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Cheese + Wine: Riesling

In terms of versatility, riesling can’t be beat. Whether bone-dry or as sweet as honey, the grape combines power and delicacy like no other. The wine’s strength comes from palate-whetting, fat-cutting acidity and subtle clear, bright flavors with nary a hint of oak. Riesling is also lauded for its ability to reflect terroir, resulting in many distinct styles. For instance, Australian riesling is nearly always dry and limey with gingery spice. Those from California and Washington State are full- bodied, with fruit flavors edging toward apple and peach. Austria’s versions are richer and drier, as are those from Alsace.

However, it’s Germany that produces the widest range of rieslings in the world, from light, crisp, lemony quaffs to honeyed dessert wines, all classified by the ripeness of the grapes before harvest. Kabinett designates a wine of average ripeness, crisp and dry, while Spätlese, Auslese, Beerenauslese (BA, for short), and Trockenbeerenauslese (TBA) move from gentle sweetness to candied intensity. A special category, Eiswein (“ice wine”), denotes wine made from grapes frozen on the vines. (A word of warning: Any of these styles may be made bone-dry with longer fermentation.)

When it comes to pairing with cheese, though, sweeter riesling—from Spätlese on—have the advantage. Extra ripeness amplifies flavor, smoothing the grape’s citrus notes into more curd-friendly tones of apple, pear, and apricot. Riesling’s naturally high acidity also prevents even the most saccharine wines from being cloying—and allows them to take on tangy goat cheeses and cut through decadent triple creams. Another bonus: Less fermented sugar in a wine means lower alcohol—some rieslings clock in at only 8 percent ABV, so go ahead and indulge in a few glasses before, during, and after the cheese course.

Four to Pour

When pairing sweet riesling with cheese, try to match weight and intensity. The examples below are listed from lightest to heaviest.

Spätlese riesling

Dr. Loosen 2014 Mosel Graacher Himmelreich + young Gruyère AOP

Auslese riesling

Fritz Haag 2014 Mosel Brauneberger Juffer Sonnenuhr + aged Comté AOP

Beerenauslese riesling

Domdechant Werner 2013 Rheingau Hochheimer Kirchenstück + Munster AOP

Trockenbeerenauslese riesling

Weingut Robert Weil 2013 Rheingau Kiedrich Gräfenberg + Roquefort AOP

Feature Photo Credit: Hans Geel | Shutterstock

Tara Q. Thomas

Brooklyn, N.Y.-based Tara Q. Thomas is the Executive Editor of Wine & Spirits Magazine and the author of the second edition of The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Wine Basics.