Pairing Wine With Fish

Pairing Wine With Fish

Source Decanter Magazine

Fish is a versatile ingredient that can be cooked in different ways. This means that you’ll find an array of grapes and wine styles that will pair with fish. Tradition dictates that you should always match white wine with fish, but in some cases red wine can make an ideal pairing – as can rosé. It all depends on the type of fish you’re eating and how it’s prepared.

Both texture and flavour are key here. Fish can broadly be divided into four groups:

Lean and flaky mild fish – plaice, sole, perch
Medium-textured fish – trout, seabass, haddock, cod
Meaty fish – salmon, tuna, monkfish, swordfish
Strong-flavoured fish – herring, mackerel, sardines, anchovies

Within these groups there are some general guidelines. Delicate white fish fillets need a lighter white wine; like Pinot Grigio/Pinot Gris, Albariño or Grüner Veltiner. Meanwhile meatier fish like tuna can stand up to more robust flavours such as oaked Chardonnay, Viognier or rosé.

But how a fish is cooked – grilling, baking, frying or on the barbecue – will help to narrow down your wine choice. So too will the other ingredients in the dish. For example, fish served with a creamy sauce will need a wine with high acidity to cleanse the palate between bites. Spicy fish dishes call for a wine with some sweetness to balance the heat of the spices.

White, flaky fish fillets

Delicate and mild-flavoured fish, such as plaice and sole can be prepared quickly and easily by grilling or baking, and simply served with lemon and herbs. Italian whites are a natural match, as well as the ever-popular Pinot Grigio. Island whites from Sicily and Sardinia sometimes have a fresh salty tang that works well with simply grilled fish too.

Whites from coastal wine regions are normally a safe bet with fish.

Wines with high natural acidity work well with delicate white fish in creamy sauces or cooked in butter. An unoaked Chardonnay, such as Chablis is a reliable choice, so too is Muscadet from the Loire Valley.

Another classic match, is a good, subtly oaked white Burgundy makes a perfect partner with grilled lemon sole or Dover sole meunière.

Textured white fish

Cod, halibut, haddock and sea bass can also be categorised as flaky white fish, but with bigger flakes and a more robust texture, they tend to be used in dishes with richer sauces, spices and strong-flavoured herbs.

This means you can opt for a more robust white wine, maybe with some oak or bottle age. Try styles such as aged White Rioja or Loire Valley Chenin Blanc.

Exotic, spicy Alsace whites made from Riesling, Gewurztraminer and Pinot Gris, possibly with a touch of residual sugar, will pair well with Asian-spiced textured white fish dishes. Similarly for spicy fish tacos choose an aromatic Austrian Grüner Veltliner or German Riesling – again with a touch of sweetness to temper the spice.

Herbs such as dill, tarragon, parsley, chives, marjoram and lemongrass all work particularly well with fish. Herby fish dishes call for wines that complement those flavours with their own vibrant herbal notes. Sauvignon Blanc – either fresh, zesty versions from New Zealand or more restrained herbaceous styles from the Loire Valley – makes a reliable option.

If your cod or haddock is fried in batter – either a light Japanese tempura or the classic fish and chips – look for a fresh, dry white with high acidity to counter the fattiness. Again Alvarinho/Albariño or a crisp Sauvignon Blanc from Chile or New Zealand will work well. But the truly winning combination with fried fish is a dry fizz, as the combination of bubbles and high acidity effortlessly cut through the batter.

Meaty and pink fish

When you’re pairing wines with fish that has a more meaty texture – such as swordfish or monkfish – as well as pink-fleshed fishes like tuna and salmon, the range of styles to choose from increases, as rosés and lighter reds will often work better than whites.

For example a chilled New World Pinot Noir would match equally well with seared tuna or seared salmon. Dry rosés pair especially well with all kinds of salmon dishes – and you needn’t stick to still wines. Try sparkling rosé with smoked salmon; the texture of the bubbles makes a brilliant contrast with the soft fattiness of the fish. A fruity rosé Champagne can even stand up to the chargrilled flavours of barbecued salmon.

As always, the golden rule is to think not only about the fish itself, but how it is cooked and what ingredients it’s served with. Grapes and styles including Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, Pinot Gris, manzanilla Sherry, Pinot Noir and English sparkling are among the many options for pairing with salmon depending on the dish.

Pairings with tuna dishes are similarly versatile. Juicy reds such as Beaujolais or Chinon, Austrian Zweigelt, Italy’s underrated Cerasuolo di Vittoria, Dolcetto or Valpolicella, will match grilled, seared and barbecued tuna.

Fish with strong flavours

Oily fish such as mackerel, herrings and sardines carry intense flavours of the sea and need a crisp, bracing wine to match. There are plenty of white (Portugal’s Vinho Verde), rosé (Provence) and red (Gamay-based wines that can be served chilled for extra bite) options.

Strongly flavoured fish is often simply cooked – after all, it doesn’t need much help to enhance its taste – on the grill or barbecue and served just with a squeeze of lemon or herbs. Try barbecue sardines with minerally Albariño, citrus Picpoul de Pinet or Sauvignon Blanc.

Fresh tapas-style Mediterranean anchovies are a delight with Iberian whites: Alvarinho, Albariño, Verdejo, Txakoli and salty fino or manzanilla Sherry. Cured anchovies, often used as a pizza topping or with tomato-based pasta sauces like punchy puttanesca, call for a light, juicy red. Italy’s Bardolino and Valpolicella are a good call, as are Spanish reds made from the Mencía grape.