Mosel Riesling: Knowing Your RS From Your Elbow

Drinks: Wines
Location: Europe, Germany

Will it be a sweet success story pairing a selection of St Urbans-Hof’s off-dry Mosel Rieslings with modern European food? Andrew Catchpole finds out.

Good Mosel Riesling, in all its elegant, mineral-slaked glory, is one of the all-time classics, loved by those in the know for its thrilling combination of piercing aromatics, refreshing acidity and delicate yet remarkably persistent length. 

So far, so good, if one is reeling off all the attributes of a great and flexible food-partner. A ‘must-list’ then, surely, for any serious sommelier. 

Except, there’s a hitch. Widely varying levels of residual sugar in Mosel Rieslings, range from dry, to off-dry, to medium, to sweet, posing a challenge that can leave sommeliers shrinking from recommending these wines. 

Well, at Imbibe we’re suckers for seductive Rieslings, and this was excuse enough to see if we could clear up any common misconceptions impeding the progress of this very special varietal.

So, with this in mind, our team organised a sommelier workshop, featuring leading producer Nik Weis  of St Urbans-Hof, posing the question: ‘Can wines with RS work with food?’ 

Working with the Rieslings of a single, much celebrated producer, meaning there was a common thread to the wines; it was also decided we needed to move beyond the ‘ghetto-mindset’ of Riesling and Asian food-pairing and  put the wines to the test in a modern Anglo-French food context, courtesy  of Alex Gauthier’s Gauthier Soho. 

Our panel of sommeliers, led by consultant Walter Speller and Nik Weis, tasted six wines: including QbA, Kabinett, Spätlese and Auslese, from various terroirs, vintages and quality levels, and with RS of 6.7 to 61 grams per litre. Next, it was time to pit the wines against six complex seasonal dishes: potentially tricky matches for any wine. 

‘We’d like you to consider which wine pairs best, and what it is about that wine that complements or contrasts with elements in the dish,’ directed Speller. A match was suggested for each dish on the menu, but the sommeliers were encouraged to experiment further with the other wines, and to discuss their choices after each course. 

The results were eye-opening, with differing levels of residual sugar playing a key role in a variety of successful pairings. And, as ever, it was often the secondary ingredients that defined the flavour profile – and thus best wine-matches – for each course. 

Moreover, it was with these nuances – the likes of tomato and asparagus, sorrel and cherry jam, jus, glazes and sauces; sweet, acid and bitter notes – that the  RS component really came into its own. 


Soft South Coast Crab & Chilli

Salty-sweet crab and clams, with subtle chilli spice and an aromatic hint of lemongrass. Offset by a tangy fresh summer herb salad. 

Star Pairing: 2009 Leiwener Laurentiuslay Grosses Gewächs (RS 6.7g/l)

‘The drier, minerally intense fruit concentration of this grand cru stood up and enhanced the salty-sweet flavours in this dish,’ SK. 

Second Helping:  2010 Urban Riesling QbA  (RS 36.2g/l)  ‘This worked well as an all-rounder, its sweetness and relatively high acidity working as a complementary backdrop, lifting the spicy-sweet notes within the dish,’ MH. 

Grilled Scottish Scallops

Sweet scallop flesh with tricky white asparagus and sauce choron – a tomato purée-infused variant on Béarnaise, which delivers a creamy texture and acidity. 

Star Pairing: 2007 Ockfener Bockstein Riesling Spätlese Feinherb (61g/l)

‘This wine really brought out the sweetness in the tomato but also possessed the richness and development needed to highlight the flavour of the scallops whilst avoiding a  clash with the asparagus,’ SG. 

Second Helping:  1990 Ockfener Bockstein Riesling Auslese (58.1g/l)

‘For me the combination of smokiness, tomatoes, creamy texture and asparagus in this dish, meant that the 1990 Auslese’s incredible balance of sweetness and acidity worked well on all levels,’ SK. 

Roasted Shetland Langoustine

Flavoursome langoustine combined with earthy morels and broad beans: a rich,  almost autumnal dish. 

Star Pairing: 2007 Ockfener Bockstein Riesling Spätlese Feinherb (61g/l)

‘This was a great pairing, the flavours of both the wine and the dish remained pure, the wine’s acidity lifted the food’s flavours on the palate, and its concentration matched and complemented this,’ SG. 

Second Helping:  2007 Leiwener Laurentiuslay Riesling Spätlese  Feinherb (32.3g/l)

‘This complex dish had a rich texture and mouthfeel, and the Leiwener’s combination of lower residual sugar, fresh acidity and development helped to highlight the complexity of the dish,’ IA. 

Herb-Steamed Trout

Sautéed green asparagus and tangy sorrel made for an explosion of refreshingly bitter chlorophyll notes enveloping the delicately fresh trout. 

Star Pairing: 2009 Leiwener Laurentiuslay Grosses Gewächs (6.7g/l)

‘This was a demanding dish, dominated by “green” flavours, so needed the drier structure and depth of the grand cru to ensure the wine stood out and didn’t clash with the freshness of the asparagus and sorrel,’ MH. 

Second Helping:  2010 Urban Riesling QbA  (RS 36.2g/l)

‘A less complex wine, yet with good acidity and texture, it stood up well as a backdrop allowing the dish’s green flavours to shine,’ SH. 

Glazed Pig Belly

Unctuously rich and tender pork, offset by the bite of baby leeks and a bittersweet hint of black cherry jam.

Star Pairing: 2007 Ockfener Bockstein Riesling Spätlese Feinherb (61g/l)

‘The pork was quite savoury, but with a little hint of sweetness provided by the glaze and cherry jam. So the creamy texture and good acidity of the Bockstein really complemented this rich and complex dish,’ IA.

Second Helping:  2007 Leiwener  Laurentiuslay Riesling Spätlese Feinherb (32.3g/l)

‘This wine worked because it simultaneously complemented the rich flavours and lifted the palate, offering contrasting freshness of acidity between mouthfuls,’ SC. 

Honey-Roasted Duck Breast

Sweet glazed turnips, tangy confit tomatoes and rich  duck breast combined with  a subtle lick of spicy jus. 

Star Pairing:  2007 Leiwener Laurentiuslay Riesling Spätlese Feinherb (RS 32.3g/l)

‘The Laurentiuslay provided a note of ginger spiciness and boasted a fresh balance that really complemented the flavours of the duck without the wine losing any of its own character on the palate,’ SC. 

Second Helping:  1990 Ockfener  Bockstein Riesling  Auslese (RS 58.1g/l) 

‘The Auslese had richness and texture plus, incredibly, an impresively fresh acidity that balanced well with  the honey-roasted duck  dish and picked up its own hint of spice, matching it really very well,’ IA. 

Our Experts’ Conclusions

‘It was interesting to look beyond spicy Asian foods and see how the residual sugar in these wines worked with classic French and British ingredients. This workshop showed that the residual sugar, balancing the acidity in the wine, meant that a wide range of dishes could work well.’ Irina Atanasova, Les Deux Salons

 ‘It’s not really down to residual sugar alone, and it’s perhaps telling that we didn’t talk all that much about the residual sugar in isolation. More, we tended towards discussing the weight, texture, structure and balance in the wines. And it was this overall balance, rather than residual sugar on its own, that made them so interesting to pair with the food.’ Walter Speller, consultant ‘With some dishes, the residual sugar really helped in pairing the wines, but it was really more a question of all the complex factors in the wines that needed to be considered and it was this balance in the wines – between sweetness and acidity, texture and minerality – that really stood out as enhancing certain pairings.’ Andrea Briccarello, Galvin La Chapelle

‘The beauty of aged Riesling is that as time passes it becomes less about sweetness and more about texture and mouthfeel, what I call “liquorocity”. This gives the possibility of pairing well with really quite complex foods.’ Nik Weis, St Urbans-Hof

‘With food and wine pairing I look for a wine that will both complement and stand up to the food, so you can still taste all the elements of both the dish and the wine. The balance of acidity and residual sugar in these wines worked well. They retained their character with quite complex dishes that could have been quite difficult to match with a lot of wines.’ Susan Cheng, The Glasshouse

‘For me the overall star was the 2007 Laurentiuslay, it had the right balance of sweetness and acidity, complexity and evolution, to work with a number of dishes and flavour-profiles. Almost as impressive though – and perhaps a good wine to sum up this tatsing – was the Urban QbA, which as a great value all-rounder either held its own or provided a good backdrop to most of these complex dishes.’  Stuart Hudson, Kanaloa

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