Riesling and Food Pairing

Ingredients & Styles

Whereas Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc are made in a bevy of styles, and many options in production affect their final flavor profile, Riesling's diversity comes predominantly from its range of sweetness. Consequently, there is an amazing array of ingredients the wine can accompany, from the obvious, including fish (sole, trout, snapper, and rock cod), shellfish (scallops, shrimp, and prawns), and mild poultry (turkey, chicken, game hens, and quail), to the less obvious, including white meat (pork, ham, and veal), rich fowl (duck and goose), and charcuterie (sausages and cured meats). Vegetables that are sweet or imply sweetness are lovely with Riesling, including corn and root vegetables such as sweet potatoes, yams, and slow-roasted turnips or rutabaga.

Bone-dry Rieslings are lean, bright, and refreshing and will easily stand in wherever a squeeze of lemon or lime would enhance the dish --a plate of oysters, scaloppine of pork or veal, or a simply poached salmon. The issue here is whether you are serving a more generous style from a warmer climate (Australia or California) or a lighter, less ample wine from Germany, Austria, or New Zealand. Remember the basic rule of matching the level of alcohol with the richness of the food. 

Off-dry Rieslings (Kabinett or Spätlese or those simply labeled off-dry) are magnificent at foiling spicy heat (as in an Indian tandoori or Szechuan shrimp) or mimicking sweetness (think tamarind- or pomegranate-glazed pork roast, white fish with fruit salsa, or a sweet Korean barbecued chicken). Additionally, off-dry Riesling is sublime with smoked items (especially salmon, trout, and pork) or recipes made with them, like pasta dishes. Moderate levels of salt can also be balanced with these off-dry styles. 

Very sweet dessert-style wines are wonderful for pairing with desserts based on tropical fruit, white stone fruit (peach, nectarine, and plum), and tree fruit (especially in tarts, poached fruit, and compotes) or custards such as crème brûlée or a not too caramelly crème caramel. Sweeter citrus dishes (such as candied oranges) are also extraordinary with Riesling, as is almost any fruit prepared in honey. Avoid chocolate, coffee, and mochas, as they bury the subtlety of the Riesling. And, as always, ensure that the dessert is less sweet than the wine.  

The chart below is a recommended guide to some general pairing ideas for Riesling. There are no mandated rules. Feel free to be adventurous and creative while being thoughtful and aware of the grape’s inherent personality.

Wine Style
Sugar Level
Ingredients Cuisines + Cooking Methods
Bone Dry Shellfish, fish, white meat, mild poultry
Foods with a little sweetness but less sweet than the wine (corn, carrots, yams)
Simply prepared foods enhanced by a squeeze of lemon, e.g. fresh oysters, veal scaloppine, simple poached salmon
Slow-roasted root vegetables
(Kabinett, Spätlese)
Charcuterie, ham, smoked items (salmon, trout, pork)
Rich fattier fowl (duck, goose)
Salt (moderate amounts)
Mildly salty cheeses, not-too-pungent blue cheeses
Spices with a moderate amount of heat
Spices such as cardamom, clove, star anise
Cool-climate fruit (blueberries)
Marinades and sauces that are sweet/sour, sweet/salty, sweet with some spicy aromatics.
Dishes with a little spicy heat, e.g. Indian tandoori, Szechuan shrimp, sushi on sweet, vinegared rice
Dishes with a little sweetness, e.g. tamarind- or pomegranate-glazed pork roast, white fish with fruit salsa, sweet Korean barbecued chicken
Pasta dishes with smoked items
Sweet Dessert Style Tropical fruit, white stone fruit (peach, nectarine, plum) Desserts based on tropical fruit
Compotes, tarts of tree fruit
Poached fruit, fruit prepared in honey
Sweeter citrus dishes, e.g. candied oranges
Avoid coffee, chocolate, mocha

Methods of Cooking

Wine Profile

Lean bright refreshing (cooler climate) to slightly ampler style from a warmer climate

Cooking Methods and Ingredients

Prepare white meats or chicken very simply and just add a spritz of lemon (e.g. veal scaloppine). Caramelize or braise onions to act as a bridge of sweetness. Add herbs to lentils, beans and other legumes to go well with the white wine. Sautée apples (which are both tart and sweet) and put them in a savory dish. 

Wine Profile

Slightly rounder on the palate than done dry examples

Cooking Methods and Ingredients

From Nuevo Latino to Indian, Riesling pairs with major cuisines from around the world. Prepare marinades and sauces that are both sweet-sour, or sweet-salty, or sweet with some spicy aromatics. Remember to, however, make the sauce less sweet than the wine and don’t overwhelm the wine with spices that are too hot. Smoked items (especially salmon, trout, and pork) or recipes made with them, like pasta dishes, are winners. Moderate levels of salt can also be balanced with these off-dry styles.

Wine Profile

Low to medium-low alcohol, round, smooth and creamy texture, with aromas/flavors of dried apricot, dried peach, raisin, caramel, quince, candied citrus, marmalade

Cooking Methods and Ingredients

Make sure the wine is sweeter than the food e.g. the crème caramel should not be too “caramelly.” Avoid coffee, chocolate, mocha as they overwhelm the subtle Riesling.

Pairing Pointers

Riesling works well: 

  • With almost all fatty poultry, especially with goose, duck, and other rich, gamy birds. As a counterbalance to rich, salty meats and meat treatments -- ham, sausage, charcuterie, and the like. It also works with mildly salty cheeses: mildly pungent blue-veined cheeses such as Gorgonzola dolcelatte are sublime. 
  • With aromatic and distinctive marinades or sauces, especially plays of sweet and sour, sweet and salt, and sweet and spicy aromatics (chiles). And it's great with almost all sushi served on sweet vinegared sushi rice! 
  • With most picnic dishes, from pâté to sliced ham, and cold chicken to tuna-salad sandwiches. 
  • With many exotic and flavorful spices. Try Rieslings with foods seasoned with curry, cardamom, cinnamon, clove, mace, star anise, cumin, and turmeric. 
  • With many initial courses, which tend to stress salt, fat, and flavors that fall between savory and sweet (such as pâtés, savory mousses, sauces with sweet notes, and preparations with scallops and shrimp). 
  • With foods which are slightly sweet, from U.S. holiday season fare to Thai, and from Malaysian to Nuevo Latino. 
  • With crab, lobster, prawns, and other sweet shellfish. The wine's real or implied sweetness pops the ingredients. 
  • With quiche: Riesling is one of the few wines that can hold its own with egg dishes. 

Riesling doesn't work: 

  • With dishes that are overpowering. It can be lost behind a dish that's too rich and dominant. Most Rieslings are subtle. 
  • When you pick the wrong one: A sharp, dry, and puckery Riesling is great with a plate of oysters, whereas an off-dry, semi-luscious interpretation will be much less successful. 
  • With dishes that are very peppery: Too much cracked black pepper overpowers most Rieslings, though off-dry examples may fare better. 
  • With most green vegetable preparations, unless they are slightly sweet (like snap peas with a slightly sweet Asian sauce). 
  • With traditional red-meat dishes. While a sauce or a long braise could steer the dish the right way, Riesling is not at its best with simply sauteed or roasted lamb, beef, or venison.