Riesling is arguably the most versatile white wine when it comes to food and wine pairing. Its style can range from bone dry to insanely sweet, which may be why it has such a limited audience. Unaware people might have had a style they didn’t like, and then pigeonhole Riesling as either too dry or too sweet. However, Riesling is gaining new ground and exposure, especially in Ontario, where VQA Rieslings, (like Tawse, Cave Spring Cellars and Trius) are often produced in an off-dry style. Many fine restaurants are serving up these wines, and many wine enthusiasts are pairing these up at banquets and weddings.
Oak is rarely used when influencing how Riesling is made (I’ve never come across one, but you know someone out there is probably playing around with it), but Riesling may be still, slightly spritzy, or sparkling on top of its range of dry to sweet. Bone dry Rieslings are bright and refreshing, like freshly squeezed lemonade. As such, use this in dishes where you’d use a squeeze of lemon, such as with oysters, battered or poached fish, lobster, or pork.
With Riesling, especially aged Riesling, you’ll also find petrol notes, giving your wine a kerosene or gasoline aroma. As off-putting as this may sound, it’s quite enjoyable (although I wouldn’t go as far as saying it is delicious). The petrol flavours add a touch of complexity, and they will not hurt you as they are produced naturally as the wine ages, and not from someone adding gasoline to the barrel. I don’t find the petrol notes complement any foods, but rather it just reminds you that the wine is expressing itself and the environment it was grown in.
Off-Dry Riesling & Food Pairings
Off-Dry Rieslings (In Germany these wines are labelled Kabinett or Spatlese) means that the wines are ever so slightly sweet. Off-Dry Rieslings are magnificent with spicy dishes like Tandoori Chicken, Pad Thai, Chimichanga with hot sauce, Thai Beef Salad, General Tso’s Chicken, Szechuan Shrimp, Enchiladas, or a spicy Ceviche.
Off-Dry Rieslings are also great in mimicking the sweetness in dishes like tamarind salsas, sweeter barbecued sauces or fruit salsa/chutney. Salty foods are great with Off-Dry Rieslings as they are refreshing, and the sweetness in the wine counteracts the salt. So slam that glass of Riesling to your next bowl of popcorn, or serve it up with a plate of pasta carbonara. If you’re slumming it, a couple microwaved corn dogs and a glass of crisp Riesling goes down mighty easy.
Off-Dry Rieslings are fantastic with sweeter vegetables like corn on the cob, sweet potatoes, snow peas, carrots, yams, turnips and parsnips. As most Chinese takeout food tends to be salty, yet sweet, off-dry Rieslings go fantastic with all the classic dishes, along with their hot and spicy counterparts, like a vegetarian stir fry.
Another Off-Dry Riesling favourite is Hawaiian Pizza, which is sweet due to the pineapple and salty due to the ham. Riesling’s sweet citrus notes will complement the pineapple notes, while the crisp acidity will wash away the saltiness of the ham. Because each bite tastes fresh, you will never over-indulge as this pairing will leave you satisfied.
Pork Schnitzel and Riesling is classic, as the acidity in Riesling cuts through the breaded crust, and the sweetness complements the pork flavours. If your Schnitzel is on a bun, or slapped between two pieces of bread, Riesling will help keep your mouth refreshed against the dryness of the bread. Speaking of Sandwiches, due to a wide variety of flavours, a Reuben Sandwich might make for a difficult pairing, however, an off-dry Riesling is able to dance along with the sauerkraut just as easily as it is with the salty corned beef, or the caraway seed flavoured rye bread.
Dry Riesling Pairings
Both Dry and Off-Dry Rieslings have a lot in common, and you’ll find they both pair up with a variety of “holiday” feasts. Riesling is great with chicken, duck, goose, turkey, and pretty much any rich and gamey bird. As they pair well with salty foods, they are fantastic with treated meats like ham, Croque monsieur, sausage, charcuterie and cold cuts. You’ll find they go with sweeter or hot spices like cumin, curry, cinnamon, clove, ginger, star anise, and turmeric
You’ll want to keep both the Dry and Off-Dry Rieslings away from red meat. Red meat has a lot of flavour that overpowers Riesling in most situations, so you’ll want to keep it away from Prime Rib. However, for dishes where red meat isn’t the main component, like a Chinese Dumpling, Riesling will be fine. For similar reasons, it’s also not great with black pepper, as this seasoning overpowers the wine.
Alsatian Riesling & Food Pairing
Alsace Riesling is a notoriously dry and crisp white wine with floral and peachy aroma, phenomenal minerality, acidity, and peppy palate. Alsatian Riesling is from France and goes amazing with Choucroute Garnie, Chicken Shawarma, smoked fish, crab cakes, foie gras, roasted goose, chicken liver, shellfish, and trout.
German Riesling & Food Pairing
Germany is world-famous for their Rieslings. Riesling Kabinett and Riesling Spätlese are two examples of dry and off-dry Riesling from this country. Both Kabinett and Spätlese come in dry and off-dry variations. If the wine is dry, you’ll see Trocken on the label. If it is off-dry (slightly sweet), you’ll see Halb Trocken on the label.
Riesling Kabinett & Food Pairings
Riesling Kabinett is the lightest style of Riesling and has more of a mineral flavour than it does with fruitiness. Riesling Kabinett is excellent with seafood dishes like sushi, lobster, halibut, sole, tuna, crab, skate and gravlax. Riesling Kabinett is also excellent with cold vegetable dishes such as Crudités, and gazpacho.
Roasted pork and Hot Dogs make great dance partners with Riesling Kabinett, due to the wine’s subtle citrus aroma and its subtle notes of apple, peach, and apricot. For the hot dog pairing, I find that this pairing works best if the preparation of the hot dogs are plain. Too many condiments piled on top of your hot dog might crush the lighter Kabinett flavours.
Riesling Spätlese & Food Pairings
Spätlese means “late selected”, and this style of Riesling offers richer and more concentrated flavours of apricot, lemon, lime and peach. In its off-dry variation, Spätlese Riesling pairs great with anything spicy, such as chicken curry dishes, Szechuan dishes, or Thai cuisine. Both dry and off-dry Spätlese Rieslings are fantastic with roasted pork, sausages, fully loaded hot dogs, BLT sandwiches, smoked meat, chicken Korma, Chicken Teriyaki dishes, duck and seafood or shellfish dishes like crab, sushi, scallops and lobster.
Late Harvest Riesling
The sweetest of the sweet Rieslings are often called Dessert or Late Harvest Rieslings. They are wonderful for pairing with desserts based on tropical fruits like pineapple or mango. They also pair well with peach, nectarine, apple, lemon and lime desserts, such as tarts, pies, compotes, custards and candied fruits. You’ll want to avoid all things chocolate and coffee flavoured as they’ll crush the subtlety of the wine.
In Germany, you’ll find four sweeter Riesling styles, which are Auslese, Beerenauslese, Trockenbeerenauslese and Eiswein, which we have pairings for in our Sweet Riesling blog.