Chateau Ste. Michelle’s Eroica partnership proves the versatility of this superb white wine.
AH, RIESLING. There’s nothing quite so refreshing on a warm day as a chilled, crisp, dry Washington riesling.
I unabashedly, unreservedly love riesling. It’s the most versatile wine in the world, from bone dry with soaring acidity that reminds me of a sheet of ice to ultra-sweet dessert wines and stunning Trockenbeerenauslese styles with layers of succulent complexity. You can match just about any style of cuisine with riesling. By my estimation, every wine would be riesling if it could.
Riesling has a magnificent trait for those with some patience: It gets better with age. What? A white wine that ages? Everyone knows that red wines age, and white wines are meant to be aged no longer than it takes to drive home from the store.
Taste of the oldies
Chateau Ste. Michelle 2007 Eroica riesling, Columbia Valley, $35: Tantalizing aromas of minerality with hints of sweet herbs and classic notes of petrol give way to haunting flavors of marigolds, fresh-cut apple, poached pear, clove and a gravel road after a summer squall.
Ernst Loosen, the great German winemaker who partners with Chateau Ste. Michelle to produce Eroica riesling, rarely drinks riesling younger than a quarter-century old. Of course, his family has been making riesling for the better part of two centuries, so his cellar is understandably rather deep.
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He believed Washington riesling had the potential for aging, thanks to its superior fruit and bright fruit acidity. So when the first Eroica was released in 2000, he quietly began laying the groundwork for an aged riesling program, suggesting (even lobbying for) it to his Woodinville partners at every opportunity.
The winery already was holding back a bit of wine for trade tastings so, in 2012, it began to rerelease older vintages. The difficult part was finding restaurateurs that understood aged riesling and whose customers would, too. That list was thin to start, but now is beginning to gain steam with restaurants, retailers and consumers.
How much to hold back is a bit of a balancing act, but the Eroica team has settled on about 200 cases per vintage. The retail price isn’t much different than what you would have paid the first time it was released. That’s remarkable, considering the winery has invested the time and effort to store the wine for a decade or more.
Each year, the Eroica winemaking team — including Loosen — tastes a vertical of Eroica to evaluate how those rieslings are aging and which are ready to be rereleased. Currently, the 2007 is available. In fact, you can walk into the remodeled Chateau Ste. Michelle tasting room and buy this wine — and experience the thrill that comes from a beautifully aged riesling.
I hope other Northwest riesling producers consider launching a similar program.