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Good to great California rieslings?

Picking up an off-topic thread from the Bay Area board ...

Is there any great riesling in California? Even any good dry riesling?

Anderson Valley (Mendocino) makes some excellent gewurtztraminer (Lazy Creek, Navarro, Handley, Husch), but I've never been very impressed with the riesling, with the exception of some Navarro late-harvests.

Thomas Fogarty makes good gewurtztraminer from Ventana / Monterey grapes but no riesling.

Bonny Doon makes some decent but not great riesling, not sure where they get their grapes.


There's some riesling in Santa Barbara but I haven't had it.

The Napa and Sonoma wine regions don't have a good climate for German / Alsatian varietals.

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  1. About the only one I've had which *might* match up to European ones is the Navarro Select Late Harvest, which you mention above. Other than that, the drier ones I've had are OK, but not much more than that. That includes Navarro, Trefethen and Eroica (Loosen's operation in Washington). I'm a Riesling nut, and I just can't see the point in buying the domestic product when the imports are so much better and in the same price range.

    1. I haven't tried the Navarro, but the Eroica from Washington is the best west coast dryish riesling I've tried. I second that you'll get a much better wine from Germany for the same price or less. I think the soil has a lot to do with it. Is there slate in California?

      1. Bonny Doon's is sourced from Washington with a bit of Mosel added in.

        I can't think of any truly great new world rieslings. Some, particularly from Washington state, make (imho) decent accompaniment to Chinese food. But I wouldn't think about drinking them just to drink them.


        3 Replies
        1. re: Phoo D

          > I can't think of any truly great new world rieslings.

          I've had very good ones from New Zealand, e.g. the Isabel Estate.

          1. re: Robert Lauriston

            Or from Margaret River in Oz. Recently had a Dr. Frank from NY, a label I hadn't tasted for several years and it was quite lovely.

            1. re: Robert Lauriston

              Sorry, meant "Western Hemisphere." Have not tried NY rieslings.

          2. My mother in law likes the Firestone. I've never tried it but she thinks it's great. I believe Firestone is in the Santa Maria area but I could be wrong.

            3 Replies
            1. re: rtmonty

              Firestone used to be drinkable but flabby and boring with an unpleasant finish. Given that it's still off-dry, cheap, and the AVA is Central Coast, I doubt it's changed much.

              1. re: Robert Lauriston

                She drinks it while smoking her Salem's and thinks it's good. I buy it and she's happy, all that matters.

              2. My go to for the past year or so has been Clairborne & Churchills Dry Riesling, @15 at the local (central CA) discounter. It's from the CA central coast, I've found it able to compliment all the spicy asian dishes we love.

                3 Replies
                1. re: PolarBear

                  Forgot about C & C. I haven't had any in probably 15 years, but I do have a memory that it was pretty good.


                  1. re: PolarBear

                    The Central Coast appellation is close to meaningless: it includes around a million acres in counties from Alameda to Santa Barbara, and I'm pretty sure that some of the vineyards in fact have no coastal influence.

                    1. re: Robert Lauriston

                      Central Coast viticultural area is even larger than that. Here's the amendment in 1999 to include the San Francisco Bay, which is also a meaningless designation.


                  2. I picked up some Covey Run Gewurtztraminer from BevMo recently, I enjoy it, my preference is for sweet as opposed to dry wines.

                    Just finished a few bottles of Chateau St Michele (Washington state I think) Riesling that is not too bad. But I much prefer the German Rieslings I've got stashed away.

                    1. I know that Stony Hill makes a riesling. I haven't tried it, but I like the style of their Chardonnay very much (it's elegant and well balanced, with noticable minerality, not typical of CA). The vineyard is Napa AVA, but situated at a high elevation NW of St. Helena, so maybe it's cool enough.

                      Off topic a bit, the best dry Gewurztraminer I've had from California is from a winery called Londer. They're in Anderson Valley, and the wine is bone dry with terrific aromatics, and a long, lovely finish. Much more like Alsace than anything else I've tried. Their Pinot Noirs are also great. Greg La Follet makes their wines. I've seen them at K & L and at the Ferry Plaza Wine Merchant.

                      3 Replies
                      1. re: monday

                        Ah, yes! Stony Hill's white riesling is very good and made in the same elegant vein. I've tried some when they were 10+ years old and as fresh as can be. The Gewhiz is very nice too.

                        1. re: Melanie Wong

                          Melanie, you have my number! I love that you back up my instincts. I won't spend much more time not having tried the Stony Hill riesling. Thanks.

                          1. re: Melanie Wong

                            A few years ago I ordered a glass of Stony Hill Riesling at Yujean Kang's in Pasadena and it was very oaky. I asked the waiter, are you sure this is the riesling? He assured me it was, but it sure didn't taste like one. I've never had a new world riesling that came close to the German ones. The new world ones seem too sweetly fruity and one dimensional.

                        2. New York, my friends, New York. Finger Lakes to be specific. Herman Wiemer to be more specific. Dr. Frank, too. Thanks to the Supremes you all can now enjoy what we've been keeping to ourselves 'til now.

                          2 Replies
                          1. re: ecustard

                            I've had some good rieslings from New York. Best American rieslings I've tasted.

                            1. re: ecustard

                              Also, from the North Fork. As I recall, the Paumonok vineyard (spelling???) has a tasty riesling.

                            2. I personally like the Beringer Johannisberg Rieslings. Peachy and aromatic and just shy of dry.

                              1. I highly recommend Navarro's Riesling "Deep End Blend." I've always typically thought Navarro's Rieslings inferior to their flagship Gewurz. But a few years ago they started experimenting with new Riesling clones. The last 2 or 3 vintages of D.E.B. Riesling have been great. They have minerality that I have never seen outside of Europe, though the acid/alcohol balance is still tipped a little more toward New World style than Old. No other domestic Riesling that I have tasted (which includes but is surely not limited to Firestone, C&C, Trefethen, Eroica, Bonny Doon, Chateaus St. Michele and St. Jean, Beringer, Fetzer, young Stony Hill) bests it. The bad news: I think they are sold out at the moment.

                                On the cheap end, I used to like Jekel Monterey Riesling quite a bit. It was better than the other <$10 Rieslings that I had tried. But it's been about 3 years since I last tasted it.


                                1. You might look into Smith-Madrone. I have had them both young and old, and have always been impressed. Further, the winery holds back some for later release, presenting a rare opportunity to try aged, CA Riesling.

                                  Trefethen also makes a pretty good one - but not to the standards that I have seen with SM

                                  1. I enjoy Riesling quite a bit, but the bottom line seems to be that California is simply too warm to produce Riesling that surpasses "good." Many of the ones mentioned above are cloyingly sweet, because you simply can't get the lower sugar and higher acids required to recreate the sweet-sour tension that keeps German rieslings so lively and lithe. And unlike the dry rieslings of Austria and Alsace, the California models made in that mode again lack acidity and aromatics, so they just seem ponderous and alchoholic. I can enjoy the better CA expressions just fine, but I'm convinced the grape just can't acheive greatness here.

                                    1. Temperature in Strasbourg today projected at 94F, tomorrow 98F. Too warm?

                                      1. Just a note here that may confirm how weak CA rieslings are. I was browsing around the supermarket wine shelves recently (they had a bunch of wine at 1/2 price for close-out) and noticed that the Woodbridge (cheap Mondavi) and Turning Leaf (semi-cheap Gallo) rieslings were both from Germany. The former from the Mosel and the latter from Pfalz. California doesn't seem to make even adequate riesling swill.


                                        1 Reply
                                        1. re: Phoo D

                                          That's interesting. Could be some good values.

                                        2. A couple weeks ago I was seated across from Doug Nalle at a dinner party. I complimented him on the Gewurztraminer he used to make. He said that Gewurz is a nice grape but Riesling is great and "noble". He lamented the Riesling from Mendo fruit that he used to produce. He loved working with it but there was no market at the time. He said that the initial vintages were made as vin de garde with the structure and balance for long-aging. No one understood this. Then he tried deacidifying to make the wine approachable younger, but it still needed a couple years to come around. No buyers, so he gave up. He's been working with Pinot Noir, in addition to his well-known Zinfandel, and he can't make enough of it to meet demand.