Long before the sweet wine craze and even before grocery-store rieslings like Chateau Ste. Michelle, there was Pacific Rim. It was part of the Randall Grahm empire, and offered affordable, mostly well-made riesling for those of us who were feeling adventurous. Because, of course, no was supposed to drink riesling in those long ago days.
Much has changed since then. Graham sold Pacific Rim to the Banfi family, and riesling and sweet wine have become au courant — so much so that the wine companies that looked askance at the varietal five years ago are making as much riesling as they can, sweetness be damned.
Through all of this, Washington state’s Pacific Rim ($10, purchased, 13.5%) has been a touchstone for what’s going on with riesling that most of us can find and afford to buy. Sometimes, to be honest, it isn’t all that interesting, more sweet than it should be, and without much more than sweetness going for it. In other words, professionally made, but not all that different from Chateau Ste. Michelle. Sometimes, like this vintage and the 2011, it showed what can be done with riesling in the Pacific Northwest — zingy lime fruit, tell-tale riesling oiliness, a finish that has some minerality, and the correct amount of sweetness for a dry riesling.
The wine made the $10 Hall of Fame this year, a trend that I hope continues for the forseeable future. When it’s right, the Pacific Rim is a wonderful introduction to riesling, a grape that not enough of us know about but should. Because, when it’s sweltering in July and August, a riesling, dry or off-dry, is an alternative worth drinking.
The sweet wine craze, for some reason, has not really included wines that were available before sweet wine got hot. This is particularly true of riesling, which has been the world ?s best-known sweet wine for hundreds of years.
This is just another of the things about the wine business that I ?ll never understand, given how many quality, cheap rieslings exist. One of my favorites is Pacific Rim, which shows up more often than not in the $10 Hall of Fame.
The 2011 dry riesling ($12, purchased, 13.5%) is not the best of the past several vintages, but it does a workmanlike job of demonstrating why riesling deserves more attention than it gets. It ?s a touch sweet, which is true of most dry rieslings (sweet rieslings can have six times as much sugar), but that sweetness is balanced by some zingy lime fruit, a floral hint, and a little riesling oiliness. My only disappointment was that the wine ?s finish was too short, leaving me wondering where the rest of it went to. But that ?s the difference between a $10 wine and a Hall of Fame wine.
Chill this and pair it with Asian food, grilled seafood, or even cold plates. It ?s not so sweet that the manly among us will be offended, but it is sweet enough so that sweet drinkers will be happy.
Reviews of wines that don ?t need their own post, but are worth noting for one reason or another. Look for it on the final Friday of each month. Again this month, in honor of record-setting temperatures across Dallas, heat wave wines:
? Charles Shaw Sauvignon Blanc 2009 ($3, purchased): What happens when $3 wine sits in a warehouse too long. Is there so much Two-buck Chuck left that Trader Joe's is still selling the previous vintage? Oily, but not in a good way, without much fruit and a bitter finish.
? White Knight Moscato 2010 ($13, sample): Moscato is supposed to be the next big thing (ignoring for a moment that there isn't enough of it to be the next big thing), mostly because it's sweet and it's not white zinfandel. This one has some orange moscato-like aroma, but other than that, it's just sweet.
? Pacific Rim Sweet Riesling 2010 ($10, sample): A touch of petrol on the nose, and though it's sweet (just 8 1/2 percent alcohol), it has almost enough acid to balance the sweetness. In this, it's sweet enough to appeal to people who want sweet wine, but well-made enough for the rest of us.
? Crios Rose of Malbec 2010 ($12, purchased): Flabby and dull, without much fruit or acid and very disappointing. A rose that I actually didn't want to drink. Crios used to make much better wine.
Rieslings are among the world ?s great wines, sharing many of the qualities that great wines from other regions of the world have: high prices, long aging, and sublime taste. So why do rieslings have such a poor reputation with U.S. wine drinkers? Which is pretty poor, considering that Nielsen reports that we drink three times more white zinfandel than we do riesling.
There are two main reasons for riesling ?s neglect. Until the past couple of years, most of the riesling for sale in the U.S. was German, and much of that was of indifferent quality. But the quality of riesling that ?s available these days has improved dramatically. We ?re not only getting better German wines, but U.S. riesling can be stunningly good. In fact, riesling from places like New York, Michigan and Washington is one of the best-kept secrets of the wine world.
The other reason? Many rieslings are sweet, and Americans have long been taught that sweet wine means bad wine. Which is our loss, since sweet is not a bad thing with riesling. The sweetness occurs naturally, and not like an added bag of sugar. In this, the sweetness is part of the wine, something that is balanced by the fruitiness and acidity. And not all rieslings are sweet — they come in varying degrees of dryness, and some are as dry as chardonnay. The leading producers, knowing the challenge they face, have started to label riesling by sweetness, so that it ?s easy to tell a dry wine from a sweet one. More, after the jump:
? Grahm sells Pacific Rim: Randall Grahm has sold one of the last parts of his $10 wine empire, the Pacific Rim white wine brand, to the family that owns Banfi Vintners, a leading U.S. wine importer, and Italy’s Castello Banfi winery. No sale price was disclosed. Grahm, the impresario of California’s Bonny Doon, broke up his $10 wine operation in 2006, selling the Big House and Cardinal Zin labels and splitting Pacific Rim off from Bonny Doon. Pacific Rim, based in Washington state, is best known for riesling, but also does gewurtztraminer and chenin blanc.
? Not enough qualified sommeliers? That’s the opinion of top sommelier Jordan Mackay, who says demand for the wine experts in restaurants has outgrown supply. “Inexperienced sommeliers are winding up in jobs that they’re simply not ready for,” he wrote on Zester Daily Web site. This has hurt restaurant wine sales and reputations, he says, and isn’t so good for the rest of us: “And, diners, for a while, be warned that you may face young somms intent on selling you the wine they like (instead of the one you’re asking for).”
? Diageo wants serving facts on labels: Diageo, one of the world’s largest drinks company, wants the federal government to allow producers to put nutritional information, like serving size, alcohol per serving, carbohydrates and calories, on wine and spirits. The government’s alcohol Tax and Trade Bureau has been considering the Serving Fact Information proposal since 2003 — so long ago that I wrote a newspaper story about it. It has been held up by resistance from the industry, as well as a low priority in Washington. Diageo, seeing a marketing advantage, wants the TTB to let producers voluntarily include the information.