Riesling? Oh, I don’t like Riesling. It’s too sweet.

by Scott Harvey on April 11, 2012

Jana Mendocino RieslingHow many times have I heard that?  Most Riesling in America is produced on the sweet side for a good reason.  It sells.  So therefore, most Americans think all Riesling is sweet.  Actually, Riesling comes in all different levels of sweetness from bone dry to super sweet.  I like to make Riesling more on the drier side but not completely dry.  I learned to make this style while going to winemaking school in Germany and there it is called “Halbtroken Kabinett”  It is a style where the grapes are picked at low sugar.  The wine is fermented down to a point where the high acidity masks the residual sugar and the residual sugar counter masks the acidity.  This gives the wine a counter balancing effect and should leave the after taste just dry enough to make you want to take another sip.  Once people taste our “Medium Dry” Riesling, they decide they do like Riesling after all.

Then the question is how can we relay to the consumer that there are different sweetness levels for Riesling and which sweetness level is the one is the bottle they are looking at.  To answer this question, a group of Riesling producers from all over the world got together forming the “International Riesling Foundation”.  The web site is www.drinkriesling.com.  The first thing they did was to developed a scale to put on the back of the bottle.  Now all you have to do is turn the bottle around and look the IRF Scale.  It goes from dry to medium dry to medium sweet to sweet.  The IRF just released a press release describing the scale, of which is below.  Enjoy!

30,000,000 and counting…

Riesling Made Simple: The IRF Riesling Taste Profile

Determining the level of sweetness in your riesling

    Want to buy a bottle of Riesling but you hesitate because you’re not sure if it’s dry or sweet or somewhere in between?  Just look at the back label.

Wine consumers throughout the United States now benefit from a simple graphic that takes the mystery out of Riesling: The IRF Riesling Taste Profile.

Created by the International Riesling Foundation in late 2008, the Taste Profile now appears on back labels of more than 30,000,000 bottles of Riesling in the U.S. market.  By simply looking at the back label, consumers can tell whether that wine is Dry, Medium Dry, Medium Sweet, or Sweet.

Consumer research has shown that many people believe Riesling is “a sweet white wine” when in fact it may vary from bone dry to lusciously sweet.  Those who know this may still be reluctant to buy Riesling because they don’t know which taste is in a particular bottle.  In addition, the research showed that consumers who don’t drink Riesling are not interested in trying it.

The IRF Riesling Taste Profile solves all those problems.  It shows the range of possible taste sensations, identifies which one is in each bottle, and makes non-Riesling consumers more likely to give the wine a try.

Major wineries in the largest Riesling producing states—Washington, California, Oregon, Michigan and New York—are using the Taste Profile, along with wineries from other states and countries including Germany, Australia and New Zealand.  (A partial list is shown below, and photos of many labels are available on the IRF web site, www.drinkriesling.com.)

The perceived taste of wine is derived not just from the level of natural residual sugar, but also to its interplay with acid and pH.  With the input of wine makers from around the world, California wine writer Dan Berger spearheaded the creation of a technical formula (also on the web site) which normally should indicate what the wine tastes like.  However, the ultimate decision on where to place the arrow along the scale is up to the wine maker.

Research among members of the trade also showed great enthusiasm for the IRF Riesling Taste Profile by giving sommeliers and wine store employees information that helps them better serve their customers.  The IRF Riesling Taste Profile categories are also being adopted by major international wine judgings such as the Los Angeles International Wine & Spirits, and Riverside International, competitions.  At the recent Finger Lakes International Wine Competition, which included 218 Rieslings from 16 U.S. states and 6 foreign countries, 38 U.S. wineries from 10 states included the IRF Riesling Taste Profile on their wines.  (Most entries from other countries do not include the taste profile yet due to certain national regulations.)

Use of the IRF Riesling Taste Profile is free, and all of the guidelines and graphics are downloadable from the web site.

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.”


Partial List of Wineries Using the IRF Riesling Taste Profile (most displayed on IRF web site)

Washington State
Chateau Ste. Michelle
Pacific Rim Winemakers
Sageland Vineyards

Argyle Winery
Bridgeview Vineyards
Brooks Wines
Sweet Cheeks Winery
Willamette Valley Vineyards

Clos du Bois
Fetzer Vineyards
Hagafen Cellars
Scott Harvey Wines (Jana Riesling)

Colter’s Creek Winery

New York
Anthony Road Winery (6)
Atwater Estate Vineyards (3)
Billsboro Winery (2)
Casa Larga Vineyards (3)
Deer Run Winery (2)
Eagle Crest Winery (1)
Fox Run Vineyards (5)
Fulkerson winery (7)
Glenora Wine Cellars (7)
Hazlitt 1852 Vineyards (2)
Heart & Hands Winery (6)
Hosmer Winery (3)
Hunt Country Vineyards (2)
Keuka Lake Vineyards (4)
Knapp Winery (2)
Lakewood Vineyards (2)
Lamoreaux Landing Wine Company (6)
Lucas Vineyards (3)
Montezuma Winery (1)
Red Newt Cellars (7)
Sheldrake Point Vineyards (3)
Silver Thread Winery (5)
Three Brothers Winery (4)
Ventosa Vineyards (2)
Villa Bellangelo (2)
Wagner Vineyards (4)

Black Star Farms
Bowers Harbor Vineyards
Chateau Grand Traverse
St. Julian Winery


Schloss Johannisberg
Schloss Vollrads
Schmitt Sohne

New Zealand
Neudorf Vineyards

Media Contact:  Jim Trezise, President, IRF, 585-394-3620, ext 203, [email protected]

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Bastian Klohr April 19, 2012 at 1:55 pm

The IRF Profile makes a lot of sense to me. As I am from Germany where most of the Riesling in the World is produced we have all the sugar levels – dry to sweet. Most consumers are confused about the sugar level drinking Riesling. The IRF Profile therefore makes sense and gives a lot of orientation. By the way I visited Scott Harvey Winery some weeks ago with a group of German wine business students who made a trip across California. Scott Harvey resp. Jana make the best Californian Riesling we tasted during our trip.


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