Riesling loves food! And we love Riesling…

As part of 31 Days of German Riesling, former sommelier Christina Schneider writes a love letter to Riesling, and through the medium of Beyoncé (yes, you read that right) explains just why it’s the perfect match for food.

When it comes to Riesling, you could say I’m a bit of an evangelist, someone who goes out there to convert others to my faith. And that’s exactly what I feel like every time I’m working the restaurant floor, trying to convince customers that all they ever really want or need is Riesling. They just don’t know it yet. And just like every other true believer, all I’m trying to do is change their lives for the better and to make them see the light!

Can’t I just drink whatever I like with my food?

I used to be totally of that opinion. That was until I started working in a Thai restaurant (Som Saa since you ask) and experienced first hand, how bad an ill-judged wine and food pairing can be. In my case it was an amazing tannic, oxidative, bone-dry orange wine, which was loads of fun, until the food arrived. The sweet, sour, spicy and super-aromatic som tam thai made the wine turn into sour, bitter, sharply-alcoholic vinegar in my mouth, erasing all the fruit and the aromatics, making it undrinkable.

What happened?

Ok, I’ll tell you.
When we talk about food and wine matching, there are a few things that you need to watch out for. It’s not as easy as ‘red meat with red wine’ and ‘fish with white wine’. More important than the main protein, is how it is prepared and what else goes into the dish. Although it isn’t always necessary or indeed possible to find the perfect match, it will make your dining experience a lot better if you try to avoid certain wines with certain foods.

So here is my whistle-stop guide to food and wine pairing:

Not just desserts
Sweetness in a dish can be a major problem for bone dry wines. Next to a sweet dish like duck with plum sauce or pork belly with apple sauce, a wine that was delightfully refreshing a second ago, can taste really sour. So you should always make sure that the wine you choose is at least as sweet as your food.

This is where Beyoncé comes in
Racy acidity in a dish, like lime in an Asian salad or a crisp vinaigrette, can make a low acidity wine appear flabby and dull in comparison. And when you add sweetness into the mix, like any dish that contains fruit, you really need to match that gorgeous acidity and sugar with your wine. Let me explain this with a little metaphor. Wine by itself is like you on the dancefloor, by yourself, busting your best moves to your favourite song, feeling awesome. When you introduce a high acid, sweet-ish dish to the party, it’s a bit like Beyoncé stepping onto the dancefloor next to you. If you can match her moves (or if your wine can match the dish’s sweetness and acidity) it will be a banging show. But the chances are, you won’t be on the same level, she’ll just make you look pretty old. Make sense?

The sidebar of shame
Like the sidebar of shame, spice (as in chilly or peppercorn heat), tends to enhance the more challenging characteristics in a wine, that we’d rather not draw attention to. A rather alcoholic wine will taste sharp and hot, a tannic wine will be even more astringent and the bitterness will be unpleasantly enhanced.

Intense flavour
Beyoncé’s back
Here, again, the Beyoncé rule applies. You need to be on the same level if you wanna boogie! A very intense, super-aromatic dish can make your wine taste extremely bland and neutral if it doesn’t have the same level of aromatics. This isn’t the worst crime against food pairing, but if you want your wine to have a chance to shine instead of being buried underneath the food’s lush flavours, make sure you pick one that’s up to the task.

How to brighten up a heavy meal
With fat, things are a bit different. Fat doesn’t make your wine taste bad, whichever wine you choose, but the right wine can brighten up a rather heavy meal. Let’s take the pork belly as an example again. Here, a light wine with crunchy acidity will cut through all that grease and make you want to have another bite, while a heavier wine might tire your palate a bit sooner. That said, it can still be a very pleasant experience. A fat, creamy chardonnay and a butter-soaked white fish can be a match made in heaven.

Salt and umami
Wine’s best friends
Salt and umami are generally wine friendly and don’t clash with anything really. Although it can be very satisfying to go for congruent pairings (as in mushroom and aged Pinot Noir, for example), it can be equally delicious to pair them with the polar opposite (like salty cheese and sweet wine).

Hang on, what does any of this have to do with Riesling?

Ok, I’m getting there. Generally, unless you’re curating the wine pairing for a tasting menu, you don’t have to worry about finding the perfect match for a dish. Most likely your guests will be sharing a bottle while choosing different dishes. So what you need is something versatile. A wine that has all the matching moves, no matter who else comes to dance. A wine that has high acidity, a touch of sweetness, is aromatic, light in tannins and alcohol and just very tasty. If only I could think of one wine that has all those characteristics… oh wait! Riesling! See what I did there? I just converted you! Or maybe I at least opened your mind enough to give it a try next time someone tries to talk you into trying a crunchy Kabinett. I most certainly hope so.

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Born where the Rhine and Mosel meets, Christina is a proper wine and spirits geek, with a particular love of Riesling (perhaps unsurprisingly). While starting out as a professional horse trainer – and taking a detour while studying maths – she’s spent the last 18 years working in hospitality, running both bars and restaurants in Berlin, Paris and London, notably at Happiness Forgets and Som Saa.

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