Sunny St. Petersburg, Fla., was host city for the recent American Wine Society Annual Conference. Consumer wine aficionados and wine professionals representing restaurant, retail, education, journalism and winemaking gathered to celebrate their passion for wine. During the conference, a group of AWS members participated in an eye-opening blind tasting that will no doubt create new interest in wines from Umpqua Valley, Ore., starting with those from Reustle Prayer Rock Vineyards.
During an educational session on wines from around the globe, eight highly rated wines were evaluated side by side. There were four different varieties, one of each from the Old World and the New World. The audience was clear about the variety, but neither the vintage nor the region of origin was divulged up front. After swirling, sniffing and savoring each wine, tasters chose their favorites, and the votes for participants’ top choices were tabulated. Specific details were then revealed for the Gruner Veltliner, Pinot Noir, Tempranillo and Syrah wines poured.
In three of four comparisons, the New World wine from Reustle Prayer Rock Vineyards took top honors by a significant margin. The vote in the fourth set was a close call that tipped in favor of a Tempranillo from Rioja, Spain (La Rioja Alta’s Viña Arana). Ahh, but you may suspect that in a blind tasting, low-end examples of either Old World or New World wine could be selected to skew the judges in one direction or the other. That was clearly not the case here. The Old World and New World wines poured were highly rated from reputable, well known sources. Take a look (favored wine noted in bold print):
Nikolaihof 2017 Hefeabzug Gruner Veltliner, Wachau, Austria ($30): This lively wine from the Wachau, a prime region for Gruner Veltliner, secured a 93-point rating from Wine Spectator and 90 points from James Suckling. An indigenous Austrian variety, it’s the most widely planted grape there. Layered and full bodied with green apple, just picked hari covert, refreshing citrus, and lychee underpinnings. Clean, expressive and well balanced all the way through.
Reustle Prayer Rock Vineyards 2017 Hefeabzug Gruner Veltliner Estate, Umpqua Valley, Oregon ($26): Secured a 95-point Platinum award at the 2019 Monterey International Wine Competition and a 94-point Platinum award at the 2019 San Diego Wine Competition. Vivacious and mouth-watering with Granny Smith apples, fresh-cut herbs, Meyer lemon, chamomile, and a pinch of white pepper. Crisp, bright and precise, with a long finish. The Reustles were the first to plant Gruner Veltliner in the United States; 2017 is their 13th vintage.
Domaine Pierre Guillemot 2017 Les Serpentieres, Savigny-les-Beaune Premier Cru, Burgundy France ($59): Rated 93 points (Robert Parker). Dried cherry, hints of dusty earth, tart cranberry, and oak spice notes are displayed on the nose and in the mouth. Varietally expressive with gentle tannins, and the texture is smooth and mouthcoating.
Reustle Prayer Rock Vineyards 2017 Pinot Noir, Umpqua Valley, Oregon ($42): This gem secured a Double Gold medal at the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition. The compelling spicy aroma leads to Sweetheart cherries, exotic spice, subtle oak nuances, raspberries and blueberry compote gliding elegantly across the palate. Well-structured and immaculately balanced with refined tannins, and hints of anise gracing the persistent finish.
La Rioja Alta Vina Arana 2012 Gran Reserva, Rioja, Spain ($46): This deep, dark wine secured a 95-point rating from James Suckling, and 91 points from Robert Parker. Nicely fragranced with earthy, plummy notes up front, leading to saddle leather, blackberries, the presence of oak, plum preserves, and spiciness filling the palate. Firm tannins support the core fruit, and it finishes with lingering toasty oak.
Reustle Prayer Rock Vineyards 2012 Timnah Bloc Tempranillo, Umpqua Valley, Oregon ($29): This savory Tempranillo secured Gold and “Best of Class“ awards at the Savor NW Wine Competition, and a Gold Medal at Wine Press Northwest’s “Best of the Best” Wine Competition. Dark berries and cassis on the nose open to flavors of boysenberry, black currant, new leather, spiced meat, and understated oak. Well balanced and pure, with silky tannins and remarkable length.
Domaine Paul Jaboulet 2016 Aîné Domaine de Thalabert Crozes-Hermitage, Northern Rhone, France ($40): This wine secured a 94-point rating from Jeb Dunnick and 93 points from Robert Parker. Delightfully aromatic and expressive at first whiff. Well balanced and smoothly textured with earthy elements, underlying black fruit, minerally notes, and black licorice drop accents from first captivating sip to the endless finale.
Reustle Prayer Rock Vineyards 2016 Estate Cuvee Syrah, Umpqua Valley, Oregon ($32): This wine secured a Double Gold medal at the Savor NW Wine Competition, a Gold Medal at the Cascadia Wine Competition, a Gold Medal at the San Diego Wine Competition, and a 92-point rating in Wine & Spirits magazine. Provocative with its tantalizing aroma of violets and forest berries. On the palate, layers of Bing cherry, semisweet chocolate, olallieberry, roasted meat, anise, and savory spice wrap around firm yet approachable tannins, and the finish is everlasting.
This tasting supports the belief of many critics, professionals and oenophiles across the country: Northwest wines have earned their stripes and deserve global recognition like comparable praiseworthy wines from the Old World. The Pacific Northwest has come a long way in the past two decades with these and other noteworthy wines gaining broader notice. The varietal typicity, fine structure, pristine balance, depth of flavor and elegance demonstrated in this tasting made a memorable impression. Hats off to owner/winemaker Stephen Reustle and co-owner/wife Gloria Reustle, Associate Winemaker Wade Smith, and their competent team for the impressive results.
ELLEN LANDIS is a wine journalist, Certified Sommelier (Court of Master Sommeliers), Certified Wine Specialist (Society of Wine Educators), Wine Educator and professional wine judge. She moderates for the highly acclaimed Vintner’s Holidays annual event at Yosemite’s Ahwahnee Hotel), among other events, and was a Ritz Carlton Sommelier for years. She judges numerous national and international wine competitions annually. Reach Ellen at email@example.com.