The (come)back label.
After decades of being used as a dumping place for government warnings about the danger of alcohol consumption or for the most generic taste descriptions written by marketing departments, the back label will have a comeback this year as the place where many consumers will find the piece of information they are mostly interested in: whether that Riesling is sweet or not.
The 2008 vintage, which will soon be on the shelves in wine stores and on restaurants wine lists, is the first vintage to carry a "Riesling Taste Profile", created by the International Riesling Foundation (IRF). The taste profile will tell the consumer whether a Riesling is dry, medium dry, medium sweet or sweet. The use of a profile is voluntary. Any winery, whether a member of the IRF or not, can use the taste profile if they wish to do so.
After the announcement of the taste profile last year some people have raised the question whether an official profile makes sense due to the fact that different people may have different perceptions of sweetness levels in wine. While this is certainly true to some degree, it is still unlikely that one person will perceive a dry labeled Riesling as sweet. If so, that person would consider any wine to be sweet. And even in if one finds a semi-dry Riesling to rather be semi-sweet, at least one agrees that it is neither completely dry nor very sweet. And that is all we may want to know in some cases.
Informing consumers about the style of a particular Riesling is not a new concept. For years Domaine Zind-Humbrecht has been using a system of 5 stars to indicate how sweet a Riesling is. Many German Rieslings carry terms such as trocken (dry) or halbtrocken (half-dry) on the labels (as do growers in the Finger Lakes). You can also look at the alcohol level of a Riesling and guess how sweet or dry it is (the higher the alcohol, the drier the wine, although there are completely dry Rieslings with only 11% alcohol). The Riesling taste profile takes this a step further and offers unified graphical indication of the particular style of a Riesling. This profile is based on the Riesling's ratio of acidity to residual sugar, which is important since both affect each other. The "Riesling Taste Profile" guidelines explain in detail the acidity/RS ratio for each of the four categories.
I do believe that this initiative will help consumers to make a more informed and therefore more confident decision in the wine store. With Riesling's myriad stylistic expressions confidence surely is needed. I hope that winemakers will give correct indications of the perceived sweetness level of what's in the bottle.