This week I gave a small talk in front of a group of importers at the winery in West Richland. One of my assignment was to give them an idea of where Washington fits in the Riesling world. I went on to describe what in my mind the major characteristics of most Rieslings are. As I was doing this, it came to my mind that I could use a frame work to place Rieslings in some type of matrix and that it would help me to relate where Washington fits in comparison to other regions. Here is the way it came to me after the fact:
1- Riesling’s purity: Riesling’s elegance can be rather quickly destroyed by a heavy handed style. Riesling has a form of compulsive shyness and as soon as it put in contrast with another aromatic element it leaves the stage (“sorry, you are big and obnoxious, you have fun without me”). It appears that Riesling does not respond well to oaking (the oak overshadow the fine aromatics of Riesling), Riesling does not like malo lactic fermentation (the milky/buttery tone resulting from this fermentation is also overpowering) and Riesling does not like to blended. Usually most Riesling in the world rank high in purity. I will use a scale from 1 to 3 (1 is low purity, 3 is high purity).
2- Riesling’s fine aromas and a few twists: In general Riesling’s aromas are very dependant on the harvest date. During the ripening season, Riesling’s primary aromas evolve from early citrus tones to floral notes to a ripe stone fruit pallet. The primary aromas can be altered by two very important factors in Riesling. The first one is the amount of Botrytis at the time of harvest that would introduce waxy, honey like flavors. The second one is the propensity for some Riesling to develop a gasoline/petrol nose as it ages. A minor third one would be the possibility for the winemaker to do some lees aging introducing some yeasty notes and somewhat increasing the weight of a given Riesling. I will use a scale from 1 to 3 (1 is citrus, 2 is floral, 3 is stone fruit), I’ll add a B for Botrytis, P for Petrol and a Y for Yeasty.
3- Sugar – Acid tension: Riesling is a bloody tart varietal and often requires the use of sugar to rebalance the acid in some fashion. They are many styles of Rieslings that tilt that acid/sugar balance toward super dry or super sweet with everything in between (that is why we make 10 different Rieslings at Pacific Rim). This is where the International Riesling Foundation scale comes handy. There is no need to reinvent the wheel here, so I will use the IRF scale’s and rank wine from 1 to 5 (1: Dry, 2:Medium Dry, 3:Medium Sweet, 4:Sweet, 5:Dessert).
Now if I am to qualify some of our wine here is the way I would go:
– Dry Riesling: 3 – 2Y – 1. A pure Riesling with floral notes and some yeastiness tasting Dry.
– Sweet Riesling: 3 – 3 – 3: A pure Riesling with stone fruit notes tasting medium Sweet.
Now if I have to make a broad categorization of Riesling regions:
– Australian: 3 – 1P – 1. Pure Rieslings with citrus note, often some petrol, very dry
– Alsatian: 3 – 2P – 1. Pure Rieslings with floral note, often some petrol, dry
– Mosel: 3 – 2B – 3: Pure Riesling with floral notes, fair amount of Botrytis influence, medium Sweet
– Canadian Ice Wine: 3 – 3B – 5: Pure Riesling with stone fruit nose, botrytis influence, dessert style
– WA classic style (think Wallula, Poet’s Leap, Eroica): 3 – 2 – 2: Pure Riesling, floral aromas and medium Dry
– WA old style (Johannisberg): 3 – 3 – 3: Pure Riesling, stone fruit and medium sweet
Here is to my new nomenclature!