Friday, December 4, 2009

Wine ratings: Two American/German wines - Eroica and Poet's Leap - on Top 100 Wines from Washington State list for 2009

Picture: Washington State, in the North-West of the US

About half a century ago, there was basically no wine industry in Washington State. And if wine was made, it was not with the noble European vinifera grapes. But the American wine boom that had its origin in California moved to the north, first to Oregon and then it also reached Washington State.

In 1980, four years after Californian wines had out shined the French wines at the famous tasting in Paris, there were about 20 wineries in Washington State that were producing high-quality wines with European vinifera grapes. Today, there are more that 500 wineries.

In the beginning, white wines were dominating. As recently as 10 years ago, 70 percent of the grapes planted were white grapes, with Chardonnay the No. 1 grape. But encouraged by the success of Oregon with its Pinot Noirs, the balance between white and red wine has shifted towards red; red wines now account for almost half of the wine production.

In general, if California’s wines are rich and powerful, Washington State’s wines are more crisp and delicate, reflecting its location much more up in the North. They remind me a lot of the wines I know from Germany.

Although a relatively young wine industry, Washington State is now the nation's second largest wine producer and is ranked among the world's top wine regions.

Wine adviser Paul Gregutt from the Seattle Times now has published his Top 100 Wines of Washington State for 2009. This ranking is not done strictly by the points the wines received from Paul Gregutt in the tasting, but also takes the price into account.

I was happy to see that there are two wines on the list, which are American/German wines. A third one is an American wine, but has an American/German brother, which I will also review. Let’s start with the wine on the list that has an American/German brother.44. Pacific Rim 2008 Organic Riesling, Pacific Rim Winemakers ($14)

The Pacific Rim Winemakers is a new undertaking of Randall Grahm who made a name for himself with the easy-drinking wines of the Santa Cruz, California-based company, Bonny Dood Vineyard. This is an Organic Riesling. According to Randall Grahm,” it was sustainably produced from vine to bottle --- 99.2% of all components for our Riesling are organic. We even use native — not commercial — yeast to best present the natural character of our vineyard. We use no pesticides and every element within our sustainably-farmed vineyard is native to the vineyard. Our winery is centrally located within fifty miles of all our vineyards, reducing freight and therefore reducing our carbon footprint. Skylights offset demand for electrical lighting. And energy-efficient alternatives are employed throughout our wine making process. Additionally, the package is 100% recyclable.For all our wines, we exclusively use stainless steel tanks to preserve the complex character of the Riesling grape. No oak barrels or malolactic fermentation are used in our wine making.”

Now, let’s move to the brother. Pacific Rim Winemakes also sell a NV Pacific Rim Dry Riesling. This wine is a very unusual wine. It is an intercontinental blend, made from a wine from Washington State and a wine from the Mosel area in Germany. 80 percent of the grapes come from the Columbia valley in Washington State and 20 percent from the Mosel, selected by the German wine maker Johannes Selbach. Because it is a true German/American product, the label cannot show the vintage but has to say NV.

I had a bottle of the wine recently with my daughter Dorothea in Concord, New Hampshire. We ate Maine Lobster and T-Bone Steak and had the wine with the Lobster. It worked very well with Lobster. It may also work with Asian food. There is a geisha on the label that underscored the wine’s affinity for Asian foods.

My tasting notes: Light straw-color with a greenish glint of brass; attack of petrol and green apple on the nose; oily texture, legs; hint of tropical fruit and spices on the palate; mouth-filling, dry and acidic; lasting finish.

25. Eroica 2008 Riesling Chateau Ste. Michelle and Dr. Ernst Loosen ($24)

This is the result of a American/German joint venture, a collaboration between Chateau Ste. Michelle, the huge Washington winemaker, and Dr. Ernst Loosen, the eminent Riesling producer from the Mosel region of Germany. The wine is made at Chateau Ste. Michelle from grapes grown in the Columbia Valley.

Promoting the worldwide ascendancy of Riesling was a big reason why Ernst Loosen began the joint venture with Chateau Ste. Michelle 10 years ago. He was convinced that it would take a seriously good New World Riesling to help bring the variety back to the forefront. Eroica was launched in 1999. An intermingling of Old and New World philosophies and techniques enables the crafting of an extraordinary Riesling from Washington state grapes. Named for Beethoven’s Third Symphony, Eroica is supposed to reflect not only its variety and site, but also its heritage: bold and forward from its Washington roots, elegant and refined from German inspiration.

Founded in 1934, Chateau Ste. Michelle pioneered European vinifera grape growing in Washington State and has been producing classic European varietal wines under the Ste. Michelle label since 1967. The Dr. Ernst Loosen Estate in the Mosel Valley has produced fine Riesling for over two centuries.

12. Poet's Leap 2008 Riesling Long Shadows and Diel Estate ($20)

Long Shadows has become, in a short time, one of the premier wineries in Washington State . It is an unusual set up. Former Stimson-Lane CEO Allen Shoup works with renowned winemakers from around the world for this venture. Each winemaker creates a single wine using Washington fruit. Add resident winemaker Gilles Nicault to shepherd all of the wines along.

The Poet’s Leap Riesling is made by Armin Diel, one of Germany’s most highly regarded Riesling producers. His family has owned the celebrated estate of Schlossgut Diel in Burg Layen in the Nahe river valley since 1802. Schlossgut Diel is international renowned for its white wines, predominately Rieslings, across a wide range of styles. Armin Diel is also one of Germany’s leading wine writers. Armin and his wife Monika live in Burg Layen. Their daughter Caroline just completed her studies in enology in Geisenheim,Germany’s UC Davis equivalent, and is now co-managing the winery in the Nahe valley.


  1. Dear Christian,

    Thank you for exposing Pacific Rim to your German readers. Pacific Rim is truly a bit of an international venture (I am the French winemaker for example) with people that are true wine fanatics. We are blessed with great grapes, good climate for Riesling and an absolute focus on Riesling (90% of our production are Riesling wines).



  2. Thank you for the shout-out. Those interested in learning more about the wines of Washington and Oregon might wish to visit my blog, updated daily, and look for the new, updated edition of my book on Washington wines, due out next spring.