Riesling: Pairing Food with Wine 101

rieslingRiesling (pronounced “rees-ling” is the most popular varietal produced in Germany, and the twentieth-most-popular varietal consumed worldwide.  More than other varietals, the Riesling grape delivers wine with three very distinct flavor packages:  dry, semi-sweet and sweet, depending upon when the grape was harvested. 

All Rieslings have a very aromatic character, typically reminiscent of apples, peaches or pears.  Sometimes, there are delicate undertones of spice and honey. 

Rieslings have enjoyed a resurgence since 1995 due to their versatility and popularity of new trends like ice wines from Canada and Germany.  Here in the US, Washington State is producing some great new Rieslings in the Columbia Valley. 

Since Rieslings, more than many other varietals, show tremendous variety from label-to-label, you can find extremely sweet Riesling (e.g., Eiswein) all the way through extremely dry Rieslings (Kabinetts), and they will taste vastly different. 

If in doubt about whether the Riesling is dry, semi-sweet or sweet, be sure to ask your wine merchant, or look for the categorization (below) on the label. Such variety within the Riesling family makes it difficult to make blanket pairing suggestions, but here are a few that work across the spectrum.

Great flavor pairings with Riesling

Types of Riesling

You’ll find the most popular Rieslings from the northern climates — Germany, Austria, France, Canada, and some from the US.  As mentioned above, they vary considerably in dryness/sweetness, so we encourage you to ask your wine merchant for the one that best suits your occasion or interest. 

From dry to sweet, look for these categorizations:

Dry (“Trocken” in German)

  • “Kabinett” is the classification for dry Rieslings in Germany

Semi-Sweet (“Halbtrocken” in German)

  • “Spätlese” is the classification for semi-sweet/semi-dry Rieslings

Sweet (usually reserved for desserts or appetizers)

The majority of Rieslings from Germany are produced in the sweeter style.

  • “Auslese” is the classification for sweet.  If you do not see any of the classification keywords but know the Riesling is from Germany, it’s probably sweet.
  • “Beerenauslese” is the classification for very sweet.  These are white sweet dessert wine made from grapes shriveled on the vine.
  • “Eiswein” (Ice wine) – German or Canadian White Sweet Dessert wine made from grapes frozen on the vine.  Very, very sweet and delicious for dessert. 

Wine Tasting Suggestions: Pairings

  • Apples and blue cheese
  • Salmon
  • Thai or chinese dumplings
  • Baked ham slices and crostini

This is part of our ongoing series introducing food and wine pairings.  At BigOven, we know that some foods just go together.  That’s why we’ve introduced Menus, which let you drag and drop recipes to create ideal combinations, share them with the world and create grocery lists instantly.  We’ve created  a Riesling recipe listing on BigOven – create your favorite menu and share it with friends.

Are these introductory food & wine articles useful to you?  Be sure to “Like” this post.  Happy cooking!

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