There are ways to enjoy great wine. There are ways to enjoy great food. But, when you put them both together in perfect harmony, the experience we can have with great wine and food is heightened.
We have had many articles here discussing German wines, the culture of German wines and even how they are ranked and categorized within the German wine classification system. However, we have yet to discuss German wines, specifically, German Riesling, and how versatile it is with many foods. I am here to open the discussion and add some pleasure to your palate the next time you pick out a German Riesling from your local wine shop. (Learn more in "How Many Levels of Sweetness Are There in German Wines?")
To keep things simple, here's a detailed list which follows the German wine classification in which I've explained the various styles of German Riesling wines. They are then followed by some common and even cultural dishes the wines pair nicely with.
German Kabinett Wines
The first category of German Riesling is Kabinett. This is the lightest of the wines which have two styles; Troken, meaning "dry" or Halbtroken, meaning "half-dry". These are wines with minimal amounts of sugar and are light-bodied. They make great appetizer and starter wines to pair with fresh goat cheeses, crostini or say, lightly smoked trout with capers. It pairs magically with the classic German fare of a variety of pickled and brined vegetables.
As a general rule, most German Rieslings pair very well with spicy Asian dishes too. So if you love spice in your food, even the lightest of German Rieslings will do.
The next category of German Rieslings is Spätlese. The name means "late harvest" and the wines are slightly sweeter than the previous category, with sugars ranging from 172 to 209-grams per liter. They can also be found as "Troken". This style will be drier, but compared to most other German wines, the alcohol content will be slightly higher.
Pair Spätlese wines with German dishes like a roasted ham, potatoes and sauerkraut. Any German Riesling wine pairs fantastically with pickled and fermented foods. It's really unlike any other white wine. As for other foods, braised and roasted poultry or game fowl goes well or pasta with creamy, buttery sauces and seafood such as lobster, clams, salmon and other cold-water fish that are high in fat. While these wines are sweet, the acidity is plentiful and it has the ability to cut through the fat.
Pair the Spätlese also with spicy Thai and East Asia cuisines like spicy Phở, or aromatic Vietnamese cuisine with lemongrass, cilantro, mint and basil. It can turn ordinary spicy Chinese takeout into a special, eat-in picnic date night.
Sweet German Riesling = Complexity
As we go upward in the German wine classification, Rieslings get sweeter, but they still do not lack in character, depth, nor complex acidity. While many people have the perception that sweet wines should remain as dessert wines, that is not the case with the next three styles of wines.
Select Harvest German Auslese
Auslese wines are referred to as "select harvest," meaning the grapes of Spätlese have already been harvested and these grapes have stayed on the vine a couple weeks or more enjoying a longer hang time. Some have even dried out or are affected with "noble rot". This special fungus has the ability to concentrate sugars while maintaining a balanced acidity, which also adds a signature honey note to wine. (Read on in "The Hang Time Debate: The Vintner's Battle.")
Pair Auslese with a spicy coconut Thai dish or spicy Mexican food. For something special, try it with seasonal crab dishes, goat cheeses, foie gras and even avocados!
Next, we have Beerenauslese, a Riesling also made from selected berries. The difference is that this wine is rare with maybe one or two vintages occurring per decade. The grapes of this wine are also often blessed with "noble rot" and are even sweeter with 260+ grams of sugar per liter. Eiswein, or "Icewine" is also just as rare and contains similar amounts of sugar but is made in a very different manner.
You can enjoy these wines with some heavier and spicier Asian fare with a heat that makes your brow sweat. Or you can simply enjoy these special and rare German Rieslings alone at the end of a meal or with desserts like crème brûlée, apple pie and tropical fruits. A classic pairing with these wines is with the stinkiest and most creamy of blue cheeses like Stilton and Roquefort. If you happen to be a cigar fan, a slightly aged cigar with warm spice notes can also be appreciated to close out a luxurious evening by the fire after multiple courses of rich food.
Discover German Rieslings and all they have to offer your palate and enjoyment. There is even more to explore.