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As we turn to the Lenten season, many of us find ourselves scrambling for recipes for a tasty fish dinner. Our culinary guru Chef Pete has an array of fish recipes on his blog, but what wines do you pair with all of these aquatic meals? There’s the old saying of white wine with white meats and red wine with red meats! However, what if you don’t care for white wines? Are you left drinking Chardonnay like a kid who doesn’t want to eat his Brussels sprouts? Or worse yet, are you stuck drinking your favorite California Cabernet Sauvignon, decimating your taste buds, and negating all the effort and subtleties of your dinner? The short answer is no.
For thousands of years, fishermen have been enjoying red wines with their fish. In general, there are two rules to stand by: the first being to drink light-bodied wines with light, flaky fish and rich, bold wines with fatty, oily fish. The second is to drink wines that go with the fish that are found there. Sockeye salmon with Oregon Pinot Noir, albacore tuna with Sicilian Nero D’Avola. Here are some of my favorite wines–reds and whites–that pair swimmingly with fish.
When it comes to shellfish, I almost always recommend crisp whites from Spain or France. The minerality of the Loire Valley whites like Muscadet and Sancerre is a perfect match for the salty, briny qualities of oysters, mussels, shrimp and langoustine. If you must have a red, I recommend a Barbera, either from the Asti region of Italy or California. They are light and easy, with lots of fresh berry; spicy, earthy notes; and a low tannic structure.
With lighter, more delicate fish, such as tilapia, sole or cod, California Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Grigio are good whites to try. Sauvignon Blanc is fresh and citrus driven while Pinot Grigio exhibits more apple and pear. For red, I suggest chilled Beaujolais, Red Burgundy, or Oregon Pinot Noir. Juicy, ripe, red plum; cherries; and hints of banana are found in Beaujolais’ pretty Gamay Noir whereas the Pinot Noirs of Burgundy and Oregon show cherry, spice and earth. If you prepare the fish lightly coated and fried, the acidity of these wines will cut though the oily qualities.
Generally, if you go to a nice steakhouse, they are going to have a dense, meaty fish on the menu. For these Stallones of the Sea, like tuna, shark, and salmon, I recommend wines with silky textures that are still light on tannin but fuller in body. Chardonnay is very adaptable and I could have thrown it in with any of these categories, but your best bet for a richer piece of fish is going to be a California Chardonnay. Now, this doesn’t mean that you have to order up a butter bomb with more oak than the hundred-acre wood, but a Russian River or Santa Barbra appellation Chardonnay with notes of vanilla and hints of apple will do. Viognier is also a great alternative. Its peachy, floral components along with its bright acidity would be perfect with seared tuna with a squeeze of lime. As for reds, as long as you stick to the rules, you should be good. Cotes Du Rhone, Washington State Merlot, and Spanish Grenache are all very different, but each would work well. They each boast of ripe, rich, dark fruits; spices; and soft tannins.
Whether it’s Lent or you just love fish, I hope my guide will help you find the right wine for you!
– Jennifer Laurie