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Is Riesling Really King?

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“Riesling is king again”, frothed the headline. An online survey of 6,000 wine drinkers has resulted in riesling getting the popular vote ahead of chardonnay, with sauvignon blanc being relegated to third preference, although 40% of respondents still chose savvy as their favourite wine.

The survey was conducted by online retailer Vinomofo. It’s a pity this news is not confirmed by the statistics. Sauvignon blanc is far and away the most preferred white wine of Australians. The last time I saw the Nielsen figures, six of the top 10 selling white wines were New Zealand sauvignon blancs, while riesling was barely a blip on the screen. About 18 months ago the Sydney Morning Herald reported that nearly 40% of the Australian bottled white wine market was sauvignon blanc, chardonnay was a bit over 20% and riesling was less than 5%.

Australia’s harvest stats confirm that riesling is flying anything but high, alas. The 2013 crush figures show chardonnay is the top grape with 397,000 tonnes harvested, compared to sauvignon blanc second-placed with 98,000, and riesling well down the list in 7th place with 31,000 tonnes. Of course most of the sauvignon blanc we drink is Kiwi, but it still manages second place in our own vineyards.

The Murdoch press lazily repeated the Vinomofo story without even questioning it, and the folk behind Canberra’s International Riesling Challenge claimed credit for turning the public back onto riesling. What a load of codswallop! Or more kindly, wishful thinking. The sample of 6,000 people was obviously not representative of the Australian wine drinking public.

I wish more people would drink riesling too: it doesn’t deserve to be such a small part of the nation’s diet. But this is just a classic beat-up, designed to draw attention to a commercial wine selling business. And there you go: they got me too. I’ve just given them some free publicity.

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