Scott Harvey on Riesling: Sweet, Dry, Off-Dry?

by Scott Harvey

I cut my teeth on Riesling back in 1972 when I was an 18 year old AFS exchange student to Germany. When I got there, the first thing they did was welcome me with a wonderful refreshing glass of Riesling. I looked out the window of the second story farm house and as far as you could see where the beautiful vineyards of the Rheinland Pfalz. I got my German/English dictionary out and the first thing I asked them was “Does this wine come from those vineyards?” They said “Sure it does, do you want to see where it is made?” They took me down into the basement and I’ve been in love with Riesling ever sense. Last November on Thanksgiving Day I was again in that old farm house enjoying another glass of Riesling.

I guess Riesling is in my blood and it’s there to stay. Jana and I produce four Rieslings. Three are produced in what in German is termed Halbtrocken Kabinet and the fourth is an ice wine. We have or currently produce Rieslings from Michigan, New York and California. With Riesling in your blood, you have to produce a cold climate one now and then...

We have joined up with a group of Riesling producers from around the world to sing the praises of this noble variety. The group is called the International Riesling Foundation. The President is my buddy Jim Trezise who is also heads up Un-Cork New York. A lot of the following is taken from a piece promoting Riesling written by Jim that can be found on www.drinkriesling.com.

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.

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 a complement or counterpoint to an incredible range of cuisines as well as serving as a great, palate-enhancing aperitif.
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 planned.

When we first started selling Riesling we put a sweetness scale on the back label simply with dry on one side and sweet on the other placing a mark some where in between depending on the sweetness level.

A5427P Riesling 08 B.eps

The IRF has taken this concept one step further by getting together and agreeing on an International Riesling Taste Profile scale. This scale was spear headed 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.

rieslingscale

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 the horizontal continuum. The guidelines are available on the IRF web site.

Already, many wineries from around the world are beginning to use the Taste Profile Scale on their bottles and a number of wine competitions are beginning to use the scale as well to categorize the entries. I look forward to the day when restaurant wine lists begin to use the Taste Profile Scale as well.