Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Riesling Drinkers Rejoice: Taste Profile Pinpoints Sweetness

Pacific RimImage of Pacific Rim via Snooth
The Riesling grape is one of the most versatile. It can create a wine of dry minerality or a sweet late harvest wine suitable for dessert. This merits applause, however it can cause consumers to double-clutch when they are preparing to buy a bottle. Until now there hasn't been a way to gauge the sweetness in advance.

“We have long felt buying unfamiliar Riesling was like playing sugar roulette," explains Chris Stamp, winemaker at Lakewood Vineyards in the Finger Lakes region of New York. Now more than a million cases of Riesling wines marketed in the United States this year will include a “Riesling Taste Profile” designed to make it easier for consumers to predict the taste they can expect from a particular bottle of Riesling.

The Riesling Taste Profile was created by the International Riesling Foundation (IRF), a global nonprofit organization formed to promote Riesling as the world’s most noble white wine variety. Research reaffirmed that many consumers still think of Riesling only as “a sweet white wine” despite the wide range of tastes it can represent.

Major producers in the largest Riesling producing states—Washington, California, Oregon, Michigan and New York—will be using the Taste Profile, along with some wineries from other states and countries including Germany, Australia and New Zealand. (In some countries such as Canada, Germany, and South Africa there are regulatory restrictions preventing its use on labels of wines sold within the country, but wines exported to the United States may include it.)

“We use the IRF Taste Profile on the back label so the customer can easily choose the style of Riesling. This variety varies dramatically from growing conditions and winemaking approaches, making it the most versatile food -- and mood -- companion,” said Jim Bernau, founder and president of Willamette Valley Vineyards in Oregon.

A key step in the project was to identify appropriate terms for describing the relative dryness or sweetness of the wine. Four categories were selected: Dry, Medium Dry, Medium Sweet, and Sweet. (Some producers continue to use Semi-Dry or Semi-Sweet on their front labels, but the Taste Profile uses “Medium” in both cases.)

I think this is a great advance. The term "semi-dry" has always seemed inappropriate since it often labeled what I considered sweet wines. It is a common practice in Finger Lakes tasting rooms to list the residual sugar of the various wines, which lets you determine sweetness, and I've always been grateful for that.

The following lists some of the many Riesling producers who are using the IRF Riesling Taste Profile on wines from the 2009 vintage:

Washington State: Chateau Ste. Michelle, Pacific Rim, and Sageland Vineyards.

Oregon: Bridgeview Vineyards, Brooks Winery, Chehalem and Willamette Valley Vineyards.

California: Hagafen Cellars, Jekel, Scott Harvey Wines and Trefethen.

New York: Anthony Road Winery, Atwater Estate Vineyards, Hunt Country Vineyards, Keuka Lake Vineyards, Lakewood Vineyards, Lamoreaux Landing Wine Company, Sheldrake Point Vineyards and Wagner Vineyards.

Michigan: Black Star Farms, Bowers Harbor Vineyards, Chateau Grand and St. Julian Winery.

The taste profile will also be used by several wineries in Australia, Germany and New Zealand.

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