Riesling is an interesting wine variety to match with food, in some ways it is an ideal match for many foods, but then there are some food combinations that will really struggle with certain styles of this wine. Some examples are fresh fruit with a lot of fruit sweetness and acidity may not agree with the acidity of Riesling. However, Riesling may be highly compatible with strewed fruit and chutneys. Similarly, ice cream and Riesling may not match particularly well, but mix ice cream with a sweet fruit peach crumble and accompany it with a botryised Riesling and it will match perfectly. So what goes on with this variety and what do you need to look out for when having a Riesling with food?
One of the confusing things with Riesling is that there is marked variation depending on region, the quality and nature of harvested grapes, the effect of fermentation and the degree of maturation that the wine has had. In particular, the acid in Riesling allows this wine to handle a wide range of foods from hearty sauces, high end meats to lighter foods like appetisers. Furthermore, Riesling acids go well with the tangy flavours of ginger and lime in many Asian dishes. Riesling can easily accompany high spice foods if made in an off dry style (i.e. with some sweetness).
So what makes "Riesling" a Riesling? The chemical composition of Riesling is highly variable and its main flavour and aroma characteristics are due to monoterpenes (such as linalool, geraniol and terpineol), norisoprenoids (such as damascenone, vitispirane and Ironone), thiols and TDN (trimethyl dihydronaphthalene (also a norisoprenoid). The presence and concentrations of these components are highly variable and they are significantly affected by terrior and the growing conditions of the grapes. The monoterpenes give a predominant floral character, the norisoprenoids - in particular damascenone provides a rose-petal aroma and TDN gives the kerosene/petrol flavours. As Riesling ages, a range of precursor compounds to TDN undergo slow reactions to form more TDN which contributes to the very characteristic kerosene aroma of aged Riesling.
Another important characteristic of Riesling is variation in sweetness. Rieslings can be made either totally dry with minimal residual sugar (less than 5 g/L) or very sweet with over 45 grams per litre residual sugar. Furthermore, both fruit intensity and sugar content can be enhanced by allowing the grapes to be infected with botrytis which causes the grapes to shrivel and concentrate these characters.
So coming back to Riesling and food - compounds like linalool are also found in a wide range of herbs and spices like lavender, bergamot, jasmine, basil, sage, star-anise, cinnamon, clove, nutmeg, ginger and mandarin. Geraniol is also found in nutmeg, ginger, basil cardamon and grapefruit. Mix these fruit, fermentation and aging characteristics with a range of sweetness characteristics and a bit of "kerosene" and Riesling finishes up being remarkably versatile when it comes to food matching. The only issue is you most likely need to either have good knowledge of the wine or have researched how it was made before you can make the most appropriate food match for a particular Riesling wine. The other approach of course is to just experiment and being prepared to make a few mistakes. But then, this is just the ongoing fascination of wine!
I look forward to your thoughts and comments.
Posted: Sunday 20 July 2014