Quick! Imagine yourself in a restaurant or wine shop. You want a Riesling wine, yet you are savvy enough to know this grape lends itself to luxuriously rich dessert wines or bone dry wines with incredible mineral content. Just looking at the label, how are you able to figure out where this wine stands on the sweet/dry level?
Most wine savvy Riesling connoisseurs know the wines of a few favorite producers, yet vintage variation is such that wines from the same producer may be produced dry in some years, off-dry in others. Service staff at shops and restaurants can certainly offer insight, but realize this individual’s threshold for sweetness may not match your own. For aficionados of bone dry, mineral-rich Riesling, receiving a sweeter-than-expected wine can result in disappointment.
Perhaps this is why the International Riesling Foundation (IRF), in combination with the Finger Lakes Wine Alliance (from the Finger Lakes in Upstate New York), put together a tasting presentation moderated by Master of Wine Mary Ewing-Mulligan (and President of the International Wine Center) comparing Riesling from the Finger Lakes District to other Rieslings around the world. The objective was to showcase the new Riesling Taste Profile created by the IRF, designed to help consumers predict the sweetness level on a particular bottle of Riesling.
During the presentation, mention was made that some educational facilities, such as the Wine & Spirits Educational Trust, taught students to classify Rieslings as either “dry’ or “off dry” or “sweet.” The IRF has created four “styles” of Riesling: dry, medium dry, medium sweet, and sweet, to help winemakers consider which terms to use for their wines.
As you can imagine, just as individuals have difficulties communicating sweetness levels (ask a different sommelier or server what he/she thinks about a sweetness level, you will get many different answers), winemakers — especially winemakers from other countries — have different standards of what constitutes “sweet” and “dry.”
This said, Ms. Ewing Mulligan and her team at the International Wine Center tasted several different Rieslings worldwide for this presentation, finding the best examples to put into three categories for the tasting: Dry Rieslings, Medium Rieslings, and Medium Sweet Rieslings.
The first flight of Dry Rieslings included two from the Finger Lakes: a 2007 Lakewood Vineyards Dry Riesling, and a 2007 Ravines Wine Celler Dry Riesling Argetsinger Vineyards. The foreign Rieslings included a 2007 Lucien Albrecht Riesling from Alsace, France, and a 2007 Schloss Golbelsberg “Gobelsburger” Riesling from Langenlois, Austria. Of this flight, I favored the Lakewood Vineyards and found all four good examples of the dry style.
The second flight was Medium Rieslings and included two from the Finger Lakes, including a 2007 Dr. Konstantin Frank Vinifera Wine Cellars Dry Riesling, and a 2007 Atwater Estate Vineyards Dry Riesling. The foreign Riesling was a 2006 Georg Breuer “Charm” Riesling from Germany’s Rheingau region. I liked all wines and thought the Breuer, which was the driest, quite extraordinary.
The last grouping was Medium Sweet Rieslings, and included two Finger Lakes wines, the 2007 Hosmer winery Vintners Reserve, and the 2008 Chateau Fayette Reneau Semi Dry Riesling, along with a Washington State Riesling (Chateau Ste. Michelle & Dr. Loosen “Eroica” Riesling from the Columbia Valley). All were great examples of this type, yet I preferred the Hosmer Winery.
All in all, this was an incredible demonstration of the diversity of Rieslings around the world, and the introduction to a potential worldwide classification system. Science and chemistry, specifically the relationship between acid and sugar, is very much the foundation of this classification system.
In the course of the presentation, many participants were asked to identify the driest of the sweet category, or the sweetest of the dry category. Many participants also vocalized that some of the wines labeled “medium sweet” could pass as dry, and vice versa. These particular “borderline” wines were revealed to also be borderline in terms of the acid/sugar level as well, which would have kicked them up or down in classification if they had less or more than a percentage of a gram of sugar.
Will Riesling-producing countries ever agree on a sugar level? The answer remains to be seen, yet kudos to the Finger Lakes Wine Alliance, the International Riesling Foundation, and Mary Ewing-Mulligan for creating such a fascinating presentation and potential answer to a century-old dilemma.