This week four of us, two friends of ours, my wife and I, sat down around my dining room table to taste and evaluate the characteristics of four Riesling wines. The origins of these wines were: 1) Ohio, 2) Germany, 3) Australia, and 4) Washington. For this assignment, I guided our tasting following the advice given in Kevin Zraly’s book (Windows on the World: Complete Wine Course) and used the “60 Second Wine Expert” approach (p. 14). I intentionally chose wines that represented different geographic regions and flavor profiles. Each vertical tasting is conducted in the blind.
1. 2008 Riesling Reserve, Grand River Valley (Ohio), Debonné Vineyards. (Source: winery, price: $10.99)
This Riesling, our first, was a light, yellow-green wine that greeted us with a possible fault: a slight effervescence (bubbles attached to the inside of our glasses). First sniffs gave way to pleasant fruitiness, apples and apricot were predominant with a hint of tropical aroma. (Later we learned it was cold-fermented). Upon first taste we were welcomed to silky smooth, stereotypically sweet, medium bodied Riesling; and a slight spritzy quality, which I believe to be a fault since it was not bottled to handle the increased pressure (unintentional sparkler). Despite the light bubbly quality, the wine was enjoyable with a nice acid/sugar balance and a pleasant lingering aftertaste. Two small complaints: 1) the bubbles and 2) a little residual heat in the back of my throat post-swallow.
2. 2007 Riesling (dry), Way Kühl, Mosel (Germany). (Source: First Avenue Wine House, Cedar Rapids; price: $12.99)
Our second wine was a light yellow to straw hued and very clear Riesling from Germany. They say you can only make one good first impression. Unfortunately this wine was anything but “way kuhl” as was made brutally evident when we were greeted by the smell of rubber, burnt rubber to be exact. I may have been able to discern a hint of butterscotch, but I suspect neither that, nor the burnt rubber (sulfur compounds) were an intended goal of this winemaker. One of the notes I wrote to myself describes it as leaving a “residual, clingy nastiness in my mouth”. No fruity character at all.
3. 2009 Riesling, Yellow Tail (Australia). (Source: Target, price: $5.49)
Number three in our lineup was the ubiquitous and often ridiculed Yellow Tail. The saturated yellow color of this Riesling separated itself from the other three wines at first glance. Aromatically, the brand-new 2009 Riesling from Australia, failed to evoke much in the way of anticipated Riesling characteristics (i.e., apricot) but did provide a slight fruity quality reminiscent of pineapple. The bouquet from the bottle suggests a hint of a sulfur compound, but only slightly, and not to the absolute detriment of the wine. Perhaps calling this wine vinous would be an apt descriptor. A few characterizations from my notes: “lifeless, dry, boring, uninteresting, snoozer…not as bad as #2 and lingers, but not in a good way in my mouth”.
4. 2008 Riesling, Chateau Ste. Michelle, Columbia Valley (Washington). (Source: Target, price: $10.99).
I used to live in Seattle in 2001 and I even visited this winery in Woodinville – and quickly left overwhelmed by its grand scale. Beautiful place, but HUGE! Back then, I was just getting into wine and flailing around a wine shop was about as much as I could do at the time. Had I to do it all over again, I would be a frequent visitor and an enthusiastic advocate for Washington wines. So, by now you shouldn’t be surprised by my evaluation: Visually it is a lovely yellow, straw hued wine. The glass opened up with gorgeous hints of apricot (yes, apricot, lots and lots of apricot) as well as gentle undertones of tropical aromas. It only got better! Not that it took two tastes, but after I re-tasted this wine for the second go-round, I was blown away by the tantalizing fruitiness, everything I had been hoping for in a Riesling, the aromas and flavor profile reminded me of hiking in the Wallowa Mountains of Oregon! That’s never happened to me before. Here are some of my notes: “very nice acid/sugar balance, round, fuller, epitome of a Riesling…begins lightly sweet and lingers on and on in a very good way”.
Post Tasting Notes: What an interesting tasting! I was let down by my choice in German Riesling and surprised by the Ohio wine (only slightly bummed there was a slight fault there) and stunned and pleasantly surprised by the Washington Wine (Chateau Ste. Michelle) – great taste and fabulous value! One thing that I didn’t mention but something I heard/read about was training my palate (my research topic, by the way) is that one should try to smell as many aromas as possible. For this exercise, knowing that apricot is a common aroma, I pulled out a package of “Sun Maid: Mediterranean Apricots” I had in the cupboard. I went from package to glass (sniff-sniff) and sure enough, WOW…apricot is there!