With summer temperatures on another run up, it's time for wine enthusiasts to again consider riesling, the fruitiest and most refreshing varietal of the season. Just last night we twisted the screwcap on a brand new release and enjoyed it immensely for the richness and purity of its honeyed, peachy and floral smells and flavors.
The wine is the Pacific Rim Sweet Riesling ($11), a new release from Randall Grahm, the iconoclastic Santa Cruz vintner who is building a winery in eastern Washington state to specialize largely in rieslings.
Grahm has been making a dry riesling under his Pacific Rim brand since 1992, but the sweet riesling is a his new baby. Ordinarily, I prefer my rieslings dry, but the sweet version was appealing for the density of its fruit and the cleanliness of its finish; while it wasn't exactly snappy, it wasn't sticky, either, and overall left the palate refreshed and longing for another sip. The residual sugar is 7 percent, the alcohol a modest 8.5 percent, just a little more than a lot of fashionable beers.
Other than the screwcap, there are a couple of other unusual aspects to the sweet riesling. For one, the label has no vintage, though it's from the 2006 harvest. The lack of a vintage on the bottle is a carryover from Grahm's practice with the dry riesling, which because of wine-trade regulations can't carry a date because it's customarily a blend of Washington and German fruit. Starting with this fall's harvest, the sweet riesling will bear a vintage because it is being made strictly with Columbia Valley grapes, says winemaker Nicolas Quille. The sweet riesling also doesn't have an appellation, which wineries can't use when the grapes that go into a wine are grown in one state (Washington, in this case) but the wine is bottled in another (California, in this case). With construction of the winery in Washington, however, future releases will bear a Washington appellation.
Quille recommends that the sweet riesling be taken with spicier Asian and Latin American dishes, but it also is pleasant all on its own, especially on a warm summer evening on the patio.