Riesling is the perfect wine to bring to a Holiday dinner party, as Riesling pairs virtually with everything. Riesling is also amazing with smoked sausage, Hawaiian Pizza, spicy Indian food, breaded shellfish and pork schnitzel.
Before we get ahead of ourselves, you need to understand that there is a huge range and variety of styles when it comes to Riesling. The wine can range from bone-dry to syrupy sweet to everything in between. Unfortunately, most people get their start with Riesling’s sweet version, which tends to turn them off this fantastic white wine for life. Tack on that every country has their version of Riesling and throws words at you like Spätlese or Beerenauslese at you, and I can understand why Riesling remains undervalued and unpopular.
Among wine enthusiasts, we are fanatic about our Riesling because it’s incredibly versatile and often inexpensive. As the wine ranges from dry to sweet and from still to sparkling, you can find a Riesling for every occasion. Bone dry Riesling is perfect with dishes you’d squeeze a bit of lemon on, like Pad Thai, oysters, battered shrimp, poached Sole, or lobster. Meanwhile, an off-dry Riesling (which means ever so slightly sweet) is fantastic with spicy dishes such as sausage, Szechuan Shrimp or Tandoori Chicken as the slight sweetness puts out the fire in your mouth.
Living near Niagara, Ontario, I got my start drinking Riesling, and up in our cool climate, Riesling tends to be off-dry like a tart lemonade, with a dash of apple, honey, mineral and petrol. The petrol flavour, which tastes a bit like you’d expect gasoline to taste like, is off-putting at first, but you soon develop a love for it. Riesling from warmer climates like California or Australia will deliver more lime and tropical fruit flavours.
Best Food with Riesling
Rating (out of 5)
Late Harvest Riesling
Styles of Riesling & Food Pairings
Off-Dry Riesling & Food Pairings
Off-Dry Rieslings (In Germany, these wines are labelled Kabinett or Spatlese) means that the wines are ever so slightly sweet and are the most common style you’ll find in North America. Off-Dry Rieslings are magnificent with spicy dishes like Tandoori Chicken, Cajun Gumbo, Salsa and Nacho Chips, Chimichanga with hot sauce, Szechuan Shrimp, Enchiladas, or a spicy Ceviche.
Off-Dry Riesling is also fantastic with salty food, as the sweetness provides refreshment and counteracts the salt. So slam that glass of Riesling to your next bowl of popcorn, as the sweetness and acidity of Riesling will amplify the popcorn flavours and wash away the fat and salt in between bites.
Off-Dry Rieslings are fantastic with sweeter vegetables like corn, sweet potatoes, snow peas, carrots, yams, turnips and parsnips that you would serve up at a Holiday meal or backyard barbecue. A lot of Holiday food or gathering food tends to be sweet, such as squash baked with brown sugar, cranberry sauce, or carrots served in a maple glaze. Off-Dry Riesling complements the sweetness in these foods, while the acidity makes the vegetable flavours leap out. For these reasons, I consider and Off-Dry Riesling the best white wine to bring to a Thanksgiving Turkey Dinner.
I also love an off-dry Riesling with Chinese Takeout, which is salty, sweet and earthy all at once. Riesling is refreshing against the saltiness, complements the sweetness, and has a mineral and petrol edge that blends in well with the earthiness of your takeout dishes.
Finally, Off-Dry Riesling is wonderful with pork and ham. I love an off-dry Riesling with Hawaiian pizza, which complements the sweet pineapple flavours while melding beautifully with the bacon or ham on your pizza. With Pork Schnitzel, Riesling is a champ at cutting through the breading and lifting up the sweet but subtle pork flavours. An off-dry Riesling is also perfect for sitting down to an Easter Ham, a night in with a Porchetta sandwich, bringing to a Pig Roast, or enjoying with Pork Tenderloin stuffed with an apricot chutney.
Dry Riesling Pairings
While dry Riesling is made everywhere, the most famous region for it is Alsace France which is notorious for its dry and crisp Riesling. Here you’ll find a floral and peachy white wine with tons of minerality and acidity. Alsatian Riesling pairs up perfectly with Sole in a creamy sauce, Sushi, Ceviche, Oysters, Crab Legs, Smoked Fish, Sea bass, Onion Tart, Dim Sum and Fish Tacos.
Both Dry and Off-Dry Rieslings have a lot in common and pair up with the same foods. In my eyes, what you pair a dry versus an off-dry Riesling often depends on preference. Some folks can not stand any degree of sweetness in their wine; thus, bone-dry Riesling is geared towards their tastes. With a bone-dry Riesling, I prefer it with foods that do not require a touch of sweetness, such as roast chicken or mild butter chicken, duck a l’orange, game birds, smoked fish and shellfish.
No matter if it’s dry or off-dry, Riesling does not pair up with heavy red meat dishes as beef will overpower your Riesling, so you won’t end up tasting the wine. The same goes for black pepper.
German Riesling & Food Pairing
Germany is world-renounced for their Rieslings which also range from dry to sweet. Riesling Kabinett and Riesling Spätlese are two examples of dry and off-dry Riesling from this country. Both Kabinett and Spätlese come in dry and off-dry variations. If the wine is dry, you’ll see Trocken on the label. If it is off-dry (slightly sweet), you’ll see Halb Trocken on the label. Further down, I talk about the four types of sweet German Riesling.
Riesling Kabinett & Food Pairings
Riesling Kabinett is the lightest style of Riesling and has more of a mineral flavour than it does with fruitiness. However, fruit does still exist, and you’ll find subtle notes of apple, apricot, lemon, lime, peach and pear. Riesling Kabinett is excellent with seafood dishes like sushi, lobster, halibut, sole, tuna, and crab cakes, where the minerality of the wine plays into the sea-kissed saltiness of the seafood. Riesling Kabinett is also excellent with cold vegetable dishes such as Crudité and gazpacho.
Simple Hot Dogs make great dance partners with Riesling Kabinett due to the wine’s subtle citrus aromas that are joyfully absorbed into a fresh hot dog bun. The less condiments on your bun, the better, as the multitude of flavours will crush the subtle flavours of Riesling Kabinett.
Riesling Spätlese & Food Pairings
Spätlese means “late selected,” and this style of Riesling offers richer and more concentrated flavours of apricot, lemon, lime and peach. In its off-dry variation, Spätlese Riesling pairs great with anything spicy, such as chicken curry dishes, Szechuan dishes, or Thai cuisine. Both dry and off-dry Spätlese Rieslings are fantastic with roasted pork, sausages, fully loaded hot dogs, BLT sandwiches, seafood, ham, and veal dishes.
Late Harvest Riesling & Dessert Wines
The sweetest Rieslings are often called Dessert Wines, Ice Wines or Late Harvest Rieslings and pair best with desserts based on tropical fruits like pineapple or mango. Very sweet Riesling also pairs well with peach, nectarine, apple, lemon and lime desserts, such as tarts, fruit pies, caramel desserts, compotes, custards and candied fruits. Foie Gras is another popular pairing with sweet Riesling due to the contrast of the sweetness of the wine and the richness of the Foie Gras. Salty cheeses are similarly popular pairings.
In Germany, you’ll find four sweeter Riesling styles: Auslese, Beerenauslese, Trockenbeerenauslese and Eiswein, which we have a blog for soon.
While sweeter Rieslings do have loud flavours, chocolate and coffee flavoured desserts tend to overwhelm these wines, so it’s best to keep Riesling away from chocolaty or coffee-based desserts.