So many stars in the sky, so many fish in the sea…which one shall be yours tonight?
And how strong is the fish taste and how will it be prepared?
Go to any seafood restaurant and you’ll find a lemon wedge on your plate, because acidity neutralizes the taste of strong fish. In the same mode, butter is served with mild fish. When sitting down to a glorious steamed lobster, you will see tons of butter, but seldom any lemon, because the unique flavor of lobster will be obliterated by acidity.
Any mild white fish prepared with a simple sauce of butter and herbs will pair beautifully with a good chardonnay. This is especially true of chardonnay that has been aged in oak barrels, which makes it silky and buttery in the mouth. Fine examples can be found in California’s Russian River and Sonoma regions. White Burgundy from France will have a bit more minerality and the top wines can be extremely expensive, but there are some examples that can be quite reasonable. Try a wine from Macomb, which may cost as little as $15.
For stronger tasting fish, like bluefish, swordfish or cod, a crisply acidic Sauvignon Blanc is the perfect match. This is especially true if your fish is prepared or served with any citrus juice, gastrique or vinegar. The Sauvignon Blancs from New Zealand are now the darlings of the wine world, so they can run from $20 and up, but they are well-worth the experience. Cloudy Bay is one of the best, and still only around $25. But nice examples can be found in California and Chile. The Concho Y Toro from Chile is very tempting at around $12.
Sauvignon Blanc is also a great choice for all varieties of sushi, as it is very palate cleansing and can cut through the strong flavors of soy and wasabi.
Though Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc are the most popular white wine varietals, there are many other white wines that are worth a try with fish.
Pino Grigio is a bit more robust and will stand up nicely to fish prepared with strong flavors like garlic and capers, and it is both reasonably priced and widely available.
The Chenin Blanc varietal, especially Vouvree from the Loire Valley in France is wonderfully floral, and light, making it an excellent choice for any crab dish. It can certainly be paired with mild fish as well
People ask if it is only proper to drink white wine with fish. Absolutely not, if the fish is a rich fish like salmon or Ahi tuna.
The preparation and seasoning of the fish will also have a lot of influence on its ability to stand up to red wine.
Fish prepared Provencal style with fresh tomatoes, peppers, capers and garlic are commonly paired with red wines from the Southern Rhone region or lighter-bodied red wines from Italy like Montepulciano d’Abruzzo which is perfect for any quick sauce of fresh tomatoes.
Any fish or seafood preparation in a cream-based sauce can be paired with a Beaujolais or lighter Bordeaux, like a Fronsac or Pomerol.
Salmon or rich red Ahi tuna, especially pepper crusted, work very well with a red Zinfandel from California’s Dry Creek or Mount Vidor regions, as well as cool climate Pinot Noirs from Northern California and the Pacific Northwest. These wines are also very good with sweet and sour styles of preparations like fish served with grilled peaches or fresh berry sauces.
However, check the alcohol content of the wine before serving it with your fish. If it is any higher than 13.5%, it will tend to overwhelm the dish and will leave you with a hot sensation in your mouth.
This is by no means a comprehensive list, and as you try more wines from around the world you may find new favorites. It is just as important to drink the kind of wine that you like, but the above guidelines will ensure that your next fish dinner will be a memorable one.