gions can say that.” She also says that
having more local on-premise venues
embrace Riesling has opened the door
further; “This is on the list at X restau-
rant” gets customers interested.
Burnett notes that Riesling does
much better at their store next to the
University of Georgia campus, which he
attributes to the apparent demographic
of the new typical Riesling drinker: Mil-
lennials. “These twenty or thirty-year-
olds don’t care what happened in the
past,” says Paul Grieco, alluding to the
rise and fall of wines like Blue Nun and
Liebfraumilch in the 1970s, which left
Riesling’s reputation with Baby Boom-
ers in the doldrums. “They’re willing,
even wanting, to have their own jour-
ney. It’s a new generation that wants to
learn.” Theise agrees that a lot of that
generation “came of age not knowing
that Riesling was ‘uncool.’”
PoSitiVe SignS
One advantage enjoyed by Riesling
but few other grapes is that both
New World and Old World produc-
ers label it varietally, which has en-
couraged international cooperation
in marketing and promotion efforts
(The Burgundians, for example, have
little interest in getting behind a push
for Chardonnay, invested as they are
instead in their appellation system.)
The IRF is one example; Grieco’s
Summer of Riesling is another, em-
bracing and promoting Riesling wines
from all over the world. Bob Madill,
president of the Finger Lakes Wine
Alliance, notes that their own efforts
have included introducing people not
just to Finger Lakes Riesling but to
Riesling as a category; likewise, he
says, the PR and marketing agency
Wines of Germany has made a point
to include the Alliance in their own
Riesling-related events.
Higher-profile domestic produc-
tion is helpful in its own right. “It’s ex-
citing to see the progress of domestic
Riesling,” says Theise, “especially the
amount of good Riesling being made
in the Finger Lakes. I think it’s tre-
mendously encouraging. Superficially
it’s competition, but the rising tide
lifts all boats.”
Prospects for Riesling’s moment
in the sun are still not certain. Theise
concedes, “It could still be better. May-
be Riesling won’t ever go mainstream,
but it could be a much bigger niche.”
“Is this a long-term trend or a
blip?” is how Jim Trezise describes
industry thinking. “Right now there’s
momentum, there’s a wave which we
can make into a growth trend and
permanent thing.”
Jim Clarke is the sommelier and beverage manager at
the Armani Ristorante in New York City; he has written
for a number of trade and consumer publications and
he lives on a boat in the Hudson River.
The International Riesling Foundation
(IRF) was founded in 2007 to
promote the grape. Several IRF
studies determined that wine drinkers
who knew Riesling was available in a
range of sweetness levels were more
likely to choose Riesling than those
who assumed it was always sweet.
In turn, one of their major
projects has been to help consumers
to know just how sweet a bottle of
Riesling is before they purchase
it. The Foundation’s research
also indicated that some typical
industry terms like “off dry” and
“late harvest” were confusing
and probably of little use in
communicating with consumers.
The IRF scale, which calculates
perceived sweetness by a wine’s
ratio of residual sugar to acidity
and pH, has been adopted by a
number of producers worldwide,
including big names like Chateau
St. Michelle in Washington and
Schloss Johannisberg in Germany’s
Appearing on
the back label,
the sweetness
or dryness is
indicated on a
simple line graph
with a range from
dry to sweet.
How Sweet It
Paul Greico
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