Wines & Vines Home
Welcome Guest

How Sweet's That Riesling?

Producers ponder how to educate consumers at Riesling Rendezvous

by Paul Franson
Riesling Wines
Woodinville, Wash. -- Reassuring consumers that not all Riesling wines are sweet and yet not turning-off those who "talk dry, drink sweet" was the top issue at the second annual Riesling Rendezvous ending today in the Seattle area.

One potential solution was a ranking proposed by the year-old International Riesling Foundation (IRF). Largely driven by wine writer Dan Berger, who could not attend the conference, the "Riesling Taste Scale" is designed to make it easier for consumers to predict the taste they can expect from a particular bottle of Riesling.

At a meeting of the IRF on Sunday, market researchers John Gillespie and Christian Miller presented results of a study among almost 900 wine consumers-- most of them, regular wine drinkers.

The results confirmed what many producers and wine buyers suspected: Most wine lovers don't drink much Riesling, and are generally uninformed about it, though many think Rieslings are sweet by nature.

The 54-page report is available to members of the organization. It also contains the good news that younger, so-called Millennial drinkers are more predisposed to try Riesling than older wine lovers, whose minds are generally set.

The research also helped identify suitable terms to describe the relative dryness or sweetness of the wine. After extensive deliberations, the five categories selected are: Dry, Off-Dry, Medium Dry, Medium Sweet, and Sweet. They can be indicated on a label, perhaps like the "thermometers" used to rate some spicy salsas on the "piquante" scale.

Riesling Wine
The next step is to develop a simple graphic design showing the five 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, websites and elsewhere. The goal is to have a common, simple, consumer-friendly system for identifying Riesling tastes.

The levels themselves remain controversial, however. As is well known to producers and critics, sweetness is not only in the tongue of the taster, but is also affected by the acid levels of the wine and perhaps by the ratio of different types of sugars in the wine. Writer Tom Stephenson pointed out that some sugars like fructose taste far sweeter than others. He called for specifying the standard.

Acid, for example, is measured in terms of equivalent tartaric acid, although many wines contain considerable malic or lactic acid.

Perhaps the majority of observers consider a level of about 1% residual sugar (glucose and fructose) as the threshold between "dry" and "off dry." Others believe anything above about 0.7 % is perceptibly sweet. To still others, wines up to 2% with high acidity taste dry.

The group suggested the terms be used as voluntary technical guidelines for winemakers and winery owners in describing their wines for consumers. It seems unlikely that traditional Riesling producers from Europe will place these ratings on bottles, and regulatory issues may affect use in many places, but the scale could be useful in literature, shelf-talkers and promotion.

A strong contingent of Riesling producers, however, regards the term "dry" as a positive marketing statement, even if the wines they sell under that name aren't dry by most critical standards. It's not clear that they want to abandon what has served them as a successful strategy.

Riesling Wines
The Riesling Rendezvous is sponsored by Ste. Michelle Estates, the world's largest Riesling producer, and famed German winery Dr. Loosen. The two also jointly produce the Eroica Riesling, widely credited with sparking recent interest in the variety.

Ste. Michelle's CEO, Ted Baseler pointed out that Riesling is the fastest growing white wine in the United States, with sales up 54% in the last three years. He cautioned the assembled producers, wine buyers and sellers, "It's important not to squander our opportunity," by producing inferior wines to exploit the situation.

Ste. Michelle sells about 600,000 cases of its popular Riesling with about 2% residual sugar, and a year ago introduced its 0.7% Dry Riesling nationwide to strong demand. It made 40,000 cases last year.

Jim Trezise ( of the New York Wine and Grape Commission is the current president of the International Riesling Foundation. 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. It has about 30 members.
Posted on 07.30.2008 - 14:11:11 PST
With all due respect to Andrea, I couldn't disagree more, about the use of such a classification in the first place, which I find long overdue, and about the merits of dry Riesling in general. Sorry, but go and tell that to the Alsatians, the Aussies in Clare or Eden, or to Austrians like Rudy and FX Pichler, not to mention the increasing number of young German producers who, global warming aiding, are increasingly vinifying their juice to trocken or at least halbtrocken levels of dryness, with notably complex results. Bitterness is not an intrinsic aspect of dry Riesling: it is the fruit of unripe grapes. German producers would do well to ponder Jancis Robinson's last column in the FT. As she makes clear, even the "little old ladies" of Queen Mother vintage, the ideal audience for the so called "classic" German Riesling, now find the arrival of yet another "sweet" Kabinett a disappointment, and having sipped and spat through my share of Thiese and Wiest tastings, I must concur.
Easton, PA USA

Posted on 07.30.2008 - 12:51:25 PST
In consumer edcation settings, I always remind consumers that wine is made from grapes and grapes are fruit. And that there should always be a healthy fruit smell/taste in any wine. I am not a big fan of this proposed classification, as it reinforces that notion that "sweet" wines are only for the novice, and that real wine drinkers don't like "sweet" wine. When consumers are shown classic German rieslings in the proper context, ie. with the right food and at the proper temperature, they usually "get it"!
I am not a fan of dry rieslings as they usually tend to be bitter and devoid of character. And why, oh why, do American producers of riesling make them at 12% alcohol? One of the joys of great German riesling is that, at 8%, you can drink them all day and not feel as if you need a nap. They are great thirst quenchers on a hot day, and will go with just about any thing on the table.
Carlton, OR USA

Posted on 07.31.2008 - 18:53:32 PST
In considering a proposed scale such as this one, we must separate the idea of wine quality. The scale is not going to, and therefore should not suggest, that a wine is good or bad. In the context of riesling especially, balance is key, and this point often distinguishes the tasty from the not-so-tasty. Like Andrea said, we can have a delicious, off-dry (and balanced) riesling checking in at 8%. But don't ignore the fact that some of the best rieslings in the world clock 12% (yes, Austria, Clare come to mind). A bitter riesling at 12% has issues that extend beyond its dry nature. The scale must be objective, it's up to the wine grower to make the stuff taste right.
Penticton, BC Canada

Wines & Vines Home
866.453.9701 | 415.453.9700 | Fax: 415.453.2517
65 Mitchell Blvd., Ste. A San Rafael, CA 94903
Wine Industry Metrics
Off-Premise Sales » Month   12 Months  
February 2015 $643 million
$7,954 million
February 2014 $601 million $7,560 million
Direct-to-Consumer Shipments » Month   12 Months  
February 2015 $132 million
$1,823 million
February 2014 $126 million $1,598 million
Winery Job Index » Month   12 Months  
February 2015 275
February 2014 219 206
MORE » Released on 03.13.2015
Direct To Consumer
Wine Shipping Report
Download full report »

Practical Winery & Vineyard Library
Search the PWV archive »

  • March 26-29
    Taste Washington
  • March 27-29
    Garagiste Festival
  • March 31
    Wine Market Council Consumer Research Conference
  • April 17
    Newsom Grape Day
  • MORE »

Article: Is Organic Grape Growing Possible in the East? »
Some Long Island, NY, vineyard farmers are already using nearly organic methods. They have worked...
Reader: envcat
Article: Loosening AVA Regulations »
When I see 'Napa Valley'on a wine label, it doesn't only suggest the flavors I...
Reader: Guest
Article: Loosening AVA Regulations »
I should be able to live in MA, buy Napa, CA grapes, truck them across...
Reader: Guest
Article: The Stark Disparity in Critical Tastes »
The disparity is all well and good for consumers. More opinions and a kind of...
Reader: Guest
Article: Commercial Teaching Winery for the Midwest »
Please visit for more information about the program.
Reader: Guest

Directory/Buyer's Guide — Your Wine Industry Marketplace
Advanced Search »
   by Product
 by Company Name or Brand
Browse by Category »
2015 Directory/Buyer's Guide
The Wines & Vines Directory and Buyer's Guide
Wines & Vines Magazine
Digital Edition Now Available!
Wines & Vines Digital Edition Now Available
The Wines & Vines Online Marketing System
The Industry Standard winery marketing application
Latest Job Listings
 Tasting Room Associate...
 Calistoga, CA
DTC, Tasting Room and Retai
 New Wine Importer Look...
 New York, NY
Sales and Marketing
 Tasting Room Associate
 Dundee, OR
DTC, Tasting Room and Retai
 Chicago Sales Rep Need...
 Chicago, IL
Sales and Marketing
 North Central Regional...
 Chicago, Detroit, IL
Sales and Marketing
 District Sales Manager...
 Tampa, Ft. Lauderdale, FL
Sales and Marketing
 Wine Sales Representat...
 Manhattan, NY
Sales and Marketing
 Visitor Center Busser/...
 Rutherford, CA
DTC, Tasting Room and Retai
 Assistant Winemaker
 Los Olivos, CA
 Retail Wine And Liquor...
 Nyc, NY
DTC, Tasting Room and Retai
More Job Listings >>
Follow Us On:

Home  |  About Us  |  Editors  |  Subscribe  |  Print Edition  |  Digital Edition

Advertise  |  Site Map  |  Contact Us  |  Privacy Policy
Copyright © 2001-2015 by Wine Communications Group, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
No material may be reproduced without written permission of the Publisher.
Wines&Vines does not assume any responsibility for any unsolicited manuscripts or materials.