This German grape is considered by many to be one of the most unique white varietals in the world, though it has yet to reach the same popularity in America as it has in Europe. Riesling can range anywhere from a light bone-dry white with an alcohol level somewhere around 8 percent to a beautifully thick sweet dessert wine. It is a wine with a huge richness of flavor and fruit that is complimented by an intense acidity. Riesling is a beautifully balanced wine but it is also extremely temperamental and needs to be planted in optimum conditions to produce such a flavorful yet delicate wine.
German by origin Riesling thrives in cool climates. In fact some of the best Rieslings in Germany come from the Mosel-Saar-Ruwer region of Germany, an area that is one of the northern most wine growing regions in Germany and the world. The cold weather and steep vineyards of the region mean that the Riesling grapes get precious little hours of sunlight everyday. The grapes here almost never get totally ripe and as a result produce a wine with low alcohol and high acidity. On any other grape this would be a disaster and combine to create a thin, tart wine but with Riesling the opposite is true. The rich fruit flavors of peach, apricot and melon are balanced by this bright acidity. The Rieslings from Germany are made in a multitude of styles and can be either completely dry or have varying levels of residual sugar.
France’s Alsace region is another prominent area for Riesling. Located in the northern part of France the region has at times even fallen under German control. The Rieslings here however tend to be thicker and higher in alcohol than their German counterparts. They showcase similar fruit profiles as the German wines but tend to have riper fruit and can therefore come off seeming sweeter than the German Rieslings even though they are almost always bone dry. Riesling is also grown in other cool climate regions like Northern Austria and upstate New York.
When it comes to pairing with food diversity of flavor in a wine plays a strong role. For most wines this diversity comes from different production and winemaking choices however, with Riesling this diversity comes from its range of sweetness. Riesling pairs well with anything from shellfish to white meat, charcuterie to vegetables. Riesling is a great counterbalance to rich salty meat, any dish with aromatic spices and is even one of the few wines that can hold its own with eggs. Light, dry Rieslings are bright and refreshing and are lovely with lighter fishes and any dish where their acidity can liven up its flavors the same way a squeeze of lemon or lime would. Off dry Rieslings are excellent for spicy dishes as a foil to the heat or with anything smoked. And finally sweet Riesling is great all on its own so you can enjoy the lavish honeyed flavors that are kept in check by the wines signature acidity.