Pacific Rim Rieslings
When someone asks if I like Riesling, I answer, “Yes, of course,” almost without thinking. But perhaps more than most other grapes, Riesling can be many different things: dry and crisp with racy acidity; off-dry with just a kiss of sugar on the finish; or unapologetically sweet and unctuous. How then can we talk about Riesling as if it’s just one wine?
The folks at Pacific Rim are of like mind, expanding their original (and smashingly successful) Dry Riesling into a portfolio of Rieslings that hit every spot on the winemaking spectrum. Their classic dry wine still leads the charge, but now there are 11 other wines on offer, each one with a distinct personality, meant to pair with a wide range of dishes. Clever folks in the marketing department have incorporated this idea into the company’s branding: #theresarieslingforthat. Gets right to the point, doesn’t it?
Pacific Rim Riesling: A Brief History
Back in 1992, Randall Grahm, of Bonny Doon Vineyards fame, bottled the first Pacific Rim Dry Riesling. It was the wine that introduced thousands of people to the grape and showed them that, despite their preconceived notions, Riesling could be a dry wine. It didn’t hurt matters that the labels were easy to understand (unlike their German counterparts) and the cost of entry was low (around $10 a bottle back then.)
Over time, Riesling’s fortunes grew, propelled forward by sommeliers who regularly professed their love for the grape. It appeared more frequently on restaurant wine lists and showed up on local wine store shelves. People became more familiar with Riesling, and started developing a taste for it.
In 2006, a small gang of Bonny Doon ex-pats spun off Pacific Rim into a separate company in Washington State, one that would focus solely on Riesling and the wide range of wines it could make. Today, Riesling is still the focus (90% of production) although a few other grapes are grown.
They refer to themselves as Riesling Zealots, and they’ve published a guide that contains all you need to know about the grape, how it’s grown, how it becomes wine, and how to pair it with food. It’s called Riesling Rules: the Book of the Wonders and Virtues of All Things Riesling. Check it out here.
Sustainability as Guiding Principle
The Pacific Rim website displays this quote prominently:
Making beautiful wines should not compromise the beauty of our planet.
Sustainability is the driving force behind every operation, from growing the grapes to bottling the finished wines:
- Use no hard herbicides;
- Conserve water, seeking to use no more than one gallon of water to produce each bottle of wine;
- Use 100% wind-generated power;
- Use wild yeasts only;
- Use light-weight glass bottles to shrink the winery’s carbon footprint;
- Reduce carbon dioxide emissions by one-third;
- Limit use of gas-powered vehicles to reduce production of greenhouse gases;
- Commit to the use of recycled materials (currently at 75%);
- Compost 100% of pomace weight (a by-product of grape crushing);
- Designate some individual vineyards as certified organic.
Vineyard Sites and Soils
All of the grapes for Pacific Rim Rieslings are sourced from the large Columbia Valley AVA in Washington, specifically, the smaller areas of Yakima Valley and Horse Heaven Hills. Vineyards lie atop ancient soils resulting from the Missoula Floods and are composed of well-draining loess over basalt rock. As a result, wines – even the sweeter ones – from this area have a distinct mineral component to them.
2016 Pacific Rim Columbia Valley J Riesling (13% abv; $12 suggested retail)
Color: Pale lemon-green; almost clear at the edge.
Nose: Medium+ intensity aromas of ripe apple and pear, lime zest, and the smell of wet rocks.
Palate: Off-dry with medium+ acidity; flavors of pear and apricot, a little tart pineapple, and a long finish with lingering notes of lime zest and anise. It’s very well-balanced: while I notice the hint of sugar, it doesn’t taste very sweet to me. As Pacific Rim puts it: this Riesling isn’t too dry and it isn’t too sweet – it’s just right. Goldilocks would love it!
Pairing: This wine was just right with seared sea scallops over a grilled pineapple and arugula salad with sliced pickled radishes. Its tiny bit of sweetness worked well with the pineapple and brought out the saline/umami flavors of the scallops. Really delicious!
2016 Pacific Rim Columbia Valley Sweet Riesling (8% abv; $12 suggested retail)
Color: Pale lemon-green; almost clear at the edge.
Nose: Medium+ intensity aromas of white flowers, honeysuckle, and ripe grapes; some candied lime zest, a little spicy ginger makes things interesting.
Palate: Medium-sweet with a little tingle on the tongue (they intentionally leave a bit of CO2 in the bottle); medium+ acidity balances the rich honey and ripe tropical fruit flavors – think pineapple and passionfruit. I was so pleasantly surprised by this wine! Very well-balanced and with a long candied-fruit finish, it was nice on its own but was a champion with one of my dishes.
Pairing: I’ve become obsessed with sunchokes – those weird-looking root vegetables that could be a cross between a small potato and a ginger root. They’re actually neither! Sunchokes come from the root of the sunflower plant. It’s easy to roast them, then dress them how you like, perhaps in a citrus-herb vinaigrette or a flavorful yogurt sauce.
For this pairing, I recreated a recipe I fell in love with at Vic’s, a local restaurant: roasted sunchokes with a pistachio yogurt sauce and mint pesto. And I tried the dish with three different wines. The Pacific Rim Sweet Riesling was by far the best pairing. The wine tasted less sweet next to the vegetables and herbs; the components of the dish tasted sweeter, thanks to the wine.
Next time I drink this wine, though, I will simply roast the sunchokes, seasoned with salt, pepper, and fresh thyme leaves, and eat them plain. There was a synergy of flavor between the crisp, golden slices of sunchoke and the Riesling that would not be denied. What can I say? Sometimes a pairing surprises you – in a really good way; never more true than in this case. Try it for yourself and see if you’re not looking for the next excuse to roast up some sunchokes and twist open a bottle of Pacific Rim Sweet Riesling.
Note: to cook the sunchokes, give them a good scrub (no need to peel) then slice them into 1-inch pieces. Toss with olive oil, salt/pepper, and your favorite herbs, and spread out on a baking sheet. Bake at 350 for about 15 minutes, then turn the chokes over and bake another 15 minutes or so, until they’re golden and crisp at the edges.