2011 Washington Rieslings
Milbrandt Vineyards 2011 The Estates Ancient Lakes Riesling
Charles Smith 2011 Kung Fu Girl Riesling
Sleight of Hand 2011 The Magician
By Shawn Luke
When the first warm days of Spring arrive, providing hints of the Summer to come, I like to try the remaining crisp annual whites from the prior vintage as we wait for the new generation to arrive in stores. Since we’ve had a few days of mid-80’s here in Memphis over the last couple of weeks, I’ve sought out several of the great casual drinkers that I had last summer in an effort to gain a little refreshment from the heat, to “clear the shelves” for the next vintage and also see how these wines have fared over the last 6+ months. I’ll be posting a few times on these in the coming days. My first post results from a search of the shelves at a favorite local retailer, where I found the opportunity for an interesting comparative tasting.
Evergreen vineyard is the largest vineyard in the newly christened Ancient Lakes AVA within Washington State. It is owned and farmed by the Milbrandt family, who in addition to Evergreen, have immense vineyard holdings throughout the Wahluke Slope AVA. As a cooler site with amazing caliche soils, Evergreen has come to be the standard bearer for crisp, minerally white wines from Washington. So I couldn’t resist the opportunity for a return engagement with three dry/off-dry Evergreen Vineyard Rieslings from the 2011 vintage, a cool vintage in Washington. Being a cool site in a cool vintage, you know that the acids were a big part of the story.
First up was the Milbrandt Vineyards 2011 The Estates Ancient Lakes, which was crafted in an almost completely dry style, with only .4% residual sugar and a ph of 3.02 from 8.5 grams/liter of acids. That’s a pretty low ph, definitely indicative of the site and the vintage. This showed a pale pastel yellow color with aromas of bright pear and apple and a clean white mineral with some gray stone mixed in as well. The acidity came through with a refreshing near-vibrancy on the palate. Along with apricot, the fruits turned a little more to the citrus side showing a darker lemon aspect. There was a nice light-medium body that allowed the entire palate to enjoy the bounce. More noticeable acidity presented in the finish, giving the wine a citrus fruit character as the white stone worked in as well. Not surprisingly, this turned just a touch toward tartness as the finish extended. 88 – Suggested retail is $17 – 12% alcohol.
Next I tried one of the standard bearers for affordable Washington Riesling, Charles Smith’s 2011 Kung Fu Girl. Charles Smith doesn’t publish a lot of the technical details on his wines, so I was only able to determine that this contained 1.8% residual sugar. The color was a clear soft yellow with a slightly pastel aspect. The nose presented bright fruits of Meyer lemon, near tangerine, apricot, bright pear and white stone. Initially, this hit the palate with a zingy acidic bounce but then it rounded off as it warmed, allowing the interplay of the citrus fruits shifting to stone fruits. There was an easy transition to finish with the stone fruits and slight citrus. I detected a more noticeable residual sugar element, which lingered along with subtle crisp apricot and peach in the extended finish. This wine is very well done and represents a tremendous value. For me, this displayed more noticeable residual sugar than prior vintages, which was likely an effort to counteract the level of acidity. Whatever the reason, it worked. 91 – Retails for around $12 – 11% alcohol.
I finished with Sleight of Hand’s 2011 The Magician. While not always 100% Riesling (the 2010 was 85% Gewurztraminer), this was crafted with 2.4% residual sugar and a ph of 2.98 from 1.04 g/100ml of acid. The residual sugar was definitely higher than prior vintages and the ph ranks among the lowest I’ve seen on a domestic wine. The wine presented with an extremely pale yellow, almost white-yellow color. Aromas of fresh apricots, with some clean light citrus fruits and a clean stone working in. Light bodied with a vibrant, bouncy quality on the palate as lots of acidity delivered lemon, lemon zest and more citrus notes. The finish had a bracing tart kick full of lemon. This really zinged with the acidity. I could not really tell there was any residual sugar because the acidity just cleared everything out. For me, this should be consumed with food which would tone down the presentation of the acidity and allow it to clear the palate. Actually, this would be a great palate cleanser for any occasion. 88 – Retails for $18 – 12.5% alcohol
So with my little experiment complete, I reflected on how each wine dealt with the acids. The Kung Fu Girl, was my favorite by score because it struck the most pleasing balance between bright fruits, residual sugar and cleansing acidity. The Milbrandt and Sleight of Hand wines both allowed the acidity to tell the story. The Milbrandt showed the acids with more subtlety despite being almost completely dry. It had less acid by volume, which was fortunate since there was almost no residual sugar. The Magician had an extra dose of bright fruits and acidity that delivered a stronger, bracing kick even though quite a bit of residual sugar remained. This tasting served as a personal reminder that it’s always a challenge for winemakers to dip into their toolbox and figure out how to respond to the variances of individual vintages. Each of these wines continues to drink well and I recommend them all for immediate consumption to help make way for the new guys, which I hope to taste in the coming months.