News: At last a 'taste scale' classification for Riesling

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News: At last a 'taste scale' classification for Riesling

Postby Sue Courtney » Mon Jul 28, 2008 5:46 pm

If you are a Riesling lover like me you love it in all forms, from the bone dry to the hedonsistically sweet, so long as the wine is clean and in balance. But how many people do you know who won't touch Riesling because they don't know the style or sweetness level of the wine in the bottle and the label offers virtually no help? I know plenty of those people and have seen so many labels that don't give a clue (but note there are a few that are user-friendly). It is perhaps why the wine shop I frequent has a healthy flow of Riesling on their tasting agenda.

Well, news from the International Riesling Foundation of the development of a 'taste scale' for Riesling will perhaps pave the way for a new generation of Riesling lovers, that is once the i's are dotted and the t's crossed and the taste scale is adopted by every serious riesling producer - and hopefully the non-serious as well.

This from a news release from the IRF ...

'The first stage of the project was to identify appropriate terms for describing the relative dryness or sweetness of the wine. After extensive deliberations, the five categories selected are: Dry, Off-Dry, Medium Dry, Medium Sweet, and Sweet.
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.

“It is important to understand that these are simply recommended guidelines which we think may be helpful, but the program is entirely voluntary,” said (Dan) 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 is to develop a simple graphic design showing the five 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.

“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 Scale 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. Full details of the taste scale will be made public when the other steps are completed in the near future.


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Re: News: At last a 'taste scale' classification for Riesling

Postby David M. Bueker » Mon Jul 28, 2008 7:17 pm

While I applaud the attempt I am skeptical about the "chart." I'll be interested to see how it plays out.
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Re: News: At last a 'taste scale' classification for Riesling

Postby Thomas » Mon Jul 28, 2008 7:28 pm

I suppose it's a good first step, but unless Dry, Off-dry, etc. are identified by more than just those words and a graphic, consumers will need a few years of experience with the wines in each category in order to place them within their proper context.
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Re: News: At last a 'taste scale' classification for Riesling

Postby Max Hauser » Mon Jul 28, 2008 9:16 pm

It's a worthy idea! I wish Riesling style were the only subject confusing and intimidating to wine consumers, but it's surely among the worst. For one thing it's multi-dimensional. I appreciate these wines greatly as a consumer, but I find that even some articles purporting to explain them cause misimpressions. (E.g., speaking of perceived sweetness as if it were independent of acid, contrary to decades of data; assuming sweetness comes only from residual sugar*; mixing up weight and sweetness; writing of the grape variety as if it always made sweet wines; etc.)

Skillful labeling and nomenclature may be difficult, but they are powerful tools for consumer wine education.


*Counterexamples: Taste some glycerin, or other so-called "sugar alcohols" like sorbitol, mannitol, xylitol. All of these are sweet and naturally occurring, including in wines. None contains any sugar.
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Re: News: At last a 'taste scale' classification for Riesling

Postby Thomas » Mon Jul 28, 2008 11:19 pm

Max Hauser wrote:It's a worthy idea! I wish Riesling style were the only subject confusing and intimidating to wine consumers, but it's surely among the worst. For one thing it's multi-dimensional. I appreciate these wines greatly as a consumer, but I find that even some articles purporting to explain them cause misimpressions. (E.g., speaking of perceived sweetness as if it were independent of acid, contrary to decades of data; assuming sweetness comes only from residual sugar*; mixing up weight and sweetness; writing of the grape variety as if it always made sweet wines; etc.)

Skillful labeling and nomenclature may be difficult, but they are powerful tools for consumer wine education.


*Counterexamples: Taste some glycerin, or other so-called "sugar alcohols" like sorbitol, mannitol, xylitol. All of these are sweet and naturally occurring, including in wines. None contains any sugar.


Hear, hear, Max.

Of course, I shouldn't say it, but I can't resist, and only those who followed a thread on Rogov's space would understand why: these are some of the things that many wine writers write about, and why it makes me crazy that they get away with their lack of knowledge!
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Re: News: At last a 'taste scale' classification for Riesling

Postby Bill Hooper » Tue Jul 29, 2008 12:02 am

Interesting. My first thought is that I only hope that it doesn't encourage producers to make more wine in a certain category and in the process, let the scale dictate winemaking and how the wine will taste (My God! We don't have any Medium sweet wine to sell this year, only Medium Dry! The customer WANTS Medium-Sweet!) Some vintages are just more suitable to making drier wines and some sweeter (and almost endless combinations there-of.) It's when the producer tries to force a flavor profile on a wine for which it isn't suited does the balance suffer. The beauty of vintage wine is that it does change from year to year (Riesling especially) and plays off different strengths. Maybe that won't happen, but the last things we need are more molds that wines need to fit into. It may work better for the more commercial/consistency-driven wineries. I need to think more on this!

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Re: News: At last a 'taste scale' classification for Riesling

Postby Sue Courtney » Tue Jul 29, 2008 3:27 am

Bill Hooper wrote:The beauty of vintage wine is that it does change from year to year (Riesling especially) and plays off different strengths.

And that has been a problem for Riesling drinkers, or should I say non-Riesling drinkers. Some wines are not always consistent and not made to a 'style' because a good winemaker will let the vintage (and his/her taste) dictate how the finished wine turns out - especially those who winemakers who claim "wine is made in the vineyard". But the consumer will not know until they taste it if there is nothing on the label to let him/her know the difference from one year to the next. Some of us can glean clues from the alcohol level, but it does get confusing for some people if the wine is 'dry' one year and 'medium-sweet' the next with no indication anywhere to let the consumer know. I've seen it happen and I know people are disappointed when they don't get what they expect.
I'm looking forward to seeing the graph and how they are going to depict the "interplay of sugar, acid, and pH which helps determine the probable taste profile of a particular wine". I've always said that these components, not just residual sugar, have to be taken into consideration.
I'd also like to see an aging curve added to the labels as some Rieslings will cellar a considerably long time and I know from drinking older Spatleses that they seem much drier they do when young.
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Re: News: At last a 'taste scale' classification for Riesling

Postby Tim York » Tue Jul 29, 2008 4:04 am

Sue Courtney wrote:
'The first stage of the project was to identify appropriate terms for describing the relative dryness or sweetness of the wine. After extensive deliberations, the five categories selected are: Dry, Off-Dry, Medium Dry, Medium Sweet, and Sweet.
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.

“It is important to understand that these are simply recommended guidelines which we think may be helpful, but the program is entirely voluntary,” said (Dan) 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 above categories sound identical to those covered by the Zind-Humbrecht "indice" system and are sensible.

Words are better then "indices" because the latter require explanation which may not be available when confronted with a bottle in a store or restaurant (but see footnote).

It is important that one system should be developed internationally, otherwise the consumer will remain confused, if not completely in the dark as at present with most producers. A graphic design or a colour code to supplement the words would be beneficial because it is hard to imagine French and German producers using the English terms on their labels.

This is a necessary initiative; but why confine it to Riesling?

Loire Chenin and all Alsatian varieties, for example, give rise to similar doubts for consumers without guidance. It would also address the problem of producers who get refused the appellation where the presence of RS is alleged to be untypical and confusing to the consumer - see my WTN on François Cotat's 1998 not Sancerre.

(Footnote: There is certain marketing traps hidden in words here. For example, as most people know, "medium dry" is "demi-sec" in French. I have been told that, in Belgium, wines labeled "demi-sec" are a difficult sell because the term somehow conveys the impression of the wine's being half good.)
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Re: News: At last a 'taste scale' classification for Riesling

Postby Peter Ruhrberg » Tue Jul 29, 2008 5:51 am

Tim York wrote:This is a necessary initiative; but why confine it to Riesling?


Indeed. A global classification of white wine would not be harder to implement than one for Riesling only, given the complexities of German and European buerocracy. In fact, it might be easier...

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Re: News: At last a 'taste scale' classification for Riesling

Postby Thomas » Tue Jul 29, 2008 9:35 am

Words are better then "indices" because the latter require explanation which may not be available when confronted with a bottle in a store or restaurant (but see footnote).

Tim,

Being a wordsmith, of course I have to agree with you. In this case, the one or two-word description really is no different than it is right now, except that stats connected to the words will be in a chart. Say the words "dry" or "sweet" today and few people can accurately tell you what they mean when related to wine; a chart that describes them is needed. From the consumer's standpoint, however, it will take experience with matching the words to the wines characteristics before the words take on concrete meaning. That will take time.

And yes, a standard should be set for all wines--but it isn't likely to be that way in our lifetime...
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Re: News: At last a 'taste scale' classification for Riesling

Postby David M. Bueker » Tue Jul 29, 2008 9:42 am

I had some more time to formulate my response, beyond my initial knee-jerk reaction above...

While I welcome the attempt, I remain skeptical that such a thing can be done with more than individual or tasting panel applicability. I doubt that a chart can "determine the probable taste profile of a particular wine" since the interaction of all the various factors is dynamic within an individual wine and the taster, not a function that can be reliably plotted on a table. So there's a chart of sugar, acid and pH. Is that really all there is? Can a wine's sense of balance be reduced to 3 numbers?

I doubt it.
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Re: News: At last a 'taste scale' classification for Riesling

Postby Thomas » Tue Jul 29, 2008 10:46 am

David M. Bueker wrote:I had some more time to formulate my response, beyond my initial knee-jerk reaction above...

While I welcome the attempt, I remain skeptical that such a thing can be done with more than individual or tasting panel applicability. I doubt that a chart can "determine the probable taste profile of a particular wine" since the interaction of all the various factors is dynamic within an individual wine and the taster, not a function that can be reliably plotted on a table. So there's a chart of sugar, acid and pH. Is that really all there is? Can a wine's sense of balance be reduced to 3 numbers?

I doubt it.


David,

I agree with you there, but something may be gained from the effort.

On the other hand, if I were made king of all things vino connected, the first thing I might do is remove the descriptors "dry, semi-dry, etc." and replace them with categories along the lines of: best suitable for food (mention the foods), best suitable for sipping (or for geeky analysis ;) ), best suitable as dessert--I'd also fix the ridiculous sparkling wine categories that now exist, but I'm unsure how.
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Re: News: At last a 'taste scale' classification for Riesling

Postby wnissen » Tue Jul 29, 2008 4:41 pm

David M. Bueker wrote:I doubt that a chart can "determine the probable taste profile of a particular wine" since the interaction of all the various factors is dynamic within an individual wine and the taster, not a function that can be reliably plotted on a table. So there's a chart of sugar, acid and pH. Is that really all there is? Can a wine's sense of balance be reduced to 3 numbers?

I doubt it.

Say that we all agreed you would be the godlike reference taster for the "Bueker scale," and print that on labels. Would that be a big improvement over a rough calculation requiring no tasting? I'm not sure. I believe that alcohol, glycerin, etc. all affect the perceived sweetness (isn't alcohol actually sweet?) but I'd give up absolute accuracy in a second to get something that was nearly universal because it's so easy to do. Theise's Sense of Sweetness is more or less what you're proposing, but I don't know that it would scale to thousands of wines.

Perfection is nice, but I'd rather have an approximate "dry" on the label than be left to rank guesswork based on the alcohol percentage.

Walt

P.S. Verbal is probably better than a numerical scale because people like the idea of dry wines but like the taste of sweet ones. This scale cleverly places the middle at "medium dry," which sounds dry but probably isn't.
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Re: News: At last a 'taste scale' classification for Riesling

Postby David M. Bueker » Tue Jul 29, 2008 6:04 pm

Walt,

I'm not proposing a system, least of all me as emperor of taste. My point is that I think the idea is flawed & I really don't believe there's a way to do it that's a)agreeable to the majority of tasters and b) not damaging to wines that get labeled 'sweet' no matter how delicious and beautiful they are (and they are useful for more than dessert by the way).
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Re: News: At last a 'taste scale' classification for Riesling

Postby David Creighton » Tue Jul 29, 2008 6:32 pm

hmmmm i'm not sure about Bueker's last post. describing a wine as 'sweet' means that it isn't delicious or beautiful? lots of people think exactly the opposite.

you may not want to be the emperor of taste; but you seem to be suggesting that the actual sweetness of a wine should be hidden so that unsuspecting consumers will accidently find out how delicious it is. and in the process they will be forced to discover how well sweet wines go with the food they are serving - whatever it may be.

that said; it does seem that the scale is biased on the side of 'dry'. the proponents no doubt think that any increase in market share will come from dry wine drinkers and the idea is to encourage experimentation among that group. (too bad the second to bottom category can't be 'dry as chardonnay'). i tend to agree that putting the word 'dry' on the label will entice people to buy and enjoy rieslings who wouldn't otherwise. at the sweeter end, expanding the scale to say 'sweet/tart', fairly sweet, very sweet, etc. might seem more fair; but the truth is that if someone wants a sweet wine for whatever reason, they probably are aware of the potential for riesling in that regard - so education isn't as critical.

but if we really want to increase the sales of riesling there is only one way: oak chips. :twisted:
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Re: News: At last a 'taste scale' classification for Riesling

Postby David M. Bueker » Tue Jul 29, 2008 7:41 pm

David Creighton wrote:hmmmm i'm not sure about Bueker's last post. describing a wine as 'sweet' means that it isn't delicious or beautiful? lots of people think exactly the opposite.

you may not want to be the emperor of taste; but you seem to be suggesting that the actual sweetness of a wine should be hidden so that unsuspecting consumers will accidently find out how delicious it is. and in the process they will be forced to discover how well sweet wines go with the food they are serving - whatever it may be.


Please do not put words in my mouth. Actually between this thread and the self-important "water" thread on eBob and the save the world for natural wine "shakes head" thread on Therapy I am sorley tempted to give up on the internet and the wine consumer as people on-line seem to envision them. Guess what, there's about 0.3% of people who care about the issues we talk about and the 99.9% world of wine generally doesn't give a rat's you know what about what we think.

My concern with the "sweet" label is that there is a notable stigma attached to the word, and the wine fashionistas will pass by (and eventually cause the demise of) wines with notable residual sugar because it's not cool to drink sweet wines. So we'll end up with a sea of ham-fisted halbtrocken (or "off-dry" if you prefer) that would have been better off with a few more grams of rs, but the winemaker couldn't figure out how to sell it and stay in business.

Plus the chart will be meaningless as even people served bone dry wines will complain that it's too sweet if there is actual fruit. Another group of people will complain that a wine with 50 grams of residual sugar and 8 grams of acidity is too dry. Guess what...both groups are 8000 times larger than the little cadre of folks who want sweetness indicators on labels and full disclosure that left-handed people touched the grapes on the back labels.
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Re: News: At last a 'taste scale' classification for Riesling

Postby Bill Hooper » Tue Jul 29, 2008 8:36 pm

David M. Bueker wrote: there's about 0.3% of people who care about the issues we talk about and the 99.9% world of wine generally doesn't give a rat's you know what about what we think.

My concern with the "sweet" label is that there is a notable stigma attached to the word, and the wine fashionistas will pass by (and eventually cause the demise of) wines with notable residual sugar because it's not cool to drink sweet wines. So we'll end up with a sea of ham-fisted halbtrocken (or "off-dry" if you prefer) that would have been better off with a few more grams of rs, but the winemaker couldn't figure out how to sell it and stay in business.

Plus the chart will be meaningless as even people served bone dry wines will complain that it's too sweet if there is actual fruit. Another group of people will complain that a wine with 50 grams of residual sugar and 8 grams of acidity is too dry. Guess what...both groups are 8000 times larger than the little cadre of folks who want sweetness indicators on labels and full disclosure that left-handed people touched the grapes on the back labels.


David, I am 100% in agreement with you (not a first, but... :wink: ) I also think that it is dangerous and dishonest for us to organize and categorize wine into too many parameters just to help us 'understand' it (that's like trying to understand people -good luck with that!) It detracts greatly from the enjoyment and essence of the experience. If you need Trocken riesling, buy one! If a couple more grams of residual sugar than you expected 'ruins' your ultimate food and wine match, you are taking life way too seriously (and I would argue that most of the foods we eat are probably sweet enough for ANY Kabinett and most Spätlese.) If you absolutely don't EVER want a wine with even a trace of sugar (for whatever reason), maybe you'd be more comfortable with a sauvignon blanc (at least you can pretend it has zero RS.) Sometimes I'm surprised that a mere glass bottle can actually contain all of the intensity and intricacy of Riesling, much less a 5 point sweetness scale! Or maybe I'm wrong.

Prost!
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Re: News: At last a 'taste scale' classification for Riesling

Postby Thomas » Tue Jul 29, 2008 9:20 pm

Well, I also agree with David's position, but based on my latest foray on this site and on the water one that David refers to, I'm trying to be low key with my positions right now. Thinking out of the mainstream has its drawbacks, if not its name calling.

With regard to those dry, semi-dry, etc. labels. I wasn't kidding earlier. My un-mainstream belief is that they shouldn't even be used to identify wine. There has to be a better way than to purposely confuse people with words, and since the conversation over them is endless, they obviously are confusing people.
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Re: News: At last a 'taste scale' classification for Riesling

Postby David M. Bueker » Tue Jul 29, 2008 9:27 pm

Thomas wrote:With regard to those dry, semi-dry, etc. labels. I wasn't kidding earlier. My un-mainstream belief is that they shouldn't even be used to identify wine. There has to be a better way than to purposely confuse people with words, and since the conversation over them is endless, they obviously are confusing people.


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Re: News: At last a 'taste scale' classification for Riesling

Postby David Creighton » Wed Jul 30, 2008 10:47 am

i must be missing something. for one i don't see how 'endless conversation' means people are confused. semi-dry may have blurry edges; but at a minimum we know the wine is not completely dry but also not really sweet. we know SOMETHING! to suggest that because it is confusing we should be given NO info and know NOTHING seems be throwing the baby out with the bathwater. is this just because it is riesling? what if your chablis or muscadet started showing up with 2-5 % RS and you had no way to tell which ones were which? of course those aoc's have rules which prevent the problem. riesling in general and even the alsace aoc, doesn't. doesn't the system in vouvray work fairly well - sec, sec-tendre, demi-sec, moelleux. that is exactly the same group of catefories as is being proposed for riesling. i've never seen complaints about the voluntary labeling protocols for vouvray.

anyway, i am in favor of getting SOME information on my label. and if the sales of wines in the 'sweet' category go to hell, we can take a look at what to do then. my guess is that the sky will not fall. and if winemakers and owners decide to screw up their wines by adding more or less sugar to make a particular descriptor work, it won't be the first time. cf. 'buttery' character.

i might also point out that most of the wine affected by the proposal already have some wording on their labels about the dryness level - often just below the name of the grape or on the more or less descriptive back label. one could view this an an attempt to standardize the now random usage.
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Re: News: At last a 'taste scale' classification for Riesling

Postby David M. Bueker » Wed Jul 30, 2008 11:15 am

David - at least in the case of the German wines, do not confuse the pradikat names with a reference to sweetness level.
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Re: News: At last a 'taste scale' classification for Riesling

Postby Bill Hooper » Wed Jul 30, 2008 11:31 am

David Creighton wrote: doesn't the system in vouvray work fairly well - sec, sec-tendre, demi-sec, moelleux. that is exactly the same group of catefories as is being proposed for riesling. i've never seen complaints about the voluntary labeling protocols for vouvray.


Vouvray isn't exactly setting the world on fire in sales even with this system.
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Re: News: At last a 'taste scale' classification for Riesling

Postby David M. Bueker » Wed Jul 30, 2008 12:13 pm

David Creighton wrote:ii've never seen complaints about the voluntary labeling protocols for vouvray.


Speaking of the 0.3% of wine drinkers who care...
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Re: News: At last a 'taste scale' classification for Riesling

Postby Tim York » Wed Jul 30, 2008 1:50 pm

David M. Bueker wrote:David - at least in the case of the German wines, do not confuse the pradikat names with a reference to sweetness level.


Why not for QmP wines, David? We already have Kabinett, Spätlese and possibly Auslese trocken. And the classification might help to identify an auslese masquerading as Kabinett.

Like you, I have reservations about an automated system using a technical chart. I would prefer a tasting committee, spot checks by a tasting committee or even a subjective assessment by the grower (not forgetting that that I had two surprisingly sweet "sec" Pinots Gris during the WF month). However an automated system using imperfect words is better than no system.
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