By Richard J. Serrano, Director of California, Austria, and Distillates
Sometimes selling Riesling makes me want to cry. The other day I poured a 2007 Setzer Riesling from Austria for some non-industry friends. Most said that they didn’t like it because it was sweet.
Technically, the wine was dry. BONE DRY. No residual sugar whatsoever. But they still tasted sweetness. Why? Because it said Riesling on the label. I tried to explain that they were simply tasting fruit, but it fell on deaf ears.
If I had poured them a low-grade Shiraz with 6% residual sugar, no one would have batted an eye. Most Americans would assume red means dry. Also, for most Americans, Riesling, the greatest grape of all, gets no respect. Riesling, with soaring acidity and an ability to match with so many foods, is frowned upon. Riesling, the grape that reads terroir better than even Pinot Noir, is looked at askance. Many Americans would say that they only drink “dry” wine, at the same time guzzling a caramel latte. I can perfectly understand all this, given what has historically been passed off as Riesling. (Do you think the average Liebfraumilch drinker knows it’s made from Muller-Thurgau?)
As I wipe away the tears I take solace in the knowledge that Riesling currently has the highest percentage of growth among all grape varieties. Granted, it’s from a small base, but the category is on the rise. Plus, Millennials seem to have much less fear of hock bottles than baby-boomers. And for every 5 people that recoil when I offer them a glass of Donnhoff Trocken, there will usually be one person who will be convinced, and start down the Riesling path. (This is not easy. It takes blood, sweat, and tears to turn people onto Riesling, but we can’t be deterred. And I’m only discussing DRY, since selling off-dry Spatlese is a whole other set of issues.)
Fortunately, not all my friends are tasting sweet and walking away. My friend Kate was a longtime Sauvignon Blanc fan. She loved crispy, high acid whites, and she HATED Chardonnay. When I suggested Dry Riesling to her, she looked at me like I had two heads. After sharing many Alsatian and Austrian Rieslings, I had her repeating the words, “My name is Kate and I love Riesling.” True story. It took some time, but she no longer hesitates when grabbing a Riesling off the shelf. And I no longer cry when trying to sell Riesling, as much.
Raised on beer and tequila since the age of 12, Richard had his first sip of White Zin at the age of 26, and declared it righteous. A bottle of cheap Chilean Merlot followed a week later, and there was no turning back. After a brief flirtation with high-alcohol fruit-bombs, two years in wine retail tempered and matured his palette. He now spends his time in the Sisyphusian pursuit of finding Domestic wines that emphasize balance, purity, and terroir. Known as the company hothead, he spends his off time listening to acoustic blues, reading Decanter, and trying to find old bottles of Roussanne on close-out.