For the past 16 years, riesling has been an important part of Chateau Ste. Michelle’s portfolio. In fact, Washington’s oldest winery has been crafting riesling for decades.
Once upon a time, riesling was the dominant grape in Washington, a region that was thought too cool to grow red wine grapes. By the mid-1990s, riesling acreage was on the decline, rapidly being replaced by chardonnay and merlot. But in 1999, the state’s oldest winery — Chateau Ste. Michelle’s roots go back to 1934 — teamed up with Ernst Loosen of Germany’s Mosel region to create Eroica, a riesling that captured the imagination of the country and revealed the greatness that is Washington riesling.
Since 1999, Washington riesling production has rapidly increased and is only now leveling off. Regardless, riesling is a vital grape for Ste. Michelle, and the white winemaking team led by David Rosenthal makes several styles and examples.
Ste. Michelle is the world’s largest producer of riesling, making more than 1 million cases of Columbia Valley Reisling. That’s right: No winery in Germany or anywhere else on Earth makes more riesling than the Woodinville winery.
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At the recent Great Northwest Invitational Wine Competition, which took place in early October in Hood River, Oregon, all five rieslings submitted by Ste. Michelle won a gold or unanimous double gold medal from the judges. This is a remarkable achievement, considering more than 50 rieslings from across the Pacific Northwest were nominated by the competition’s panel of judges.
Here are our reviews of the five gold medal winners. All of these wines should be easy to find at grocery stores and wine merchants. The only possible exception is the Eroica Gold, which is limited in its production and distribution.
Chateau Ste. Michelle 2015 Dry Riesling, Columbia Valley, $9: Though not a bone dry riesling, this example reveals no residual sweetness and unveils peppy aromas and flavors of lime, peach and grapefruit. Ste. Michelle makes more than 90,000 cases of this wine, so it should be easy to find. (12.5% alc.)
Chateau Ste. Michelle 2014 Cold Creek Riesling, Columbia Valley, $16: Vineyard-designated rieslings are somewhat rare, but winemaker Bob Bertheau is particularly fond of the grapes he gets from Cold Creek, a longtime estate vineyard north of the Yakima Valley town of Sunnyside. The resulting wine is beautifully balanced between bright acidity and a kiss of sweetness. (12.5% alc.)
Chateau Ste. Michelle 2014 Riesling, Columbia Valley, $9: This wine is an astounding achievement in winemaking, as it’s not only a delicious, award-winning riesling, but it’s also the largest-production riesling in the world. At more than 1 million cases, this riesling is bigger than any single bottle of riesling in the world. It’s an off-dry riesling, yet because the Ste. Michelle team so expertly balances the sugar with a low pH, this wine comes off as much more austere than it truly is, leaving us with impressed by its vitality and distinction. (12% alc.)
Chateau Ste. Michelle 2014 Eroica Riesling, Columbia Valley, $20: This is the wine that reinvigorated the American riesling industry. As it has been since the 1999 vintage, this is a collaboration between Ste. Michelle and Ernst Loosen, one of Germany’s most famous winemakers. This example is classically lean and centered with subversive complexity, dryness and a crisp finish. (12% alc.)
Chateau Ste. Michelle 2014 Eroica Gold Riesling, Columbia Valley, $40: This is a fairly new and somewhat unusual riesling from Ste. Michelle. It’s sweet at 9 percent residual sugar, but that is offset by crisp acidity. It’s honeyed yet lithe, an after-dinner sipper that with its huskiness and brightness will keep you beside the fireplace long after the last log had been reduced to ash. (9.5% alc.)
Eric Degerman and Andy Perdue run Great Northwest Wine, a news and information company. Learn more about wine at greatnorthwestwine.com.