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International Riesling Foundation announces "Riesling Taste Profile"

September 04, 2008
Press Release - September 3, 2008--The International Riesling Foundation (IRF) has completed a "Riesling Taste Profile" designed to make it easier for consumers to predict the taste they can expect from a particular bottle of Riesling.

The system involves voluntary technical guidelines for wine makers and winery owners in describing their wines for consumers; and four graphic options that may be used on a back label, point-of-sale materials, and elsewhere.

Riesling is the fastest growing white wine in the United States, and second only to Pinot Noir of any wine; yet market research has shown that many consumers think of Riesling only as "a sweet white wine" despite the wide range of tastes it can represent.

"Riesling may be made in many styles from bone dry to sweet, and this versatility can be both a strength and a weakness," said California wine journalist Dan Berger who spearheaded the IRF project in consultation with many Riesling wine makers.  "Riesling's many styles can fit almost any taste preference, but consumers may be put off if they are expecting one taste and get another.  The taste profile will enhance Riesling's strength by letting consumers know the basic taste before they open or even buy the bottle."

To help wine makers consider which terms to use for various wines, the committee developed a technical chart of parameters involving the interplay of sugar, acid, and pH which helps determine the probable taste profile of a particular wine.

Another key step in the project was to identify appropriate terms for describing the relative
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dryness or sweetness of the wine.  After extensive deliberations, the four categories selected are: Dry, Medium Dry, Medium Sweet, and Sweet.  (The technical guidelines for those categories are described below.)

"It is important to understand that these are simply recommended guidelines which we think may be helpful, but the program is entirely voluntary," said Berger.  "We hope that over time many Riesling producers will use the system because it will help consumers, and therefore help the wineries as well."

The next step was to develop a simple graphic design showing the four levels from Dry to Sweet, and a simple indication of where a particular wine falls.  This design may be used on back labels, merchandising materials, web sites and elsewhere.  The goal is to have a common, simple, consumer-friendly system for identifying Riesling tastes.

With substantial input from IRF Board members who are Riesling producers, New York-based artist Book Marshall developed four options (shown below) which may be used by wineries, depending on their back label space and design.  The preferred design is #1, which includes the words, "This Riesling is…" above the bar, and "International Riesling Foundation" with a logo below it.

"This is a very important project, and we're grateful to Dan Berger and others who have spent many hours on this," said Jim Trezise , the current President of the IRF.  "With Riesling's surging popularity, making this versatile wine more understandable for consumers could accelerate its growth."

The Riesling Taste Profile project was first announced publicly on July 27 at the Riesling Rendezvous at Chateau Ste. Michelle in Woodinville, Washington to Riesling producers from around the world.

Based on market research conducted by Wine Opinions of Napa Valley, as well as feedback from industry members, the IRF amended the taste profile from five to four levels for greater clarity.

The Riesling Taste Profile was developed in time to be available for use by northern hemisphere wineries on wines from the 2008 vintage.  Specific guidelines for use by wineries will be available in the near future.

The IRF's next major project is to create a web site portal to guide consumers to the best information on Riesling.  In addition, several Riesling presentations are being planned in various markets.

A small luncheon meeting of industry leaders at the first Riesling Rendezvous in June 2007 created the concept for the IRF, which was officially formed in November and now includes a Board of Directors of more than 30 major Riesling producers from around the world.

The IRF's mission is: "To increase awareness, understanding, trial and sales of Riesling wines through a comprehensive, integrated system of industry cooperation, research, trade education, and consumer communication."  At this time, the IRF is based entirely on voluntary efforts by its Board members.

Jim Trezise ,  (for general information about the IRF)

Dan Berger,  (for information about the Riesling Taste Scale)

For more information or to download the materials described within the press release, click here.

International Riesling Foundation - Final Proposal on Riesling Sugar Guidelines

The Scale

It is proposed that the International Riesling Foundation supports four sweetness categories for Riesling, as set forth below, using no numbers to designate the various categories. They will be referenced only by the terms we used for each of the four categories. Wineries are encouraged to use these categories on all their literature and labeling as well as verbally as a guide for wholesalers, retailers, restaurateurs and consumers.

In the following list, sugar and acid are listed in grams per liter.

The proposal is as follows:

Dry. Here the ratio between acid and sugar would not exceed 1.0 acid to sugar. For example, a wine with 7.5 grams of acidity and 6.8 grams of sugar would be in the same category as a wine with 9.0 grams of acid and 8.1 grams of sugar. Similarly, a wine with 12 grams of sugar and 12 grams of acid would be dry.

Notice also that wines that are totally or "near-totally" dry (such as 4 grams per liter) will have a much lower ratio. For instance, a wine with only 3 grams of sugar and a total acidity of 6 grams per liter will have a ratio of .5, and clearly the wine is dry.)

As to pH: we assume that the range of pHs for most Rieslings is between 2.9 and 3.4. So 3.1 is the "base" pH with which most wine makers will be working. So if the pH of wine is 3.1 or 3.2, it remains in this dry category. But if the pH is 3.3 or 3.4, it moves up to Medium Dry. (And if the pH is 3.5 or higher, the wine maker may wish to move the wine to Medium Sweet.)

Medium Dry. Here the ratio is 1.0 to 2.0 acid to sugar. Example: a wine with 7.5 grams of acid could have a maximum sugar level of 15.0 grams. And if the pH is above 3.3, it moves to Medium Sweet, and if the pH is as low as 2.9 or lower, the wine moves to Dry.

Medium Sweet. The ratio here is 2.1 to 4.0 acid to sugar. Example: a wine with 7.5 grams of acid could have a maximum sugar level of 30 grams. And again, the same pH factor applies as a level two wine: if the pH rises to 3.3, you move up to Dessert, and if the pH drops to 2.9 you move to Medium Dry. And if the pH is 2.8 or below (highly unlikely), the wine could be called Dry.

Sweet. Ratio above 4.1, but using the pH adjustment, a sweeter wine with a ratio of, say, 4.4 might actually be moved to Medium Sweet if the pH is significantly lower.

It is vital that all IRF members adhere to the same terminology so when we speak to Riesling consumers about what is a dry wine and what is a medium dry wine, we are all speaking the same language.

This guideline should assist restaurants in that servers can verbally tell patrons what style of wine they will be getting.    The more it is used, the more the terminology will be understood.

It is highly recommended that this guideline be used in conjunction with the IRF's approved graphic interpretation, called The Taste Profile, that could be used on back labels, case cards, shelf-talkers, and so forth. For this proposal to have the greatest impact, the terms we offer above for the four levels of sweetness remain unchanged.

This guideline is a technical discussion for use mainly by wine makers and winery owners, who now will understand that all IRF members agree on what constitutes the approximate perceived sweetness level of Rieslings with which we will be dealing. Some of this material may be more technical than would be appropriate to publicize to consumers, but this explanation will be posted on the IRF web site for those wine "geeks" who are interested in knowing what strategy was employed in determining our four sweetness levels.

The IRF understands and respects the fact that similar systems remain in place in Germany, Canada , and elsewhere, but believes firmly that this guide is ultimately simpler and benefits Riesling (and Riesling sales) in making it more understandable to newcomers.

Other proposals have been made to the IRF; although they may be valid, they detract from the uniformity of use of this proposal that will benefit all IRF members.

The categories proposed here is an amalgam of the thinking of all members of the IRF board, which believes this to be much better than the simple "dry" and "not dry" categories that anecdotally are in use today.

Two issues that have not been discussed here: alcohol level and how it relates to sweetness, and the form of sugar (glucose, fructose, etc.) in how we perceive the sweetness. IRF is aware of such issues and will continue to discuss whether they should be included in future discussions regarding this chart.

The above chart was conceived after suggestions from Derek Wilbur of White Springs Winery in New York  and modified after discussions with other members of the IRF board. By modifying the ratio between acid and sugar (as measured in grams per liter) with pH as a factor, we now have guidelines that are not hard-and-fast rules, but give wine makers a justification for the use of appropriate terms to affix to their wines.

In deciding in which sweetness category a wine belonged, wine makers should use the ratios proposed unless extraneous situations arise.

The idea is to assign to each wine a ratio between the Titratable Acidity (TA) of the wine in grams per liter with the Residual Sugar (RS), also in grams per liter.

IRF members should remember that this guideline is completely voluntary and that no panel will monitor the use of the terms above. In unusual circumstances (for instance, where a wine is a bit aberrational), wine makers may wish to solicit the opinions of others to make an appropriate decision on which term to use on a particular wine.

This is highly recommended and ultimately will benefit the IRF, its members, and how The Scale is perceived.

--Dan Berger

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