Still Some Disconnect
While the quality of the wines is there,
Theise is more circumspect about their
place in the market. “Things are not
that easy for really dry Riesling,” he
says. “There’s no better dry Riesling
than Austrian dry Riesling, but Grüner
Veltliner outsells Riesling by 3.6:1.
People are happy to say they drink dry
Riesling but the numbers don’t support
it. There’s still a disconnect between
what people say and what they pony-
up for.”
And other sweet wines are also on
the rise. “Some producers say our lunch
is being eaten by Moscato,” says Jim
Trezise, president of the International
Riseling Foundation (IRF) as well the
New York State Wine & Grape Foun-
dation. But Trezise says their research
contradicts that: “Moscato and Ries-
ling do not have the same audience.”
An IRF study conceded there could be
a loss of entry-level occasional drink-
ers at the lowest price points; but aside
from that, Riesling was more highly
regarded and not threatened by the
success of Moscato. Whatever their
surface similarities, respondents didn’t
consider the wines interchangeable at
all. Mark Burnett, wine director at two
Five Point Bottle Shops in Atlanta,
says that matches with his experience;
guests who are looking for Riesling are
looking for “sweeter wine, but not cloy-
ing like a Moscato.”
Restaurants Remain Vital
Because Riesling does seem to require
more communication, on-premise sales
are vital for raising awareness of the
grape. “It’s more on-premise in terms
of embracing it,” says Theise, “but the
volume sales still happen off-premise.
You find one passionate retailer for every
dozen passionate sommeliers.” He adds
that a list with only a couple of Rieslings
“looks like tokenism,” and he encour-
ages his distributors to waive split case
fees so wine directors can, for example,
buy three bottles of 12 different wines
instead of a case each of three wines. He
says that kind of showing starts the con-
versation: “The guest says, ‘Wow, what’s
with all these Rieslings?’ And the server
smiles and says, ‘They are so good with
our food…’”
“We have trained our sommeliers
and our staff to talk about how our food
demands lower alcohol, higher acid
wines with lots of minerality,” says The
Slanted Door’s Priete. “We discuss that
since our food is served family style and
progresses from the lightest and most
delicate dishes [spring rolls, papaya
salad] to richest/sweetest/spiciest [cara-
melized tiger shrimp, grilled lamb, clay
pot], the wines need to match pace and
complement the dishes. We often sug-
gest starting with a very light dry crisp
white and moving into a Kabinett Ries-
ling and then a Spätlese. We offer half
glasses and encourage guests to try this
progression even if they are just having
a small amount of wine.”
Riesling At Home
Food pairing extends into off-premise
sales, too. Mark Burnett in Atlanta says
customers are asking for wine pairing
suggestions for home cooking more and
more often, and Riesling often comes up
in that context. Nancy’s Wines for Food
in Manhattan has specialized in German
wines, especially Riesling, for over a de-
cade. Founder Nancy Maniscalco says
“It’s a great food wine and a tremendous
value. There are lots and lots for under
$20 that are fabulous; not a lot of re-
“It’s more on-premise in terms of embracing
it, but the volume sales still happen off-
premise. You find one passionate retailer
for every dozen passionate sommeliers.”
— Importer Terry Theise
Opposite Page: scenes from New York’s Finger Lakes.
Left: lake-effect fog above the north end of Seneca Lake at
Ventosa Vineyards. Right: Sheldrake Point on the west side
of Cayuga Lake, home to Sheldrake Point Winery.
Terry Theise
Chaylee Priete
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