Re-visiting Washington Wines with Erni Loosen

When I first started this blog, a long old while ago, pre-Instagram even, just writing for fun, I went to a wine tasting at The Old Bridge in Huntingdon to discover Washington State wines under the incredible tuition of John Hoskins MW. You can read all about it here. Ever since, I have kept an eye on the progress of these wines, how many have made it over here, and the sort of response they've received. With places like Hedonism wines stocking wines like Cayuse's Bionic Frog and Andrew Will's wines from Washington State, I think it's fair to say that the region has landed firmly on it's very well-heeled feet. I have thoroughly enjoyed re-visiting this area, and thanks to my friend Gareth Birchley, I had a very insightful chat with none other than the master of Riesling himself, Erni Loosen. Erni has been making Riesling in Washington since 1999, a passion project known as Eroica.

GF: How different was it working with grapes from Washington?

EL: Riesling ripens slowly, so it’s important to extend the ripening period as long as possible to give the grapes enough time to develop flavour and aromatics before the must weight gets too high. When we started the Eroica project, back in 1999, the growers there were handling Riesling pretty much the same as red grapes – open canopies, deficit irrigation and crop thinning. We learned very quickly that, in the warm and dry climate of eastern Washington, Riesling needs more shading from the intense sun, plenty of water to avoid drought stress, and a higher crop load to delay the ripening.

GF: What is the potential for Riesling in Washington, and how has it been evolving?

EL: Washington is a very young wine growing region with plenty of room for improvement, and there is great potential for Riesling. We’ve made excellent progress over the past 23 years as we adjusted the viticulture specifically to Riesling, and as we’ve learned where the best sites are for Riesling vineyards. As the Eroica project developed, we moved to cooler, higher-elevation vineyards where we can get the hang time we want without over-ripeness or loss of acidity. 

It has also been very interesting to see the evolution in winemaking style that has taken place with Eroica Riesling, as we continually search for the best expression of Washington fruit and terroir. I think we have found a nearly ideal balance for the off-dry Eroica Riesling, which has become drier and more focused on minerality. And I’m quite enthusiastic about the quality of the Eroica XLC (extended lees contact) Riesling that we are now doing. It is produced the same way we do our dry GG Reserve Rieslings at Dr. Loosen – spontaneous fermentation in large oak casks, with two years of maturation on the full lees. I think this style of deeply expressive and beautifully harmonious dry Riesling is extremely important for the future of Riesling in both Washington and Germany.

So here are my tasting notes, on my second tasting of Chateau Ste Michelle & Dr Loosen Eroica Riesling 2019

It's the sort of wine that to get maximum punch you want to get out of the fridge to a more comfortable temperature, 20 minutes before you enjoy it. It has that lovely summery hot road smell on the nose, Riesling is such a cool grape in that it can throw out these persistent aromas. At the end of the day it's a grape, remarkable really. The edge of this is reminiscent of a drumstick (the candy kind) with that floral sweetness, really very lovely. On first taste it's remarkably linear. What do I mean by that? Well it's tight, streamlined even in its delivery of flavours. First there is citrus, undeniably a rich lime peel note, maybe some basil too. Then things get a bit oilier, with some mouth watering white stone fruit peachy notes, and with the unwavering acidity at the end you just have to keep going back for more to check your notes. A lovely lovely wine this. I had it with curry on two occasions and it was perfection. Winemaker David Rosenthal reckons it will age 30 years, what a privilege it would be to try some!

Just to mention, these were my notes of the 2015:

2015 DRY RIESLING, Chateau Ste Michelle. Columbia Valley 100% Riesling.

Chateau Ste Michelle is the biggest producer of Riesling in the world. According to John Hoskins MW, this particular wine is very popular out there and you’ll find it in lots of big steak houses throughout the west coast.

I can see why it’s perfect for steak houses because it’s really refreshing, with hints of soda water (I don’t think that’s a thing but let’s make it one.) It’s fragrant, tangy and tantalisingly revitalising.

Thanks a lot to Gareth Birchley for setting up the chat with Erni, the man, the myth, the legend.

Re-visiting Washington Wines with Erni Loosen

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