Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Countering Riesling Confusion

Readers of this blog know how much I love Riesling: From its food-friendliness to its longevity to its spectacular ability to transmit the nature of the land in which it’s been grown, there are few white wines in the world that stir up quite so much emotion in me when I pop the cork or unscrew the cap from a bottle.

Sadly, however (and as we all know), Riesling suffers from a lot of bad information, and the unfortunate tendency of consumers who haven’t been exposed to the good stuff is to assume that all of it is a sensory relative of Blue Nun--sweet, syrupy, and devoid of character.

The truth, though, is exactly the opposite, and I’ve been heartened to see more and more wine lists with excellent selections of Riesling, and an uptick in the number of consumers who express a genuine interest in the grape.

Fortunately, Riesling producers, importers, marketers, and other representatives of the wines have not only seen the problems with all the misinformation out there, but they have begun to take steps to rectify them.

This morning, for example, Decanter.com reported that “[more] than 12 million bottles of Riesling sold in the United States this year will feature a 'Riesling Taste Profile,' designed to help consumers assess the taste of a bottle before opening it.”

The system (which I wrote about right here last year) was developed by the International Riesling Foundation, and will alert consumers of a particular wine’s sweetness. The categories are Dry, Medium Dry, Medium Sweet, and Sweet, and the goal is to disavow consumers of the incorrect notion that all Riesling is monolithically sweet, and to allow them to make more well-informed purchases.

Beyond sweetness, the issue of deciphering German Riesling labels is also a hurdle that lovers of the grape occasionally struggle to overcome. Once they do (and once consumers learn the basics of German Riesling-label layout, and discover that they are among the most informative and useful in the world), the inevitable question is this: What’s the difference between one region or village or vineyard and another?

Late last year, I received an excellent guide to German Riesling-producing regions from Valckenberg, the oldest family-owned wine merchant in Germany. (Their portfolio includes some of the most remarkable wines in Germany, including one of my personal favorites, Joh. Jos. Prum; I’ll be posting tasting notes for a number of Valckenberg's wines in the coming weeks.) The guide is below; click on it to make it larger, or, even better, just download it and read it as a full-page image. And make sure to take a look at it in its entirety: It’s a fascinating read, and a perfect primer for some of the most expressive, utterly delicious wines in the world.


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