Pairing Riesling Wines with Food

Pasta with a glass of white wine
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Riesling is one of the fastest growing wine varieties on the current wine market. But why? Well, among wine lovers, chefs and sommeliers, this varietal receives exceptional attention for its out-going, food-friendly character and zippy acidity. As palates prefer a wider variety of food flavors, wines that can fit a broader food-pairing bill will see an increase in demand. This is where Riesling rocks; it would be difficult to find a more accommodating wine to tackle the impressive spectrum of international food selections available on today's tables.

If you are looking for a no fail wine for a slew of appetizers, Riesling has got your covered. If you've got a spicy Thai dish - again it's Riesling to bail you out, letting the slightly sweet tame the heat. Middle Eastern to Mexican cuisine, it's Riesling to the pairing rescue. Not to mention many desserts and salads, along with the pseudo-standard poultry and pork dishes, all natural partners for everything Riesling. 

Why Is Riesling So Food-friendly?

One of Riesling's key pairing privileges comes via sheer variety. Today's wine shelves spotlight an impressive array of regional Rieslings, with a variety of sweet to dry options, light to full-bodied bottles and specific regional-based terroir influences. Rieslings are known for their remarkable balance between acidity and sugar. It's the acidity that allows it to encounter and woo a variety of difficult plate pairing partners. The acid allows the wine to handle hearty sauces, high-end meats and even lighter fare like appetizers while simultaneously offsetting the tangy flavors of ginger and lime in Asian fare.

Riesling's innate fruit factor (apple, pear, citrus, and tropical) and personal preferences for sweeter styles make this wine a natural for taming the heat of spicier food with a touch of palate sweet. 

Refreshing Riesling

Riesling enjoys a reputation for being refreshing. With little to no oak influence, a reluctance to blend with other grape varieties and no malolactic fermentation messing with its expression, the grape itself is left to shine.

Combine these flavor factors with the lighter-bodied profile, propensity to be chilled before serving, and often a touch of residual sugar and you've got a trifecta for showcasing an invigorating wine that promises to be both lively and fresh from start to finish.  

Specific German Riesling Food-Pairing Strategies

Depending on the specific region, German Rieslings tend to show more apple, pear or citrus and even tropical fruit notes along with lower alcohol levels, often times with a sweet touch and always good acidity. German Rieslings are known for pairing well with the likes of Chinese food, Cajun cuisine, Tex-Mex (with cilantro), roasted pork, roasted duck or goose, seafood, Thai food and even salad dressings with hard to pair ingredients like vinegar.

Food Pairing by Germany's Ripeness Classifications

German Riesling's are categorized by how ripe the are when picked (indicating sugar levels within the grape). The higher the sugar level, the sweeter the wine and more potential for alcohol depending on the winemaker's vinification methods.

Below are six of the most common grape ripeness classifications used on German bottles and what foods tend to work well with each.

  1. Kabinett - This is Germany's driest Riesling, with a fairly light body. Kabinett works well with seafood, Asian, Thai, sushi, veggies, garlic and lighter poultry or pork entrees.
  2. Spatlese - This is often an off-dry wine with a medium body. Spatlese works well with spicy fare, fruit dishes, lobster, scallops and fish, pork, BLT sandwiches and smoked meat.
  3. Auslese - A fantastic pick for avocados, rich cheese, crab, goat cheese, foie gras and rich textured dishes.
  4. Beerenauslese - This is where Riesling wines take a decided turn into the "sweet" category. This category of Riesling is amazing with caramel, apple, peaches and cream, sweet desserts and pies.
  5. Trockenbeerenauslese - This sweet Riesling classification is made for blue cheese, apple pie, caramelized desserts, tropical fruit and the like.
  6. Eiswien - Literally translated as "ice wine," this is the upper echelon of dessert wines and truly is a dessert in its own right. However, if you must pair it with something it is a natural with just about any dessert favorites.

Alsatian Riesling - Alsatian Rieslings, notoriously dry and ultra crisp with phenomenal minerality, acidity and peppy palate appeal, tend to go well with smoked fish, crab cakes, foie gras, roasted goose, pâté and wild game.

Washington Riesling - These New World wines can run the gamut from sweet to quite dry and often show more forward fruit and riper character. Very versatile food pairing partners, start a Washington Riesling out with all sorts of themes like Asian fusion, seafood, and curries.

Riesling is a wine option that can handle a full spectrum of foodie favorites, from tangy vinaigrette dressings to full-flavored sauce laden entrees and spicy medleys. This is a "go to" white wine that will be able to handle most foods, most of the time.