You don’t need a wine expert to rattle off white wines that go swimmingly with fish. Chablis and Chardonnay are high up on the list, with unoaked versions matching up to a greater variety of seafoods. Oakier styles are better suited to richer dishes made with scallops or lobster and buttery or creamy sauces. White and flaky or simply prepared fish topped with fresh chopped herbs and a squirt of lemon or a drizzle of olive oil call for Sauvignon Blanc, Sancerre or an Italian white such as Soave or Pinot Grigio. Wine adventurists might seek out Muscadet or Cava for raw shellfish or sushi while the aromatically inclined can satisfy their sniffers with Albariño or a white Rhone blend. And let’s not forget Chenin Blanc, Pinot Gris, Riesling, Prosecco, Champagne, Vermentino…well, you get the idea. There’s no shortage of white wine choices to pair with seafood.
Wines served at yesterday's Cooking with Class private wine dinner
But red wine with fish? In summer? Yes, and yes – provided you choose the right one. To really nail the pairing, consider also how the fish is cooked and sauced.
For the fish course at last night’s Cooking with Class private client dinner, I chose the 2010 Dolcetto d’Alba Vigna del Mandorlo DOC by Elvio Cogno. Chef Dave Schy served a Mediterranean-style rockfish, a meaty fish sometimes called a poor man’s lobster. Chef broiled the fish with a dusting of fennel powder and leeks. For the sauce, he prepared a savory tomato concasse stewed with olives and olive oil, with chopped fennel fronds tossed atop the fish at the end.
Red wines are unexpectedly delightful with gentle fish preparations such as this. The lovely Cogno Dolcetto had softened tannins and just the right amount of acidity to marry with that of the tomatoes. Fruitiness was balanced by the wine’s savory qualities with anise and mineral on the palate.
When seeking to pair red wines with fish, look for reds whose acid and tannin levels are restrained. Heavy tannins can make fish taste metallic or just plain unpleasant. Also, steer clear of heavy oak, high alcohol levels and rambunctious fruit. Instead, opt for reds with an earthier, mineral or herbaceous profile.
Cooler climate and old world wines offer many options for seafood pairings. As with any type of wine, you’ll want to match the intensity of the wine to the intensity not only of the fish itself, but also its preparation style and any sauce.
Is the fish white and flaky or meaty and dark-fleshed? Are you poaching or baking, or do you prefer grilling and lots of smoke?
Chef’s Dave’s tomato concasse had intense flavors that matched up with the flavor profile and character of the Dolcetto. For its part, the Dolcetto had just enough age to yield a softer mouthfeel. Its herbaceous, mineral core harmonized with the fennel and olive overtones in the dish. Plus, the Dolcetto had the weight and structure to create a balanced pairing for a meatier choice of fish.
Other wines that can tackle seafood dishes include lighter Barberas, Italian Merlot, Bardolino or Lagrein, earthier versions of Pinot Noir, Beaujolais and Chinon (Cabernet Franc). For more adventurous seafood pairings, try Austrian St. Laurent, a relative of Pinot Noir, and Blaufränkisch, especially with salmon. Aged Riojas might cry out for lamb but younger red Riojas pair well with paella. Made from the Tempranillo grape, Riojas labeled joven or crianza sing with other seafoods, too.
Angle for one of these summer reds the next time you want to land a fish pairing that will leave guests or your tablemate surprised, yet satisfied. “White wine with fish” is an easy formula that works most of the time, but when you break the rule with the right red, you’ll come to enjoy another level of dining pleasure.