How to Pair Wine with Salmon and Other Seafood
I’ve already talked about the fact that wine is good for you (in moderation), and we know seafood can be a superfood, so enjoying both is a win-win for your health. However, finding the best wine to pair with your seafood is a special kind of alchemy.
At its most simplistic, wine pairings have some pre-set rules—red wine for dark meat, a white for a lighter one—but pairing wine with fish can be trickier. For instance, if you’re pairing wine with salmon, do you reach for a bottle of white or red?
Don’t worry though, if you’re planning a seafood dinner, what I’m sharing this article will make picking the perfect wine easy.
Choosing the Right Wine for Seafood
Your first consideration when selecting the perfect wine pairing for seafood is weight and density. Delicate fish, like finely sliced raw bream or shellfish, pairs best with a wine that is also delicate and won’t overwhelm the subtle flavoring of the fish in question. Conversely, denser, heavier fish may warrant a more substantial white wine or even a red.
If you’re serving up something hearty, like mackerel, or finding the right wine pairing for salmon, then the perfect wine for your seafood selection might even be a red
Weight and density aren’t your only consideration, either. Cooking in sauce will affect your wine selection, as will adding spices. And while lobster and shrimp are undeniably both shellfish, you probably won’t be pairing the same wine with both fish.
It’s important to realize that fish fall into several categories.
- Light, mild and crumbly
- Medium-textured fish
- Dense, heavy fish
- Strongly flavored fish
Add to the list that the cooking method—grilling versus baking versus frying—also affects how fish tastes, and finding the right pairing can feel daunting.
So how do you decide what the best wine for shellfish is? Here’s the comprehensive guide.
Wine Pairings for Darker Fish
Getting the right wine for darker fish is particularly challenging. Finding the right wine for mackerel, for instance, is all in the cooking because different flavors combine to push and pull it in different directions. A light touch of capers and lemon makes it well suited to a delicate Grecian white wine, such as Moscophilero.
By contrast, cooking your mackerel in a mushroom sauce would better pair with a Pinot Noir. The fruitier, cherry-and-berry notes of many Californian wines are a fine compliment here or even a rosé.
Wine with Salmon
There aren’t too many instances where you’d pair red wine with fish (often white wine for seafood is best), but wine with salmon is a definite exception to the rule. When choosing a wine for salmon, a good, light red is eminently suitable. Try a pinot noir, gamay, sangiovese, or grenache for best effect.
You’ll want to take note of what you’re cooking with, though. Pairing red wine with spicy or curried seafood could lead to a metallic-tasting wine.
Other fish that reward these darker wines include red ahi tuna, which has so much weight and density that it even works well with a merlot. But it’s not always about size. Both herring and anchovies are strongly flavored fish that reward a good red wine pairing too.
Wine Pairings for Lighter Fish
Just as denser, meatier fish benefit from subtler, complex wine pairings, lighter fish, both in density and flavor, do well with an equally light, delicate wine.
Light, Crumbly Fish
For those delicate, lightweight fish like plaice and sole that fall apart on the plate, it’s hard to do better than a good Italian wine. As a general rule, coastal region wines, like the Portuguese Vinho Verde, make for a reliable and enjoyable wine pairing with fish fillet.
If you’re grilling your fish, then something like an oaked white burgundy is a tried-and-tested wine pairing that endures with good reason.
Medium Texture Fish
While also white and flaky, fish like halibut, cod, haddock, and sea bass fall into larger pieces at a higher density. They’re typically cooked with stronger herbs, as well as being a staple of the ever-popular fish and chips.
For these more robust fish, you can opt for a more robust wine pairing. An oaked wine or wine with an age to it would work well here. The Loire Valley’s Chenin Blanc would pair well here, as would an aged White Roja.
As always with fish, it’s how you cook it that makes the difference. If your shellfish dish is spicy, consider a wine with some sweetness to it, like a dry Alsatian Gewürztraminer. Our preference is for Trimbach or Domaine Weinbach, but there are certainly other options to consider.
If not, then you may prefer a palate-cleansing sauvignon blanc. Austria’s Grüner Veltliner possesses a lovely and versatile grape that adapts to almost every dish imaginable. For high-quality production, Bernard Ott is hard to beat. Weingut Bründlmayer and Weingut Hirsch are equally enjoyable alternatives.
Fundamentally, though, shellfish are light fish and go hand in hand with light wine pairings. If you’re feeling extravagant, sparkling wine or champagne would also be suitable. Returning to the Loire Valley, its Vouvray is an excellent choice, and Benoît Gautier is a perfect example.
Wine Pairings for Seafood in Sauces
When finding the right wine pairing for seafood, sauces are something else to take into consideration.
If you’ve prepared a fish in a rich mushroom sauce with plenty of cream, then a wine high in natural acidity will work to your advantage. Such is the dry Muscadet, which incidentally is also classically paired with oysters and fattier seafood.
Conversely, because tomato sauces are high in acidity, if you’ve curried or baked your seafood in one, then you’ll want to avoid pairing it with an equally acidic wine. A dry white or a light red are both excellent options, though if you choose a red, you risk the tannin level of the wine reacting to the iron in the fish. Our preference is for a chianti.
What to Remember
By now, it’s vastly apparent just how many things can and will affect your selection choices. So when you’re finding a wine pairing for your seafood, remember; weight, density, fish type, sauce, and herb choices, even style are all things that will help you make your choice. Consider what you’re cooking, what wines you enjoy, and best of luck with your wine pair.