IRF announces “Riesling Taste Profile” Part II

Riesling is the fastest growing white wine in the United States, and second only to Pinot Noir of any wine; yet market research has shown that many consumers think of Riesling only as “a sweet white wine” despite the wide range of tastes it can represent.

“Riesling may be made in many styles from bone dry to sweet, and this versatility can be both a strength and a weakness,” said California wine journalist Dan Berger who spearheaded the IRF project in consultation with many Riesling wine makers. “Riesling’s many styles can fit almost any taste preference, but consumers may be put off if they are expecting one taste and get another. The taste profile will enhance Riesling’s strength by letting consumers know the basic taste before they open or even buy the bottle.”

To help wine makers consider which terms to use for various wines, the committee developed a technical chart of parameters involving the interplay of sugar, acid, and pH which helps determine the probable taste profile of a particular wine.

Another key step in the project was to identify appropriate terms for describing the relative dryness or sweetness of the wine. After extensive deliberations, the four categories selected are: Dry, Medium Dry, Medium Sweet, and Sweet. (The technical guidelines for those categories are described below.)

“It is important to understand that these are simply recommended guidelines which we think may be helpful, but the program is entirely voluntary,” said Berger. “We hope that over time many Riesling producers will use the system because it will help consumers, and therefore help the wineries as well.”

The next step was to develop a simple graphic design showing the four levels from Dry to Sweet, and a simple indication of where a particular wine falls. This design may be used on back labels, merchandising materials, web sites and elsewhere. The goal is to have a common, simple, consumer-friendly system for identifying Riesling tastes.

With substantial input from IRF Board members who are Riesling producers, New York-based artist Book Marshall developed four options (shown below) which may be used by wineries, depending on their back label space and design. The preferred design is #1, which includes the words, “This Riesling is…” above the bar, and “International Riesling Foundation” with a logo below it.

“This is a very important project, and we’re grateful to Dan Berger and others who have spent many hours on this,” said Jim Trezise, the current President of the IRF. “With Riesling’s surging popularity, making this versatile wine more understandable for consumers could accelerate its growth.”

The Riesling Taste Profile project was first announced publicly on July 27 at the Riesling Rendezvous at Chateau Ste. Michelle in Woodinville, Washington to Riesling producers from around the world. Based on market research conducted by Wine Opinions of Napa Valley, as well as feedback from industry members, the IRF amended the taste profile from five to four levels for greater clarity.

The Riesling Taste Profile was developed in time to be available for use by northern hemisphere wineries on wines from the 2008 vintage. Specific guidelines for use by wineries will be available in the near future.

The IRF’s next major project is to create a web site portal to guide consumers to the best information on Riesling. In addition, several Riesling presentations are being planned in various markets.

A small luncheon meeting of industry leaders at the first Riesling Rendezvous in June 2007 created the concept for the IRF, which was officially formed in November and now includes a Board of Directors of more than 30 major Riesling producers from around the world.

The IRF’s mission is: “To increase awareness, understanding, trial and sales of Riesling wines through a comprehensive, integrated system of industry cooperation, research, trade education, and consumer communication.” At this time, the IRF is based entirely on voluntary efforts by its Board members.