It has been around for hundreds and hundreds of years. It sparkles; it can be sweet; it can be dry; it ages remarkably well; it’s a great date for nearly any meal and it is inspiring passionate endorsement by a new generation. Some are even going as far as to dawn tattoos excitedly praising its name. (Okay, temporary tattoos.) No, it isn’t a vampire from the Twilight series, its Riesling.
The white grape has been grown in parts of Europe, most notably Germany, for generations. More recently the Willamette Valley is getting into the game. Local restaurants, not to be left out, have started participating in the international campaign “Summer of Riesling.”
Summer of Riesling (SoR) started in 2008. Founded by New York sommelier, Paul Grieco of Terrior Restaurant in the East village, SoR now takes place internationally and includes hundreds of participating businesses across the globe—including six Oregon locales. SoR started as a way to bring attention to the wine and celebrate it for all its not so evil ways. (The SoR website even hints that by drinking Riesling you may…well…get to heaven.)
To participate, restaurants must commit to offer pours of three to four Rieslings by the glass (two of which must be German) from June 21 through September 21. This year, restaurant service staff and patrons are adorning themselves in pins, tattoos, stickers and shirts to proclaim their love, or at least the love of their sommeliers, for the sometimes-misunderstood grape.
Riesling has a reputation for being very sweet. In some cases this is true, but in others it is bone dry and racing with mouthwatering acidity. Sometimes Riesling is a sparkling wine; other times it is served young, or even with several years of aging. There is no one true face of Riesling—and that is part of its enduring and endearing charm.
According to Grieco, the goal of Summer of Riesling is simple: “To convert the masses into a legion of Riesling fanatics who understand absolutely that drinking super yummy grape juice is a glorious thing and yes, the consumption of Riesling makes you a better person.”
Kristin Koors, wine director and front of house manager at Portland’s Raven & Rose, is participating this year as a way to promote the wine and encourage people to investigate the variety of Riesling experiences available. In addition, there have recently been some controversial developments in Riesling’s home country of Germany where the looming Mosel Bridge Project threatens the water source and environment health of many esteemed vineyards that have been producing Riesling fruit for centuries. Koors feels that she has an opportunity to help the cause by pouring a glass.
Riesling in Oregon is no new phenomenon either. While we might not have planted it in the 15th century as Germany did, Riesling was one of the first grape varieties planted in Oregon when pioneer Richard Sommer planted it in his Hillcrest Vineyards near Roseburg in 1961. In fact, in the early ‘80s Riesling accounted for nearly one quarter of all of Oregon’s production but Pinot noir and Pinot gris soon became the darlings of winemakers and consumers alike, and Riesling was all but forgotten. New plantings stopped and some vineyards were pulled out and replaced with more financially lucrative vines.
Riesling is finally reemerging and more people are growing, producing, bottling and selling these wines to an encouraging consumer response. Producers such as Brooks, Triseatum, Alexana and Penner-Ash (just to name a few) are turning out tremendously good products as part of The Oregon Riesling Alliance (ORA). ORA is now 35 wineries strong. Not only is the versatile grape loved by winemakers, it’s loved by those who sell it. “Oregon Riesling is near and dear to my heart,” says Koors. “I’m excited about how much better they get every year.”
For more information
Summer of Riesling | summerofriesling.com
Raven & Rose | ravenandrosepdx.com
Oregon Riesling Alliance | http://www.oregonriesling.org
2012 Trisaetum Ribbon Ridge Estate Riesling, Willamette Valley ($24)
Peach, lime leaf, honey, clove and yellow flowers characterize this wine that balances a slight sweetness with a gracious minerality and long finish.
2012 Alexana Revana Vineyard Riesling, Dundee Hills-Willamette Valley ($28)
Clover, honey, baked yellow apple, lemon verbena and coriander notes along with bright acids and rich texture give this wine a long finish and a lasting, delicious impression.
2010 Brooks Ara Riesling, Willamette Valley ($25)
Pear, honeydew melon, white peach, honeysuckle blossom, white lily, lemon/lime and a touch of slatey mineralty make this a generous wine that continues to give as it opens up in the glass.
2012 Penner-Ash Riesling, Willamette Valley ($20)
Apricot, lemon candy, yellow apple and piecrust note linger on in this bright and lively wine—along with zest and food-friendly acids.