It’s been said that sommeliers have a love affair with Riesling… and it’s not wrong.
Sommeliers, and others who work in the wine industry, often have to taste many, many wines within a short period. After a while, your palate becomes fatigued with the influx of tannin and alcohol, to the point that nausea sets in at the thought of another glass of wine.
It’s a first-world problem. Fortunately, we have a first-world solution: Riesling.
In my book The 7 Key Wine Concepts, I name Riesling as one of eight fundamental varietals that you should become familiar with.
Today, Riesling is offered in a large range of styles, from bone-dry to lusciously sweet. Happily, Riesling can be found at any price point, from super-premium to inexpensive. And it’s often those at the lower end of the price spectrum that offer the most choice, which can be a pleasure to navigate for the informed consumer.
A good Riesling will be high in acidity, which helps to keep the wine fresh and gives it great cellaring potential. This acidity also keeps the palate fresh, and you’ll be surprised how easily you can finish off a bottle.
Young Riesling will show citrus characters, typically lemons and limes, and even here the diversity is impressive – could it be lime candy? Dried peels? Lemon zest? Lemon pith?
With age, toasty aromas can develop along with honey and even a hint of petrol. This last one might sound unappealing, and it can certainly be polarising amongst wine aficionados – I enjoy it; it is characteristically and inimitably a Riesling trait, and gives wines a unique complexity that distinguishes it from other varietal wines.
While there are many sweet Rieslings made, the vast majority I usually come across are bone-dry, crisp and refreshing. Both styles have potential for pairing with various dishes.
Now, if you were to meet me on the street and ask “Hey, Mark, what should I have with this Riesling?” what would I tell you?
The following is a short, impromptu selection of food items that I would personally recommend with various styles of Riesling.
Young, Bone-Dry Riesling
Oysters – Natural oysters are a favourite of mine. As they are usually served with a lemon wedge, Riesling’s natural lemon/lime flavour profile is a natural match. Cooked oysters (e.g. tempura) would also go nicely.
Fish – Sashimi would be the simplest example. For a cooked dish I would recommend a simply grilled white fish, nothing too overly garnished or covered in sauce. Even something as simple as fish-and-chips would go well with the wine.
Chicken – Crispy-skin roast chicken and Riesling, just the thought of it makes my mouth water.
Mature, Dry to Off-Dry Riesling
Oysters – In my opinion this style would pair better with cooked oysters rather than raw, as the Riesling’s deeper flavour could unbalance a natural oyster’s delicate lightness.
Fish – This is where you can order your saucier fish options, as an aged Riesling would have enough depth to complement it, rather than being overpowered by the dish.
Chicken – Anything more heavily flavoured, like soy-sauce or chilli-spiced chicken wings, would go nicely. Anything unusual and strongly flavoured, like chicken liver pâté, would also work.
Meat – An unorthodox choice, especially as meats are usually paired with red wine. However I’ve found the interplay of flavours between matured Riesling and red meat to be unusual and very interesting. Beef, pork, lamb, whether elaborately prepared with complex sauces or simply grilled on a barbecue, will open you to a whole new world of food and wine matching.
Medium-Dry or sweeter Riesling
Chicken – Especially well with chilli-spiced chicken dishes, as the sweetness of the wine will counter the heat of the chilli.
Meat – Anything that has had elaborate preparation, such as a roast or braised dish, will be a good match. The sweetness of the wine will intercept the heavy flavour of the food, while the wine’s natural acidity will cut through and leave your palate clean for more.
Cheese – Soft, hard or blue, a good dessert Riesling will serve you well.
Dessert – As one can imagine, lighter and/or fruit-based desserts will pair best with a sweet Riesling. If you are having a sticky date soufflé, perhaps it would be better to stick with a Port.
I’ll state for record once again – the above is just a quick and simple list of what I believe to be very good pairings with various styles of Riesling, based on my own experience.
There is no such thing as a food pairing that is one-hundred percent right or wrong. Some combinations may be highly desirable while others are decidedly less so.
Whatever pleases you first takes priority. Experiment, learn what you want, know how to look for it, and enjoy.
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