2008 Dunham Cellars Late Harvest Riesling Lewis Vineyard 375ml

Hello friends. Washington has an established track record for world-class Riesling, but our reputation has been built largely on Rieslings that only run a partial gamut: from dry to off-dry. It is much more rare to taste outstanding Washington Rieslings that would fall into the Spatlese and Auslese tiers of the German Pradikat system. Why? I suspect the answer comes down to five words oft-spoken in wine shops and tasting rooms around the state: “I don’t like sweet wine.”

Doubtless there is a portion of the wine-drinking public that won’t even sample a wine at these sugar levels. And furthermore, later-harvest Rieslings are more difficult and cost-prohibitive to produce. Picking later means colder conditions (think frozen fingers) and more susceptibility to all manner of enemy (rot, rain, etc). Yields come in lower, and therefore prices come in higher. So a winery that produces later-harvest Rieslings ends up with a more expensive product desired by a smaller percentage of the buying public. Perhaps the real question is: why would any winery make such a wine.

The answer: they make these wines for love, not for money. There’s simply nothing else in the world quite like late-harvest Riesling. Simultaneously unctuous and ethereal, these are bottles that defy sensory belief.

This particular bottle comes entirely from Lewis Vineyard, a Yakima Valley site that has been made famous by Dunham Cellars. While it’s Dunham’s reds that have built this vineyard’s reputation, Lewis is emerging as a serious Riesling player. Recent tastings of Dunham’s 2007 Riesling from Lewis Vineyard (the regular bottling; not the late-harvest) have already shown the smoky diesel notes prized by lovers of aged Riesling, and there’s no telling what the aging curve will look like for higher-RS Rieslings from this vineyard. Even Jay Miller, who rarely meets a drinking window he doesn’t like, throws his hands up in the air in his recent review:

Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate (Jay Miller): “($19); [REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD]. 92pts.”

This wine also made Sean Sullivan’s top 100 in Seattle Met. In fact, my first taste of this wine came during a sticky-wines flight with Sean. We tasted blind, and this wine was a real standout. Intensely aromatic with its notes of orange rind, pineapple, and clay, this has outstanding acid-sugar balance (remember: 2008 was a strong vintage for acid development in Washington whites). Complexity arrives here in a number of guises: there is a lovely, Campari-bitter tinge to the orange flavors, and there are notes of honey and caramel that suggest botrytis on some of these clusters. This comes in at 9.5% alcohol and around 23% residual sugar.

I would bookend a meal with this wine. It works as well with a duck-liver pate starter (a glorious, classic pairing) as it does dessert.

Seattle Met Magazine (Sean Sullivan): “($19); [REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD]. 90pts.”

First come first served up to 12 bottles (REMEMBER: THESE ARE 375ml HALF-BOTTLES), and this wine should arrive within the next week, at which point it will be available for pickup or shipping during the autumn shipping window.

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