Riesling is a versatile white wine that pairs across a huge variety of foods. If you find yourself lacking decent Riesling options, or are simply looking for some new wines to try, here are some alternatives to explore to bring a similar flavor to complete your meal.
Of course, not every Riesling is made the same, and so you will also want to know the flavor profile of your preferred vintage before exploring too far into this list. Rieslings, generally speaking, are differentiated by their exceptional bouquet.
The aroma, born from the variety of German white grapes from which it is made, is unique in and of itself. The flavors vary, however. For our purposes, let’s divide them into six categories:
- Steely and Dry
- Rich and Dry
- Low Sweetness
- Medium Sweetness
- Heavy Sweetness
- Dessert Sweetness
I'll suggest a decent variety to switch to for each flavor profile, and a recommended brand to try under $20.
1) Steely and Dry: Sauvignon Blanc
The steely taste, essentially a high acidity that leaves a metallic taste in the mouth once the glass has been tasted, is one of the more common flavors found in a Riesling. Many European grapes from the area of Germany and Austria will produce steely tastes.
An alternative that you can try if you would like to take a new twist on steely and dry without as much of the sugary presentation, heavier on the dry and equal on the steel is Sauvignon Blanc.
Also grown in drier climates, Sauvignon Blanc grapes will produce similar citrus notes to Riesling while bringing their own unique papaya and melon variety. Often stored in oak, they can also bring a vanilla note to the experience.
This variety is best served with sauced fish, shelled food, or even curry based meats. Try a bottle of Heritance 2017 made in Napa.
2) Rich and Dry: Burgundy
The rich experience of on-the-nose flavor from a bottle of rich and dry Riesling is definitely in the wheelhouse of Burgundy wines. Most burgundy wines, made from Chardonnay grapes, are flavorful and pair well with saucy dishes.
Absent from the citrus experience of the Riesling, most Burgundy white wines will still give the dry flavor that goes well with a well-sauced fish dish. Look for a bottle of Maison Champy Mâcon Villages 2014 for a great glass to go with dinner.
3) Low Sweetness: Chenin Blanc
Leaving behind the dryness of northern Rhineland-originated Rieslings, the still relatively dry flavor you could look to pair with a light meal or a salty snack can be found with Chenin Blanc.
Known less for a citrus flavor and more for a honeyed flavor, the sweetness of Chenin Blanc does not come as much from fruit as it comes from an under expressed flavor of subtle sweets.
A great bottle to find of this variety is Mullineux “Kloof Street” Old Vine Chenin Blanc 2019.
4) Medium Sweetness: Moscato
Driving more into the range of brunch-served wines, the medium sweetness Riesling wines are more rare, but their fans are die-hard. Though the Riesling type of wine was begun in the Rhineland, many of the sweeter Rieslings can be found being bottled down under.
Australian Riesling is normally a sweeter bottle and so its essential comparable is a bottle of Moscato. Many Moscato wines are also known for their sparkling versions, such as in the popular Moscato d’Asti.
A tremendous bottle of Moscato d’Asti to pick up and consume with fresh fruits is Saracco Moscato d’Asti.
5) Heavy Sweetness: Tokaji
When it comes time to dig into a main course with roasted pork or braised veggies, a heavily sweetened Riesling is a beautiful wine to drink.
If your favorite Riesling is not available, though, a dry Tokaji is a splendid, slightly exotic alternative. Tokaji, a Hungarian style of wine that is in the extreme of sweetness, also has dry variants.
The sweetness of a Tokaji is so high that its dry version is actually comparable to one of the sweeter Riesling flavors. Reach for a bottle of Dry Tokaji Furmint “The Oddity” 2015 for a unique and one of a kind experience.
6) Dessert Wine: Ice Wine
Although nearly a contradiction to the Riesling tradition, there are still some well-loved Rieslings that are served at dessert times. The citrus of the Riesling dessert wine means that it pairs incredibly with a dessert that is fruit composed.
The same grapes that make a good sweet Riesling also go to make a good Eiswein (or Ice Wine). Ice wines are made from grapes that froze while on the vine making way for a unique concentration and redistribution of the sugars for fermentation.
A great Ice Wine to try is Inniskillin Vidal, out of Canada. It has tropical fruit notes with a delightful acidity, while not holding back on the sweetness you want at desert while serving out the apple strudel.
There are a few wines for fans of Riesling that should be tried just on their own without a food pairing alongside. These wines are crowd pleasers in their own right, and need no partner in crime for a host to impress her guests:
- Gewürztraminer Ice 2017 is a great example of how Riesling wines take sweet and put a drier twist on it. And at $25 a bottle, it won’t break the bank. When you taste it, you will find ginger, lychee, and cantaloupe and a long spicy finish. Its dryness is delightful without being steely.
- Gut Hermannsberg Weissburgunder Trocken, while a verbal mouthful, is a sweet and citrusy glass of white wine to have on a warm evening. Full bodied and dry, it presents peaches and apricots and finishes with tropical fruit.
- Apothic White rounds out this list with a unique offering all its own. A second attempt at greatness from Apothic, their white blend takes several bottles of excellent white wine and attempts to capture their best qualities in one bottle. Apothic White begins with Riesling, but very shortly after presents Chardonnay and Pinot Grigio. It finishes with a long mouthtaste with hints of vanilla and a promise of another mouthful from this delightful glass.