In the New World, a winery can get away with focusing narrowly on cabernet sauvignon, zinfandel or syrah. But few would think about building a winery around riesling. And perhaps only one could do it successfully.
That winery is Pacific Rim Winemakers in West Richland.
One of the wine world's true iconoclasts, Randall Grahm, came up with Pacific Rim. The owner of famed Bonny Doon Vineyard in Santa Cruz, Calif., began Pacific Rim in 1992. He used grapes from Washington as well as Germany, a previously unheard-of combination.
By 2006, Grahm's operation had grown greatly in size, and he didn't necessarily care for that. So he sold his popular Cardinal Zin and Big House brands and decided to spin off his Pacific Rim wines as a stand-alone winery.
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It made sense to Grahm that he should locate his new operation in Washington, where the vast majority of his riesling grapes came from. He worked with the Den Hoed family, longtime grape growers in the Yakima Valley and Horse Heaven Hills, to create a winemaking facility in the shadow of Red Mountain. The DenHoeds built the building, which they own and lease to Pacific Rim. Now, the winery has been bought by the Banfi family, which owns an important wine import company in New York and a famous winery and vineyard in Italy.
Pacific Rim, under the direction of Nicolas Quille, general manager and winemaker, produces 160,000 cases of wine, almost all of which is riesling made from Washington grapes (Grahm stopped using German grapes in 2008). That means only Chateau Ste. Michelle and Hogue Cellars make more riesling in Washington.
Pacific Rim makes 10 different rieslings, as well as a chenin blanc, gewürztraminer, raspberry dessert wine and two blends. Here are six Pacific Rim rieslings we've tasted recently:
Pacific Rim Winemakers 2008 Solstice Vineyard riesling Yakima Valley $32: The approach with this wine is low sugar (1.4 percent), and one gets a sense of that in the nose of petrol, muskmelon, gooseberry, nectarine and pear. It's a zippy drink with Asian pear crispness and flavors of Gala apple, a hard nectarine and Lemonhead candy.
Pacific Rim Winemakers 2008 Wallula Vineyard Biodynamic riesling Columbia Valley $32: This riesling floats in with tropical aromas and flavors, accented by honeydew melon, jasmine, pear and slate. Its dryness also levels off at 1.4 percent residual sugar, and is balanced with a finish of Rose's Lime Juice.
Pacific Rim Winemakers 2009 riesling Columbia Valley $10: Blood orange, apricot and tangerine aromas are matched on the delicious palate. Passion fruit, Ruby Red grapefruit and orange peel create a wealth of acidity, which strikes a delightful balance with the residual sugar of 2.3 percent.
Pacific Rim Winemakers 2009 organic riesling Columbia Valley $14: This hints at aromas of dried mango, pineapple, Granny Smith apple and candy corn. Inside, there's a core of tropical fruit, supported by jasmine green tea, a pinch of anise and a lingering finish of lime. Despite the residual sugar of 3.7 percent, it's rather food-friendly, and its partners could include shrimp salad or grilled peaches with prosciutto.
Pacific Rim Winemakers 2009 sweet riesling Columbia Valley $10: One of the largest productions of riesling in the Northwest, this offers little evidence in the nose of the pending sweetness of 6.5 percent residual sugar. It offers dried pineapple, lime, spicy peach, jasmine, beeswax and rose petal among its aromas, with limeade, candy corn, jasmine and petrol accents in the finish.
Pacific Rim Winemakers 2008 White Flowers sparkling riesling, Columbia Valley, $16: This beautiful and popular sparkler opens with luscious aromas of orange blossoms, candied peaches and freshly cut apples. On the palate, it reveals superb bubble texture with fresh fruit flavors and true varietal characters.
*Andy Perdue and Eric Degerman run Great Northwest Wine, a website that provides news and information about the wines of Washington, Oregon, British Columbia and Idaho.