Riesling grapes (pronounced ree-zling) are one of the 18 international noble grape varieties. They are cultivated in Germany, France, Austria, Australia, New Zealand and the United States and produce delicious, versatile wines that pair beautifully with a wide range of foods.
When it comes to food, a dry Riesling pairs nicely with seafood and chicken; semisweet varieties pair with spicy Asian cuisines and sweet varieties work well as dessert wines or aperitifs.
The Complexity of Riesling
A common misconception is that this grape variety is only capable of producing sweet wines, but the truth is that Rieslings range from very dry to very sweet and vary in complexity. Riesling is rarely blended with other grapes and its flavor reflects the terroir in which it is grown quite well.
German Riesling Classifications
German Rieslings are categorized by the degree of ripeness of the grapes at harvest and these categories are always noted on the label.
Ripeness is measured by the amount of residual sugar in the grapes, but it doesn’t necessarily reflect the sweetness of the finished wine – that depends on the fermentation process.
The term Kabinett designates fully ripe grapes that produce light-bodied wines that can range from dry to sweet.
Spatlese means late harvest and wines with this label are more intense in flavor and complexity. They can be dry, off-dry or sweet.
Wines labeled Auslese (select picking) have even more intensity of flavor and aroma, are generally higher in alcohol and can also range from dry to sweet (including dessert wines).
Other terms include Beerenauslese, Trockenbeerenauslese and Eiswein. These are rich, sweet dessert wines with rich fruit and honey-like flavors.
Other Growing Regions
Rieslings produced in Alsace, France are very highly respected, and tend to be dry and crisply acidic.
In the US, wineries in both Washington state and New York are producing crisp, easy-drinking Rieslings and the citrus notes typical of Rieslings produced in Australia and New Zealand have gained popularity as well.
Rieslings are generally crisp and bright and their aromas and flavors can include notes of Meyer lemon, lime, peach, apricot, pear, nectarine, pineapple and honey as well as mineral notes representative of their growing region.
Dry and off-dry Riesling should be chilled to about 43 to 45°F, sweeter Rieslings are best a few degrees warmer – 45 to 48°F.
When it comes to food Riesling pairs beautifully with a huge variety of dishes. At the top of the list are chicken, fish, seafood, duck, ham and pork. Both dry and off-dry varieties go well with cheese, fruit, most Asian cuisine (particularly spicy dishes) and mild curries. Sweet varieties work well as dessert wines or aperitifs.