Saturday, June 16, 2007

Riesling to the Rescue

Reuters did an interesting story this week that demonstrates riesling is starting to come on strong with the American wine-buying public. It could soon, gasp, compete with chardonnay, the Hulk Hogan of white wines.

Of course, some people don't believe riesling will ever earn that kind of status here in the states. Maybe not, but the numbers tell an interesting story. Riesling sales, for example, in the U.S. climbed 24 percent in a 52-week period that just ended in early May. As a fairly recent convert to the joys of riesling, I'm delighted. But I'm especially excited when I think what this trend could mean for wineries in the Northest.

Having completed a tour of the Finger Lakes wineries in May, I can tell you that the quality of riesling around here is steller. I wasn't surprised by that, considering what I've been reading about Finger Lakes' wines. But I can tell you that when I did a tour of Connecticut wineries last year I was very impressed by the high quality of the rieslings I was finding, and that was a surprise.

That brings me to an interesting point. As I noted in a previous post, some have wondered why the Finger Lakes region is not more widely recognized for its quality. Is Robert Parker correct that the area is likely to remain insular?

I think the rise of riesling nationally is likely to change that. For years, a lot of us have held onto the misperception that riesling is always simple and sweet when, in fact, many critics believe riesling to have the greatest potential for longevity and varietal complexity among white wine grapes. But as more and more of us begin to appreciate that riesling can be vinified in many different styles and that the nose is often explosive with lively fruit and floral notes, many will seek out wines from the regions that make it best and embrace them.

And, that's good news for the Northeast. If consumers like to keep an eye out for a Russian River Valley or Oregon pinot noir, and Napa Valley cabernet, perhaps in the near future they also will aspire to find New York or Washington State riesling. Why not? I have no doubt authors and critics will continue to extol the virtue of these wines, and if consumer interest catches up to critics' enthusiasm, great things are in store for non-California rieslings.

Perhaps we're approaching a time when the most celebrated microclimates for a number of different varietals will be located in many different and unexpected places across the country. Stranger things have happened. Most states are still learning what varietals do best in their climates, so it's still hard to properly gauge what's possible. One thing's for sure -- no state will ever surpass California for winemaking potential overall. But look out for the emergence of new niches across the country for many different varietals.

All I know is that it's summer, a time when my my normal 80-20 preference for reds over whites shifts to something like a 50-50 split. I love crisp white wines for the lighter dishes we prefer in summer. And, the percentage of New York and Connecticut whites I have on hand has never been higher. At the very least, curiosity should take you there as well.


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