Over the past decade or so, Riesling has become the darling of sommeliers, wine writers, and wine-drinkers alike – and with good reason. Of all the international white grape varieties, it is a strong contender for the most noble.
Rieslings are among the longest-lived and most age-worthy not just of white wines, but wine in general. It is a chameleon, sometimes sweet but more often dry. For far too many years Riesling had a reputation for being cloying. While it is certainly true that many Rieslings were skewed towards the sweeter side in the past, we are blessed with a wealth of stunning dry Rieslings to choose from. It is a wildly versatile wine that is comfortable being paired with anything from saag paneer to tuna sashimi to shrimp Creole or pork chops. If you are a wine lover, and especially if you are partial to white wines, here are all the reasons to give Riesling a chance.
Riesling is famous for its racy acid and richly perfumed floral aromas. It is elegant but expressive. Riesling is definitely not a shy wine, and well-made examples are the epitome of finesse. Its fruit profile can range from lime to peach and apricot or even pineapple and mango, depending on where it hails from. You may have heard the word “petrol” thrown around when describing Riesling. That particular aroma is associated with older wines and warm vintages. On the whole, it is a mineral-driven wine and rarely reaches high alcohol levels.
So what does all of this mean? In a nutshell, Riesling makes a great partner for a huge variety of dishes and cuisines. That laser-like acidity means it plays well with tangy and tart dishes like cilantro-lime grilled chicken, and also cuts through fatty, creamy dishes to refresh the palate between bites. On the lighter end of the Riesling spectrum, serve the citrusy, bright styles common in Australia’s Clare and Eden Valleys with Thai and Vietnamese dishes scented with lemongrass or just about any seafood or white meat dish slathered in a zesty marinade. When in doubt, a dry style from a cool climate area like Germany’s Mosel or New York’s Finger Lakes will do the trick.
If you love plenty of heat in your dishes, off-dry (slightly sweet) Riesling can cool your taste buds by canceling out some of the hot chili spice of dishes like chicken Madras or pasta arrabbiata. During my days as a sommelier, I saw more than a few people order late-harvest dessert Rieslings to wash down a fiery order of mapo tofu. By the way, that high acid plus off-dry combo is also brilliant in dishes with tamarind, which is itself sweet and sour. If you are serving up something with a little sweetness, say honey-glazed salmon or duck with hoisin sauce, the like-for-like pairing with an off-dry Riesling is absolutely killer. You’ll find the off-dry styles made in various regions, but Germany produces the gold standard.
And for those more full-bodied styles like those made in Alsace and Austria go well with richer dishes. If you pour these Rieslings with the likes of game birds, pork, and oily fish, you won’t miss the mark.
For more of SEEMA’s recommendations for summer sips, check out All the Rosés of the Summer