer in the Snake River Valley, and the grapes came from Skyline Vineyard. It is a dry wine with aromas of apples, spiced rum cake and pineapples, followed by flavors of Granny Smiths and apricots, all backed with bracing acidity. (72 cases, 12.8% alc.)
Kiona Vineyards Winery 2010 Reserve Dry Riesling, Red Mountain, $15: "Using grapes from estate vineyards, second-generation winemaker Scott Williams has crafted a dry Riesling that offers aromas of pineapples, pears and guava, followed by balanced flavors of green apples, pears and minerality. (900 cases, 11.6% alc.)
Gone Fishin' 2010 Riesling, Columbia Valley, $12: Wine Out West is a second label for Mercer Estates in the Yakima Valley. The grapes for this came from its estate Spring Creek Vineyard, resulting in a wine that shows aromas of apples and honey, followed by luscious flavors of passionfruit and mangos. (1,704 cases, 13.5% alc.)
Lopez Island Vineyard & Winery 2010 Riesling, Yakima Valley, $14: Owner/winemaker Brent Charnley turned to Crawford Vineyards near Prosser for his Riesling, which shows aromas and flavors of yellow rose petals and dried pineapple, all backed with bright acidity. (210 cases, 12% alc.)
Snoqualmie Vineyards 2010 Winemaker's Select Riesling, Columbia Valley, $8: This Ste. Michelle Wine Estates property in the Yakima Valley has crafted a sweeter (5.45% residual sugar) wine with aromas and flavors of honeysuckle, apples and pears. It's a nice sipper for a warm summer day. (43,500 cases, 10% alc.)
Tagaris Winery 2009 Arete Vineyard Riesling, Columbia Valley, $26: Winemaker Frank Roth uses grapes from the estate Arete Vineyard near Othello, Wash., for this tasty, dry Riesling. It reveals aromas and flavors of apples, lemons and oranges. Pair with shellfish or linguine in a clam sauce. (312 cases, 12.5% alc.)
Wedge Mountain Winery 2010 Dry Riesling, Washington, $18: Winemaker Charlie McKee produced this dry Riesling using grapes from Solstice Vineyard near Prosser, Wash. It shows off aromas and flavors of melons, peaches and ripe pears. (118 cases, 13.9% alc.)
Brooks Wines 2009 Riesling, Willamette Valley, $18: This winery in Amity, Ore., crafted a dry Riesling with aromas of candied ginger, honeycomb and apples, followed by steely flavors of Asian pears and citrus zest. It's an intriguing and delicious wine. (1,021 cases, 11.8% alc.)
J. Bookwalter Winery 2011 NoteBook Riesling, Columbia Valley, $15: Second-generation winemaker John Bookwalter launched this second label last fall with a red blend and now has a tasty, off-dry white to go with it. This reveals aromas of rose petals, jicama and apples, followed by flavors of Golden Delicious apples and pears. (4,152 cases, 13.2% alc.)
Tantalus Vineyards 2010 Riesling, Okanagan Valley, $23: Winemaker Jacqueline Kemp crafts the wine for this Kelowna, B.C., property, and she has produced a tasty, off-dry Riesling with elegant aromas and flavors of peaches, lemons, limes and tart apples. (1,700 cases, 12.2% alc.)
Willamette Valley Vineyards 2010 Riesling, Willamette Valley , $14: This large winery south of Salem is one of the largest producers of Oregon Riesling. This sweeter (5% residual sugar) offering shows aromas and flavors of minerals, lemons and limes with minerality in the finish. (15,133 cases, 10% alc.)
Goose Ridge Estate Winery & Vineyard 2010 Riesling, Columbia Valley, $16: At 1,600 acres, Goose Ridge is one of the largest wine grape vineyards in Washington, and it's just across the highway from famed Red Mountain. This dry Riesling offers aromas and flavors of Lemonheads candy and Golden Delicious apples. (489 cases, 13.5% alc.)
Desert Wind Winery 2009 Sacagawea Vineyard Riesling, Wahluke Slope, $15: This destination winery in the Yakima Valley town of Prosser uses grapes from its estate vineyards on the warm Wahluke Slope. This mostly dry Riesling reveals aromas and flavors of lemons, oranges, melons and ripe peaches. (473 cases, 12% alc.)
Firesteed 2008 Riesling, Oregon, $12: Firesteed is a longtime producer of delicious and value-minded Oregon wines. This fairly dry Riesling offers aromas and flavors of rose petals, lemons, limes and apples with ample acidity. Pair with shellfish or lemon chicken. (3,052 cases, 10.4% alc.)
Hogue Cellars 2010 Genesis Riesling, Columbia Valley, $16: Hogue Cellars started as a small producer in the early 1980s and has grown into a 600,000-case winery. This is its smallest bottling of Riesling, and it reveals aromas and flavors of applesauce, Granny Smith apples and oranges. (3,800 cases, 12.1% alc.)
Trisaetum 2011 Estates Reserve Riesling, Willamette Valley, $32: This off-dry (3.2% residual sugar) Riesling from Oregon is balanced with great acidity (2.9 pH), resulting in a wine that provides aromas and flavors of roses, grapefruit, peaches and starfruit. (100 cases, 10% alc.)
Brooks Wines 2010 Sweet P Brooks Estate Vineyard Riesling, Eola-Amity Hills, $22: The grapes for this sweeter (5% residual sugar) wine comes from estate grapes not far from Salem. It shows off aromas and flavors of lemons, limes, pears, apples and something that reminded us of Bit-O-Honey candy. (250 cases, 8.6% alc.)
Chehalem 2010 Corral Creek Riesling, Chehalem Mountains, $24: Owner Harry Peterson-Nedry brought in grapes from his estate Corral Creek Vineyard for a Riesling that offers bright, clean acidity with flavors of apricots, pears and apple butter. It has a bit of residual sweetness (1.7%) and will pair well with Thai or Mexican fare. (135 cases, 11% alc.)
Pacific Rim Winemakers 2010 Sweet Riesling, Columbia Valley, $10: This is Pacific Rim's largest-production Riesling, and it has a crowd-pleasing 7.5% residual sugar, though the acidity balances it nicely. Apples, nectarines, peaches and other tree fruit highlight the aromas and flavors. (80,000 cases, 8.5% alc.)
Namaste Vineyards 2009 Tranquility Riesling, Willamette Valley, $20: The grapes for this beautifully balanced wine came from estate vineyards planted in 1983. It reveals aromas and flavors of apple blossoms, pears and Granny Smiths. This is a dry wine that will pair with shellfish or grilled chicken. (214 cases, 12.5% alc.)
Nk'Mip Cellars 2010 Riesling, Okanagan Valley, $18: Just the opposite of its opulent ice wine, Nk'Mip's Riesling is bone dry with aromas and flavors of Golden Delicious apples and crisp Asian pears. Enjoy with roasted pork or grilled vegetables. (1,200 cases, 13% alc.)
Brandborg Vineyard & Winery 2009 Riesling, Umpqua Valley, $16: Terry Brandborg relocated from the Bay Area to the Southern Oregon town of Elkton, where he crafts superb wines. This succulent Riesling provides aromas and flavors of Honeycrisp apples and pears backed with bright acidity. (555 cases, 13.3% alc.)
Airlie Winery 2009 Riesling, Willamette Valley, $12: This winery southwest of Salem crafts delicious and affordable wines. This Riesling from sustainably grown vineyards offers aromas and flavors of ripe apricots and sweet spices backed with bracing acidity. (489 cases, 12.3% alc.)
Summerhill Pyramid Winery 2009 Pyramid Cellared Riesling, Okanagan Valley, $20: 2009 Pyramid Cellared Riesling, Okanagan Valley Here's a slightly older offering from an oft-visited winery near the central Okanagan city of Kelowna, B.C. It provides aromas and flavors of apples dipped in caramel and ripe pears. (1,485 cases, 10.5% alc.)
Ginkgo Forest Winery 2011 Estate Riesling, Wahluke Slope, $15: This winery near the town of Mattawa, Wash., is named for a nearby petrified forest. This wine comes from estate grapes and is left off-dry at 2.3% residual sugar. It provides aromas and flavors of lemons, limes and starfruit. It's a tasty sipper. (162 cases, 13.8% alc.)
Icicle Ridge Winery 2010 White Riesling, Columbia Valley, $24: This winery in the Cascade Mountains town of Leavenworth, Wash., is a fun destination. This off-dry (2.5% residual sugar) Riesling shows off aromas and flavors of melons, papayas and apple pie. (350 cases, 11.5% alc.)
Brooks Wines 2010 Tethys Brooks Estate Vineyard Late Harvest Riesling, Eola-Amity Hills, $25: This sweet (12.9% residual sugar) dessert wine offering from Brooks Wines near Salem, Ore., reveals aromas and flavors of honey, baked apples and exotic spices. (162 cases, 8.3% alc.)
Milbrandt Vineyards 2010 Traditions Riesling, Columbia Valley, $13: The Milbrandts grow grapes for a lot of producers around Washington, and they also make a number of wines for their tasting room in the Yakima Valley town of Prosser. This shows off aromas and flavors of peaches, apples and pears, all backed with bright acidity. (5,700 cases, 12.5% alc.)
Bitner Vineyards 2010 Reserve Riesling, Snake River Valley, $14: Grape grower Ron Bitner and winemaker Greg Koenig combine to produce a delicious Riesling with aromas and flavors of Granny Smith apples and grilled apricots with just a touch of sweetness. (102 cases, 12.6% alc.)
Heymann Whinery 2010 Riesling, Yakima Valley, $12: This Centralia, Wash., winery is best known for its fruit wines but also produces wines from grapes. The grapes for this Riesling came from Willard Farms near Prosser. It is a rich, ripe wine with aromas and flavors of pears, apples and minerals. (149 cases, 12% alc.)
Arcane Cellars 2009 Riesling, Willamette Valley, $16: Using grapes from its Wheatland Estate Vineyard, this Salem winery has crafted a delicious Riesling with aromas and flavors of bright apples and hints of lemons and kiwis. (595 cases, 11.1% alc.)
Colter's Creek Winery 2010 Riesling, Idaho, $9: Melissa Sanborn, co-owner and winemaker for our Idaho Winery to Watch, works with Riesling off estate vines planted during the mid-1980s near Lewiston. There's a delicious theme of nuttiness, pear, apple and petrol with enough acidity to balance the residual sugar (3%). (215 cases, 12.8% alc.)
Pacific Rim Winemakers 2010 Vin de Glaciere, Columbia Valley, $14: This dessert wine is made by freezing the grapes after harvest, then squeezing the golden nectar from the fruit. It offers aromas and flavors of yellow rose petals, oranges, honey and poached pears. (2,000 cases, 9% alc.)
Elevation Cellars 2010 Imperium Riesling, Columbia Valley, $16: This off-dry Riesling from a Woodinville, Wash., producer reveals aromas and flavors of ripe pears, crisp apples and minerality. It's all backed with bright, steely acidity. (320 cases, 12.4% alc.)
Coeur de Terre Vineyard 2009 Riesling, McMinnville, $19: Here's one of the few wines in the competition influenced by oak (20% neutral), which pops up ever so slightly in the aromas with a whiff of angel food cake, followed by dusty apple. The product of Hyland Vineyard also ranked as one of the most bone-dry Rieslings in the grouping as the drink starts with acidity akin to biting into a lemon, accented by a big scrape of minerality and a slaty finish. (176 cases, 12.3% alc.)
OS Winery 2011 Riesling, Columbia Valley, $15: A harvest staggered between Oct. 4 and Oct. 20 off 30-year-old vines helps produce a fascinating nose that reminded one judge of cherry blossom time in the University of Washington Quad, dusty pear and coconut milk. Its approach to the palate is linear with peach, apricot and pleasing balance of the residual sugar (2%), backed by some cherry skin in the finish. (505 cases, 9.8% alc.)
Riesling by the numbers
We tasted 130 Rieslings from the Pacific Northwest for this report. Here are a few statistics about those wines:
* Average price: $17.20.
* Average alcohol: 11.64%.
* Total case production: 1,754,668.
* Average residual sugar: 3.2%.
* Number of wines under 1% residual sugar: 35.
* Appellations represented: 23. Columbia Valley (42), Willamette Valley (19), Okanagan Valley (17), Snake River Valley (12), Yakima Valley (7), Washington (7), Wahluke Slope (3), Umpqua Valley (2), Ribbon Ridge (2), Oregon (2), Lake Chelan (2), Eola-Amity Hills (2), Columbia Gorge (2), American (2), Applegate Valley, British Columbia, Chehalem Mountains, Horse Heaven Hills, Idaho, McMinnville, Rattlesnake Hills, Red Mountain, Yamhill-Carlton.
* Wines earning our top "Outstanding" rating: 33 (25%).
* Wines earning an "Excellent" rating: 49 (38%).
* Wines earning a "Recommended rating: 33 (25%)
* Wines not recommended: 15 (12%)