Trademark qualities: Elegance, lightness, variety. The nose can vary from floral and citrus to lime and petrol.
Try it with: smoked salmon and smoked trout – Riesling does well with (delicately) smoky flavours
In general it goes with: fish (in its dry and citrus forms), with Thai and Chinese, food especially when ginger-flavoured (in its Spatlese and limey forms) and, in its sweetest forms, with puddings and cheeses.
Wines of this type
There are two contenders for the world’s finest white wine grape, Riesling and Chardonnay. Riesling is far less understood in the UK, eclipsed by poor German quality control and scandals twenty years ago and then swamped by cheap, in-your-face Chardonnays. But Riesling can do everything from bone dry to ultimate sweetness and everything from extreme delicacy and elegance to challenging minerality. In this respect it can produce a far greater range of tastes than chardonnay and therefore go with a wider range of dishes. It will, for example, stand up to dishes heightened with ginger as few others will.
German Rieslings are typically light, less than 10% alcohol, and few are bone dry.
German quality ratings: QbA (Qualitätswein bestimmter Angaugebieter), Pradikätsweins: Kabinett, Spätlese, Auslese, Beerenauslese, Eiswein, Trockenbeerenauslese. These are in order of lateness of picking and therefore of sweetness – and the sweetest are very sweet indeed. (Tafelwein and Landswein, the lowest denominations, are rarely exported)
You might also see wines classified as Trocken – dry, or Halb-Trocken – half-dry.
Alsace Rieslings are typically more intense – ‘slate’, lime, ‘petrol’ (really). They will stand quite robust food e.g. charcuterie, choucroute garnie, Thai/Chinese and ‘fusion’, but they too span a wide range including the very delicate.
New World, e.g. Lehmann’s Barrossa Valley Riesling, is also limey and goes well with Thai/Chinese or Asian fusion dishes
Keeping: The vast majority of Riesling is made to be drunk young, within two or three years. However the very best Rieslings, and especially the sweeter ones, keep for a very long time – easily 10 years and often several decades.
Pricing: Decent Rieslings start at around £6, which will come from Germany, Chile or Australia. Alsace Rieslings start at about £8. However prices rise quickly with quality:
- Everyday/Party £6.00
- Informal Dinner £8 – 10
- Impress the Boss Dinner £12 – 16 make it Alsace or German
- Investors Only £30+
Overall: Deceptively easy, actually very sophisticated and versatile; beware connoisseurs.