Germany is world-famous for its sweet Rieslings, and these dessert wines fall into four main categories.
Auslese Riesling & Food Pairing
Auslese means ‘selected,’ and these Riesling grapes are hand-selected in late autumn from the ripest bunches. Auslese is much sweeter than the Spätlese Riesling we discussed in a previous blog about Dry and Off-Dry Riesling, as the riper grapes have much more sugar in them. While sweet, Auslese isn’t strictly a dessert wine, as it pairs up nicely with spicy food with lots of heat. The sugar content of Auslese fans out the fire of hot chillies or peppers, allowing you to taste some magnificent flavours normally hidden behind the veil of fire. Auslese Riesling, while high in sugar, doesn’t necessarily taste sweet either, as it has a balanced acidity that can throw your senses off completely.
The peach, apple, and citrus flavours of Auslese will complement fruity and creamy desserts, and also makes a wonderful contrast to foie gras, crab, tempura shrimp, aged hard cheeses, and spicy Asian, Tex-Mex, or Thai cuisine.
Recommendations for Auslese come down to the bottle, as the winemaker may make this a sweet wine, or they might make it taste off-dry. Furthermore, as Riesling ages, the wine will become more complex in flavour. A rule of thumb, however, when pairing with a dessert, the dessert can not be sweeter than the wine, or else the lovely lemon, citrus and peach aromas of Auslese Riesling will get lost in the wash.
Beerenauslese Riesling & Food Pairing
Beerenauslese means berry selected and differs from Auslese Riesling in that the grapes selected have been infected by the Botrytis bacteria, also known as noble rot. This mould adds honey, cinnamon and similar spice notes to the concentrated peach, pear, apple, citrus and apricot flavours already found in the Riesling grape. Beerenauslese is excellent with fruity desserts such as peach cobbler, apple pie, caramel desserts, custard, foie gras and blue-veined cheeses. It is also recommended you keep Beerenauslese away from chocolate as the subtle flavours and high acidity are smothered by the weight and sugar content of chocolate.
Trockenbeerenauslese & Food Pairing
Trockenbeerenauslese (TBA) means dry berry selected. It differs from Beerenauslese in that the grapes have been raisinated or dried out on the vine. These grapes also have the noble rot and are picked at the same time as Beerenauslese. The picker will separate the dried Trockenbeerenauslese grapes from the Beerenauslese grapes as they go about their duties.
Similar to Beerenauslese, you’ll find concentrated notes of honey, pear, peach, apple and apricot. It’s the noble rot that adds the honeyed flavour, and you’ll find a similar quality in Sauternes wine.
An aged Trockenbeerenauslese should be enjoyed on its own, especially if it has aged for decades. Trockenbeerenauslese, when aged and fully developed, is so concentrated you might even think you have to chew on it before you swallow. The bouquet and taste are so intense it will overpower any simple fruit desserts, and the finish will sustain itself for several minutes that any food that you add to the equation will distort this moment of heaven.
Not everybody is willing to wait twenty plus years to crack open a bottle of Trockenbeerenauslese, and these wines are excellent with poached pears, banana foster, blue-veined cheeses, baked apples, apple strudel, Crème brûlée, fruit pastries, peach cobbler, and shortbread cookies. It’s best to stick to slightly sweet desserts that are fruity. While Trockenbeerenauslese is sweet, you do not want the dessert to be sweeter or else it will overpower the wine. It is also recommended you keep Trockenbeerenauslese away from chocolate as the weight and sugar content of chocolate will dampen the subtle flavours of this wine.
Eiswein & Food Pairing
Eiswein translates to ‘Ice Wine,’ and it is made from grapes that have been frozen on the vine. This is an intensely sweet and concentrated wine as you get one drop of liquid from each grape. With Eiswein, you can pair with the incredibly sweet desserts like ice cream, fruit pies, and unlike the Rieslings mentioned above, even chocolate.
Ice wine is not limited to Germany, although Riesling Eiswein is perhaps the most famous amongst wine scholars. Ontario, Canada makes many delicious and coveted ice wines from the Vidal, Chardonnay, Riesling, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot grapes. These ice wines are still quite rare to buy even in Ontario, as the majority are exported to Japan.