Riesling on a Roll (August 23, 2012)
Wine writers love Riesling, but even our best efforts to promote this most versatile of grapes are met with consumer resistance.
The problem is that most people believe that Riesling is a sweet wine – thanks mainly to the Liebfraumilch syndrome compounded by the Blue Nun bubble – wines that celebrated sweetness for its own sake.
Yes, Riesling can be sweet, but it can also be so dry that it sucks your cheeks in. And it can offer every shade of flavour in between, from lime juice sour to honeyed sugariness. This is what makes it such a confusing wine for consumers because, unless you're well-schooled in regional knowledge and nomenclature, you don't know what you're getting until you pull the cork (or more likely these days, unscrew the cap).
An organization called the International Riesling Foundation is here to help. Founded in November 2007 by Jim Trezise, President of New York's Grape & Wine Foundation, Washington wine attorney Coke Roth, California-based wine writer Dan Berger and others, IRF's stated 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."
Trezise told me, "Dan and I had both, independently, realized that some type of organization was needed for Riesling. He wrote a newsletter about it, and within a month or so I gave a speech at Intervitis Interfructa in Stuttgart in 2007 advocating an international organization, which was very enthusiastically received by the European audience."
The foundation has a global reach, with directors from France, Germany, Austria, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and four US states, as well as Len Pennachetti of Cave Spring representing Ontario and Harry McWatters, the founder of Sumac Ridge, representing British Columbia. The Wine Council of Ontario is also a member.
The most practical thing that has come out of these noble sentiments is the creation of a guide for consumers that shows just how dry or sweet is the Riesling they have purchased. A horizontal scale on the back label from participating wineries allows the vintner to indicate the style of his or her Riesling with an arrow mark.
Germany – the spiritual home of Riesling – was quick to see the value of this simple diagram. The legendary Rheingau producer Schloss Johannisberg now uses the taste profile on its wines exported to the U.S. and China; and Schmitt Söhne has it on all its brands. Next year Schloss Vollrads will follow suit. "The scale is important to the effort to reach out to consumers," says its creator, Dan Berger.
Currently, there are over 30 winery members of the IRF, including Cave Spring and Henry of Pelham. While the two Ontario wineries have yet to introduce the sweetness scale to their back labels, Jim Trezise estimates that there are some 100 wineries worldwide who do display it. "But the most important thing," he says, "is that it's on more than 26 million bottles of Riesling in the U.S. market, and that has become a game changer."
The IRF is in the business of promoting the consumption of Riesling around the world and they found a willing ally in Paul Grieco, a Toronto-born restaurateur who owns Terroir Wine Bar in New York City. Grieco initiated the Summer of Riesling, an event that has spread across the US – with 500 restaurants and wine bars and 100 retailers across the country promoting Riesling all summer long – and is now spreading to Australia and New Zealand.
Maybe wine writers' passion for this Cinderella grape will be vindicated at last.