"I've removed the grape variety from the label and have started calling it a beverage, not a wine." - I can't believe I'm hearing these words from Chris Archer, who as winemaker at Alana Estate was behind some of the country's most serious wines. He's telling me about his new project. And by the end of our conversation I'm more convinced of the merits of his radical concept that aims to get a great but underappreciated grape into more of the nation's - and indeed the world's - wine glasses. I have entered the land of Ritzling ...
That's what Archer wants wine drinkers to do too, by making a riesling that's more accessible. It's a venture he's put plenty of thought into since leaving Alana in 2009 and founding his own wine company, Archer McRae, whose first release was ... a riesling, of course.
"People said I was crazy to make a riesling as my first vintage," recalls Archer, "but it's always been a passion. And if it doesn't sell, I've always got something to drink in my retirement!"
But Archer would rather it was the wider wine-drinking public consuming the fruits of his labours, and in the process, getting turned on to a variety that, though beloved of winemakers and wine writers, is still largely viewed with suspicion by the wider drinking public.
"Riesling is so niche due to its versatility, as it can be made in styles from sweet to dry, plus the culture that it comes with intimidates drinkers - sauvignon blanc is a safer bet as you know what you're getting," Archer explains. "Drinkers have to go on a journey of discovery before they have the confidence to drink riesling, compounded by the fact that older people drink it and it's just not seen as cool."
As well as making a serious, more conventionally presented riesling, Archer wanted to provide a short cut for drinkers into the variety. So he removed the name riesling - with all its connotations - from the Ritzling label, positioning it closer to that of a branded beverage like Red Bull than wine.
"Drinkers are happy to buy a product like Red Bull without knowing what's in it, whereas the wine industry throws so much information at drinkers," says Archer. "The whole industry has got the wrong end of the stick in making it all about the producer."
In attempting to make the wine more about its end consumers, as well as filling the 250ml Ritzling bottle with an appropriate liquid, they sport a striking and beautiful label adorned with exotic birds, beasts and butterflies, evoking "a whole new land, the land of Ritzling" according to Archer. Its strap-line is "bottled happiness".
Archer has ambitious plans to bottle this happiness in other countries as well. "We're going to take this around the world, making versions in Australia, Germany and Austria with their local riesling fruit," he expands.
Younger drinkers are the wine's obvious targets, who Archer fears are making stronger links with the spirits they're encountering in RTDs than with wine. "Ritzling is a stepping stone into wine as well to riesling," he claims.
Its chic design certainly sets it visually apart from RTDs, but could this be seen as simply dumbing down wine to RTD level? Archer disagrees. "Ninety per cent of people just want to enjoy their wine and the product delivers quality and sophistication without the pretension," he says in its defence.
Though I can't quite bring myself to call Ritzling a beverage, the fact that the wine is a decent drop and may break down the barriers between new wine drinkers and this great grape variety, makes me support Archer's endeavour - that's if the connection can be made between the brand and riesling, which gets only a tiny mention on the edge of the label.
"Put a wedge of lime in it," urges Archer. "But please don't do that with my Archer McRae Riesling!" he quips.
The Ritzling $28 for 4
The 9 per cent alcohol Ritzling stands head and shoulders above alcopops in quality and is unmistakably riesling in its fresh citrus, apple and sweet peach fruit. Its spritz distances it from the classic riesling profile, but it's not bad at all! (From Wine vault, Point Wines, Farro Fresh, Liquorland Albany & Pukekohe, New World Victoria Park & Eastridge, Village Wine Trader, Scenic Cellars, Advintage.)
Archer McRae Riesling 2010 $30
Archer illustrates the serious side of riesling in this intense dry Martinborough example with its mouthwatering notes of lime and lemon juice, stony nuances and toasty hints. (From Wine Vault, Point Wines.)
Archer McRae Pinot Noir 2010 $40
A rich and ripe Martinborough pinot with plush and juicy plum and cherry fruit with hints of smoke and spice. (From Wine Vault, Point Wines.)
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