The rise of Riesling

Western winemakers are producing some of the most sophisticated Rieslings in the world

Sara Schneider

No "bangles and paint"

At its best, Riesling is crisp and transparent but richly textured, with delicate green apple, white peach, and lime flavors or riper apricot, nectarine, and mandarin, along with a pleasant minerality that can only be described as "wet stones" and one other quality that can't be described at all. Or at least not in appealing terms. Variously compared by struggling wine writers to diesel fuel, kerosene, even Vaseline, the petrol-like aroma sounds horrifying, but you know the minute you stick your nose into a glass of well-balanced Riesling that it's a good thing.

Today, some of the most interesting Rieslings come from artisanal winemakers in the West's coldest pockets: Oregon's Willamette Valley, western Sonoma County, and parts of Monterey and Santa Barbara Counties. And in particular from Mendocino's Anderson Valley ― the coldest wine region in California. Here, Josh Chandler of Lazy Creek Vineyards and some of his neighbors are producing Rieslings with racy acidity, from bone-dry (Chandler's) to off-dry to "stickies" (late-harvest dessert versions).

Standing behind the corner tasting bar that shares space with barrels in his cozy wine barn, Chandler explains Riesling's allure over that of other white wines: "A sophisticated woman has always been considered more beautiful than a duded-up one. Bangles and paint" ― by which he means the heavy wood generally applied to Chardonnay here and the in-your-face spices and flowers of Gewürztraminer ― "are pleasant for a while, but reserved, elegant Riesling is classy at any time."

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