Swirl: Give me a Riesling to Live

Tasting the secret favorite varietal of winemakers

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The last time I ran into Brian Maloney, director of winemaking for Boisset Collection’s DeLoach Vineyards and Buena Vista Winery, it was at a super-exciting event. We were standing, as Maloney informed me, in the former residence of wine legend Robert Mondavi, while current resident Jean-Charles Boisset was showing guests the stuffed tiger, prior to the debut of J’Noon, the first “luxury” Indian wine launched in the United States in partnership with Boisset.

But when we got to talking, what Maloney was excited to tell me about was a trivial amount of Riesling he is making from an obscure Marin County vineyard. Riesling gets a lot of respect among winemakers. Shouldn’t wine drinkers take notice?

Recently, I asked staffers at the Pac Sun’s sister paper, the Bohemian, to tell me what they thought of a few examples of this varietal, from high and low in the North Bay.

Chateau Montelena 2017 Potter Valley Riesling ($27) Montelena gained fame for Chardonnay, of course, but its Riesling has been an insider’s favorite for decades. Winemaker Matt Crafton, in the winery’s notes, says, “I love sharing our Riesling when I travel.” Typically, Crafton says, tasters beg off because they say they don’t drink sweet wine. But this wine isn’t sweet—in fact it’s hardly off-dry, with juicy acidity, a leesy note buffering sweet honeysuckle and apricot aromas, then nectarine fruit flavor sings across the palate. ****1/2

Imagery 2016 Pine Mountain-Cloverdale Peak Riesling ($26) Imagine a vape flavor called “Rhineland,” kids, and you’ll get an idea of the classic notes of lime rind, honeycomb and white raspberry this Riesling displays in a subtle, ethereal way. Yet it’s got juicy presence on the palate. This is grown at high elevation. ****

Trefethen 2017 Oak Knoll District of Napa Valley Dry Riesling ($26) Another early hero of Napa Chardonnay that dares not mess with its Riesling program. In fact, Trefethen has it dialed in quite well year to year, although this pale platinum gold wine feels more dialed-back than previous vintages. The honey and lime aromas are muted, as if in a powdered sugar-coated confection and tasted on one of those forever foggy August days we used to have. ****

DeLoach 2017 Petaluma Gap Marin County Riesling ($30) This wine, softer than the others, has cool-climate, malic-influenced aromas of apple and pear cider, spiced with a pinch of cinnamon. Still, it’s not like some kind of appletini-esque “unoaked” Chardonnay—on the finish, it shows class. It’s Riesling. ***

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