For the third installment in our “Tasty Twosome” series, we’re tackling the varietal beloved by sommeliers worldwide. Is it Cabernet? Chardonnay? Nope and nope. We’re talking about the acid-driven and infinitely food-friendly Riesling.
What is Riesling?
Riesling is often mentioned in the same breath as Germany, which makes sense given that the varietal originated there. Germany is still the top producer of Riesling, but great examples can be found in nearby Alsace and Austria as well as a number of far-flung locales including the Canada, California, the Finger Lakes, South Africa, northern Italy, and New Zealand.
- Fruit Aromas: Grapefruit, Lime, Lemon, Granny Smith Apples, Apricot, and Peach
- Non-Fruit Aromas: Honey, Slate, Petrol, and Earth
- Acidity: High
- Body Weight: Low
- Oak Presence: Low to no
Riesling is one of the white varietals that transforms in some really special ways as it ages. Mature Riesling begins to mellow, trading in some of its zippy acidity in favor of amber tones and a honeyed aroma and taste reminiscent of dried apricots. The petrol notes also become more pronounced and there may also be a hint of smokiness mixing with the fruity sweetness to create a complex ying-yang quality.
The 5 Best Riesling Pairings You’ll Ever Taste
Asian cuisine, especially recipes from the southeast part of the region, is known for its delectable balance of sweet, sour, salty, spicy, and bitter. The subtle complexity of a great Riesling is the perfect foil for multifaceted dishes like pad thai (see below), where each bite reveals another layer of flavor, but it’s the sweetness of Riesling (even dryer kabinett versions) that calms the spicy beast that is the Thai chili.
Try This Recipe: Alton Brown’s Pad Thai
Spicy food and high-alcohol wines do not mix – unless you’re fond of that lovely scorched feeling overtaking your taste buds. Instead of pairing a hot red with the tomatoes and rich bean/meat dishes common in Mexican cuisine, tame your jalapeno salsa-smothered burrito with a glass of Riesling.
Try This Recipe: The Pioneer Woman’s Chips and Salsa
Shrimp is often covered in rich sauces or cloaked in stodgy breading, but the shellfish’s innate sweetness shines when cooked in a simple brine and paired with a zesty cocktail sauce. To pair a wine with shrimp, you need something that can mesh with that sweetness as well as the briny note and the zest of the cocktail sauce. Riesling’s racy acidity won’t back down when you need it most.
Try This Recipe: Martha Stewart’s Shrimp Cocktail
You can’t get more a more classic German pairing than pork and Riesling – except maybe pretzels and beer, or wurst and beer, or schnitzel and beer… But this pairing is all about the wine. Pork is fatty yet sweet, and it’s often cooked alongside apples (as below) or peaches or apricots or whatever fruit is handy. Riesling has the acidity to cut through the fat (try it with crispy pork belly!), the aromatics to play well with warm spices like clove, and the residual sweetness your fruit glaze requires.
Try This Recipe: Roast Pork with Apples and Sweet Potatoes
Some of the most memorable, finger-lickin’-good pairings in food and wine history are simple. Crab and Riesling fits that bill. Crab is mild and tender, and it needs a wine that’s going to treat it right. There are those who would reach for a Chardonnay to complement the big bucket of butter those crab legs might get dipped in, but the floral notes of a dry Riesling far more sophisticated (in our humble opinion), especially if you’re adding lemon and booze.
Try This Recipe: Emeril’s Drunken Alaskan King Crab Legs
Best Picks: Riesling From Around the World
- Alsace, France: Hugel Jubilee Grand Cru, 2009 – $59.99 BUY ME
- Mosel, Germany: St. Urbans-Hof Zickelgarten Spatlese, 2011 – $61.99 BUY ME
- Clare Valley, Australia: Grosset Springvale, 2014 – $44.99 BUY ME
- Marlborough, New Zealand: Giesen Riesling, 2013 – $11.99 BUY ME
- Columbia Valley, Washington: Chateau Ste. Michelle, 2014 – $9.99 BUY ME