Jim Trezise is the President of the New York Wine and Grape Foundation and when in London last week for the London wine fair, he posted a good little blog about Riesling that I wanted to post here. Jim is also the President of the International Riesling Foundation. We are an active member of the IRF.
By Jim Trezise, President, International Riesling Foundation
A famous New York comedian named Rodney Dangerfield rose to stardom with one classic line: “I don’t get no respect.”
Riesling is the Rodney Dangerfield of wine. It is arguably the most noble white wine variety in the world, and yet it remains misunderstood, underappreciated, and under-consumed.
Why? Diversity. This is Riesling’s strength, but also its weakness. Riesling is one of the few grapes which can produce wines ranging from bone dry to intensely sweet and many taste sensations in between. That’s a strength.
The weakness is that consumers often can’t predict what taste sensation is in each bottle—dry, medium dry, sweet—and can be unpleasantly surprised if they guessed wrong and the wine doesn’t fit the meal they planned.
Happily much is changing in the world of Riesling, and the International Riesling Foundation (IRF) is trying to accelerate that change. First, there is clearly a Riesling revival occurring, at least in the United States where Riesling has become the fastest growing white wine and only a tad behind Pinot Noir among all wines. This renaissance began a few years ago, and the IRF was formed to catch the wave and turn a serendipitous blip into a long-term trend.
There are many strengths to promote. Riesling provides a great reflection of “terroir” not only among countries or regions but individual vineyards, guaranteeing infinite variations around a common theme. Riesling is the most versatile “food wine”, with the different styles acting as complement or counterpoint to an incredible range of cuisines as well as serving as a great, palate-enhancing aperitif.
Then there’s Riesling’s diversity. We’re seeking to turn that into a consistent strength by letting consumers know what’s in each bottle. The method: a Riesling Taste Profile developed by the IRF.
One of our first projects involved market research by Wine Opinions on consumer perceptions of Riesling. Not surprisingly, the overwhelming majority think of it only as “a sweet white wine”. More troubling, those who don’t drink it are not at all interested in trying it.
So we developed the Riesling Taste Profile, spearheaded by California wine journalist Dan Berger in conjunction with Riesling wine makers throughout the world. The concept is to use the interplay of sugar, acid, and pH to predict the taste profile of a particular bottle—Dry, Medium Dry, Medium Sweet, or Sweet.
The IRF Riesling Taste Profile includes technical guidelines for wine makers, including a summary chart, but it is ultimately up to the wine maker where he or she places the arrow along a horizontal continuum. That graphic, in turn, may be used on back labels, point of sale materials, and in other ways to help consumers.
Everything related to the Riesling Taste Profile is available on the IRF web site (www.drinkriesling.com), including examples of some wineries already using it, downloadable art for those who wish to, and sample “neck hangers” as a point-of-sale options.
The largest U.S. Riesling producers, Chateau Ste. Michelle and Pacific Rim of Washington State, are both committed to using it, as are many smaller producers in the U.S., New Zealand, South Africa, and other countries. We expect that it will become an industry standard within a few years, helping consumers predict what they’re buying and helping producers sell more Riesling.
The IRF has focused on the U.S. market to date due to its great potential for Riesling growth, but is truly an international organization with a prestigious Board of Directors from Australia, Austria, Canada, France, Germany, New Zealand, South Africa, and the United States (California, Michigan, New York, Ohio, Oregon, Washington). The Board is listed in the “About Us” section of the web site.
Indeed, the web site is our window for consumers to discover the wonderful world of Riesling, with information about the grapes, the wines, the foods, the regions, the Riesling Taste Profile, and much else. Another key trend in the U.S., and perhaps elsewhere, is the importance of the “millennial” generation (essentially in their 20’s) to the future of the wine market. They love wine, like to experiment, want to be educated (not “sold”), and provide great opportunity for Riesling. As a result, we’re now working on several web enhancements that will tie right in to the “social media” explosion.
Another promising trend is the increasingly broad coverage of Riesling by wine and food media throughout the world. Long-time proponents like Stuart Pigott, Jancis Robinson, Howard Goldberg, and Dan Berger are now being joined by many others who in the past paid little heed to the greatness of Riesling.But we still have a long way to go. At the London International Wine Fair, I asked a top wine shop representative how Riesling sells. He said better, but it’s still more of a case filler than a first choice. In other words, when consumers buy 8-10 bottles and have a couple slots left, they often choose a Riesling or two.
In other words, Riesling don’t get no respect. We need to change that.
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