Deliciously aromatic German Riesling is the perfect match for any meal and any taste, at any time of the year.
I can’t believe it’s just a few more days and we will celebrate Riesling birthday again. This year, it will be 588 years since the variety was first documented. Though the exact origin of Riesling grapes is a mystery, it’s taken as fact that it originates in Germany, more exactly in the Rhine River Valley.
The variety was first mentioned in a cellar log documenting the purchase of six vines of Riesling on behalf of Count Katzenelnbogen dated 13th March 1434.
Certainly, Germany’s wine scene is so much more than just Riesling. And yet the variety remains the country’s flagship grape, with much good reason. While Riesling grapes are now grown all over the world, Germany truly remains the home of Riesling. Round about one quarter of vineyards in Germany are planted to Riesling, and around 40% of the global Riesling production is taking place in Germany.
But it’s not just quantity. Following some ups and downs in the history of German Riesling, today German Riesling is once again regarded as the best in the world.
A short guide to German Riesling
Riesling is grown across all 13 official German wine regions. However, the Pfalz and Mosel remain the leading areas both in Germany and world-wide, in terms of hectares planted and quality.
Riesling grapes are slow to ripen and thus found in moderate to cool climate regions, with chilly conditions during the growing season supporting the higher acidity levels. The variety grows very well in a variety of soil types and is very terroir-driven, with evident differences in the style of the wines depending on the different types of soil.
The grape is used to make dry (trocken), off-dry (halbtrocken), sweet (süss) and sparkling wines.
If you are looking for a white wine with good aging potential, you can’t go wrong choosing a Riesling either.
What to expect from German Riesling
The style of German Riesling varies depending on the region where grapes are grown, with different types of soils leading to different flavour profiles from fruity and sweeter to crisp and dry.
On a general note, you can expect the wine to display intense fruit aromas of apple, peach, apricot, pear, pineapple, and lemon. This is often accompanied by hints of jasmine, honeycomb, and lemon peel along with mineral stone (like slate or quartz). Aged Rieslings will furthermore develop notes of orange oil or petrol.
Riesling is furthermore a wine with high acidity, lower alcohol, and typically light to medium-bodied.
In the glass, the colour of Riesling ranges from pale straw to greenish yellow to light golden yellow.
Riesling is best enjoyed at around 6°C (43°F) – thus directly from the fridge.
How to read German Riesling labels
This might be the most tricky part about German Riesling as the labelling system in Germany is fairly complex. That said, once you get a grip on the system, it will be hugely helpful to find the Riesling that best supports your taste.
To start with, all German wines are classified by quality, starting with the most basic level, Landwein (or Deutscher Wein), translating into table wine and German wine. The next levels are Qualitätswein (quality wine), and Prädikatswein (quality wine with special distinction).
Riesling wines belonging to the ‘Prädikatswein’ category are further classified into six designations, reflecting the ripeness of the grape at the time of picking. They furthermore indicate the level of sweetness you can expect from the wine, as grapes picked at a later stage develop more sugar.
Kabinett is made from fully ripe grapes and ranges from dry to medium-sweet.
Spätlese is made from grapes picked several days after normal harvest and ranges from dry to medium-sweet.
Auslese is made from very ripe grapes (albeit still harvested before normal harvest turns into ‘late’ harvest) and grapes are carefully selected for this type. Riesling Auslese wines might be dry but usually you can expect them to be semi-sweet to sweet.
Beerenauslese is made from individually selected overripe grapes which often are affected by noble rot (a beneficial form of grey fungus affecting wine grapes which intensifies the sweetness level and adds complexity) and typically sweet.
Trockenbeerenauslese is made from grapes which are fully “botrytized”, thus these grapes are only picked when they are affected by noble rot. This category yields very sweet wines, and in rare occasions, dessert wines.
Eiswine is made from grapes harvested after the grapes have frozen on the vine (requiring temperatures to be below -6°C/20°F).
What is the difference of German Riesling to those from other winegrowing regions?
Riesling grapes are highly frost resistant and thus thrive in cool (and even cold) winegrowing regions. That’s way you will find excellent Riesling made in a wide range of cooler climate growing wine regions around the world. Different soil types, climatic conditions and the winemaker’s choice in the cellar will yield a wide variety of styles.
Rieslings from Alsace are typically the closest to German Riesling, even though they tend to be a bit drier, with aromas of citrus, peach, pear, and white flower.
Other regions known for excellent Riesling wines include Australia (Eden Valley and Clare Valley), where bright dry styles with great aging potential are produced.
New Zealand, where grapes will ripen longer due to the cooler climate is known for tangy, peach and lemon-scented styles.
In the U.S. Riesling grapes are grown in the Finger Lakes wine region where the cooler climate creates very expressive wines which range from dry to sweet ice wine. Riesling wines are also made in the Washington wine region and the cooler parts of California.
What are the best Food Pairings with German Riesling
If you love Riesling – or would like to have a go with it – the good news is, Riesling is the perfect match for a wide range of food. In fact, thanks to the flowery aromas and high acidity, along with the range of sweetness, Riesling is one of the most versatile and food-friendly varieties.
Riesling pairs perfectly with almost all antipasti and egg dishes like quiche or frittata.
Spicy Asian dishes: The high acidity and residual sweetness in Riesling makes it a perfect match with spicy food, in particular when paired with a slightly sweeter off-dry version.
Fish and seafood dishes are quite obviously among those perfectly matched by Riesling. From sole to trout, snapper, cod but also shrimp, crab, lobster, and scallops.
Riesling is perfect for dishes loaded with herbs and spices.
Mild poultry including chicken, turkey, and quail as well as fatty poultry like duck, goose or game birds.
White meat like pork, veal, and ham.
Roasted vegetables such as root vegetables, sweet potatoes, and turnips displaying a natural sweetness are absolutely perfect with Riesling.
Lemon flavoured dishes like poached salmon and oysters, or scaloppine al limone (with lemon sauce) are lovely with a bone-dry Riesling.
Pasta and risotto with fish and seafood or a lemony cream such as tagliatelle al limone.
Riesling will perfectly balance out food rich on salt like ham, sauces, and charcuterie.
Desserts with tropical fruit flavours or white stone fruit, custards, and sweeter citrusy desserts all work fantastic with a sweeter Riesling like Trockenbeerenauslese and dessert wines.
Foods you should definitely avoid pairing with German Riesling are those dishes which are rich and dominant in their own weight. This includes dishes loaded with pepper, green vegetables, and most heavy red-meat dishes including lamb, beef, and venison.
Do you like Riesling wines? Do you have a favourite Riesling and food pairing? Let me know in the comments.
Love German Rieslings! So much better than American ones!