Part 1: Riesling
Maligned in the past as overly sweet, good Riesling has a balance that makes it a delicious choice to go with an astonishingly wide range of foods.
Riesling’s ability to complement a dishes from cuisines across the globe means that it’s a wine that’s loved by chefs and sommeliers, as much as by wine connoisseurs.
Its out-going and food-friendly character is underpinned by regional variety and specific regional terroir-based influences, with profiles that run from dry to sweet, light to full-bodied, but always balancing sweetness with acidity – and it’s the latter characteristic that’s key to its ability to complement such a wide range of food pairings: from lighter fayre to rich and flavoursome dishes, the gamut of poultry, red meats and fish, and from classic European, to Middle and Far Eastern, (spicy) Asian and Tex-Mex, as well as South American cuisines.
More often than not lighter bodied, and drunk chilled, Riesling will deliver a freshness from the beginning to the end of a meal. Drunk on its own, Riesling can be wonderfully refreshing, too, as it’s rarely produced using oak, just as it’s rarely blended with any other grape varieties, or allowed to undergo malolactic fermentation, so leaving the characteristics of the Riesling grape itself for the drinker to savour.
It’s possible to be confident about food pairing Riesling wines from Germany thanks to the German system of wine classification and the information carried on every bottle label.
Kabinett wines are the driest Rieslings, with a fairly light body, not overly fruity and often described as ‘stony’. This type of wine goes very well with seafoods, including sushi, vegetable dishes and white meats. In terms of cuisines, these Rieslings work very well with Asian dishes.
Spätlese Rieslings are usually off-dry and medium bodied, delicate with a mineral-inflected fruitiness. Again, the wines work well with seafoods, including shellfish, white meats, such as pork, but also smoked meats.
Auslese, or ‘late (autumn) harvest’, Rieslings, made from hand-picked selected, very ripe bunches go well with heartier and richer foods, including foie gras and more pungent cheeses. When aged for 10 to 20 years, these Rieslings become earthier and drier to the taste, making them classic partners for roast game, such as wild boar and venison.
Beerenauslese Rieslings very much fall into a sweeter taste profile and go wonderfully well with dessert dishes: think tarte tatin, pineapple turnover and peaches and cream.
Trockenbeerenauslese Rieslings go wonderfully well with blue cheeses, tropical fruits and desserts containing caramel.
Eiswein (literally “ice wine”) Rieslings are at the top end of the ‘stickies’ spectrum and, if not just savoured on their own for what is a taste sensation, then they complement pretty well any sweet dessert – however, it’s better to avoid chocolate, one of the few things that Riesling doesn’t work that well with.
You’ll find wonderful examples of Rieslings from top German estates on the pages of the Vintners Pride of Germany website www.vpog.co.uk