Oregon rieslings are not like German rieslings.
Grown in the cool climates along the Rhine river, traditional German rieslings are sweet and fruity. Though the Willamette Valley is also known for its cool climate, Oregon rieslings are a different beast altogether, says Charles Humble of the Oregon Wine Board.
"The kind of riesling made in Oregon tends to be high in acid, and a lot of people like it that way, they like that sort of crispness, that kind of pucker on the mouth," Humble says. "It's definitely dry, it's not sweet."
Riesling is also growing in popularity, both in Oregon and beyond. Though sales of sauvignon blanc currently double those of riesling, wine-industry speculators believe the German grape may one day overtake its rival white in the U.S.
In honor of spring and Oregon Wine Month, seven WW writers held a blind tasting of 11 Oregon rieslings. As is WW taste-off custom, we rated each on a scale of 1 to 100 based on how much we liked what was in our glass, instead of employing the scale used by actual wine experts, which spots winemakers 50 points and is preceded by years of intense study. (Also of note: There are no spit cups at our taste-offs.)
We sampled broadly accessible wines befitting our station: All were purchased from area grocery stores for between $8 and $17.
Eola Hills Wine Cellars' 2011 white riesling, which uses fruit from the Umpqua Valley, most impressed us, with Teutonic Wine Co.'s 2012 riesling coming in a close second. Below, our scores and tasting notes.
Eola Hills Wine Cellars 2011 White Riesling (85 points)
501 S Pacific Highway 99W, Rickreall, eolahillswinery.com
Eola Hills, a winery named for the tiny American Viticultural Area surrounded by the giant Willamette Valley AVA, combines riesling grapes from warmer Southern Oregon with fruit from the Willamette Valley to create a wine with subtle, pleasant sweetness that can be had for less than $10.
Teutonic Wine Co. 2012 Crow Valley Vineyard Riesling (83)
3546 NE Tillamook St., teutonicwines.com
Teutonic Wine Co. set out to make German-style wines in Oregon, and it seems to be doing so quite well. Featuring hints of lemon and pear, we found the 2012 Crow Valley Vineyard riesling to be satisfying and exciting.
Hyland Estates No. 33 Riesling (77)
20980 NE Niederberger Road, Dundee, hylandestateswinery.com
Made by one of Oregon's largest vineyards, this riesling offered hints of pear, apple and peach, and left everyone happy.
Hinman Vineyards Riesling (67)
27012 Briggs Hill Road, Eugene, silvanridge.com
Located just south of Eugene, this vineyard has been around since 1979 and produces eight wines under two names: Hinman Vineyards and Silvan Ridge Winery, which include their reserve wines. Hinman's warm, buttery riesling couldn't make up its mind whether to be sweet or sour, and settled for too much of both, with an unfortunate sour bite on the finish.
Union Wine Co. 2011 Kings Ridge Willamette Valley Riesling (67)
P.O. Box 370, Sherwood, unionwinecompany.com
Using riesling grapes from Chehalem Mountain Vineyard in Newberg, the Union Wine Co.'s only riesling features aromas of "white flowers, sea foam and wet stone," according to its makers. It just tasted like cider to us.
Amity Vineyards 2008 Willamette Valley Riesling (66)
18150 SE Amity Vineyards Road, Amity, amityvineyards.com
A pioneering Oregon winery opened in 1974 by Myron Redford, Amity is best known for its pinot noir and rare gamay noir, as well as for creating Eco-Wine, Oregon's first organic and sulfite-free pinot noir. A little sweet, but mostly citrus-y, this riesling was a little too acidic for our taste.
Elk Cove Vineyards 2011 Estate Riesling (63)
27751 NW Olson Road, Gaston, elkcove.com
An old-money winery in Oregon terms, the well-regarded Elk Cove has produced rieslings since 1978. Despite those many years of experience and accolades, in a blind tasting we were put off by the sharp tartness and lingering aftertaste.
Illahe Vineyards 2011 Illahe Estate Dry Riesling (52)
3275 Ballard Road, Dallas, illahevineyards.com
Powered by draft horses, solar panels and classic technique, Illahe Vineyards was founded in 1999 with a goal of making wine as naturally as possible. Trying for candy, apple and tobacco leaf, Illahe's dry and mild riesling tasted more like lemon water. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, but it's not what we were looking for.
Montinore Estate 2009 Montinore Estate Sweet Reserve Riesling (43)
3663 SW Dilley Road, Forest Grove, montinore.com
After taking over in 2005, Montinore owner Rudy Marchesi transitioned his vineyard from organic practices to biodynamic practices—that is, leaving ground quartz inside a cow's horn buried for several months and spreading it on the fields at daybreak, and fertilizing his fields with yarrow flowers inside a stag's bladder. More of a dessert wine than a traditional riesling, Montinore's only riesling was too sweet for us.
Brooks Winery 2009 Riesling (29)
9360 SE Eola Hills Road, Amity, brookswine.com
Founded in 1998, Brooks is one of Oregon's newer wineries and focuses on making pinot noir and riesling. It gets its grapes from Eola Hills Vineyard—not the same as our winner, Eola Hills Wine Cellars—to make a riesling we found shockingly sour. We think this may have been oxidized.
St. Josef's Winery 2010 Estate White Riesling (25)
28836 S Barlow Road, Canby, stjosefswinery.com
Hungarian-born owner and winemaker Josef Fleischmann worked as a baker for years before planting his first grapes in Oregon in 1978. St. Josef's winemakers tried for a semi-sweet riesling, but with an overall musty essence, we were left wondering if the seal was flawed.