How to pair wine with fish
Fish can be cooked so many different ways these days that you may wonder what kind of wine you should pair with it.
So where do you start? The commonly accepted theory is that you should drink white wine with fish but of course there’s more than one style of white wine.
In general a dry white wine suits the delicate flavour of simply cooked fish, Wines that come from coastal areas such as Muscadet, Picpoul de Pinet and albarino generally do the job admirably. So does sauvignon blanc though you may have a preference for a more classic style such as Sancerre or Pouilly Fumé rather than a more aromatic one if you’re serving your fish simply.
If your fish is cooked in butter or in a creamy sauce that could steer you more in the direction of a smooth subtly oaked white like chardonnay while south-east Asian flavours like lime, coriander and chilli often benefit from an aromatic white with a touch of sweetness like riesling or pinot gris.
It’s also a question of price and occasion, isn’t it? If you’re having a fish taco any nice crisp white wine will do whereas if you’re treating yourself to a lobster or Dover sole it’s worth splashing out on a more elegant white that will really show it off
Without over-complicating matters here’s what to think about when you’re matching wine and fish
How the fish is cooked . . .
Is it simply grilled or pan-fried?
It’s all about the flavour of the fish. A fresh, unoaked dry white wine such as a picpoul or albarino will really work well with this - you should be aiming for a wine that tastes like a squeeze of lemon. For fine flat fish like brill, sole or plaice make that a Chablis or an English chardonnay
Is it deep fried? Like calamari or fish and chips?
Fizz every time for me - cava or crémant if the budget’s a bit tight, English sparkling wine or champagne if you feel like splashing out. Sauvignon blancs are good too as is English Bacchus.
Is it cooked in a creamy sauce or in a fish pie?
Creamy sauces LOVE creamy wines like chardonnay and chenin blanc
Is it a soup or a stew?
For this you may be using a cheaper fish like gurnard, pollack or whiting so it’s likely to be more about other flavours in the dish, often tomatoey. Back to dry whites like picpoul again though rosé can work well too
Are you cooking it on the barbecue?
That immediately adds a level of char that ramps up the flavour especially if you pair it with a salsa. Think zesty whites such as New Zealand sauvignon blanc or Rueda or even a chilled red.
. . . or not cooked
Raw fish preparations like ceviche and tartares are increasingly popular. With sushi or sashimi I’d be going for a super-dry white again (Getting the picture? Crisp unoaked whites are a pretty safe bet!)
If we’re simply talking cold rather than hot like a fish salad or seafood cocktail, dry riesling often works really well especially if there’s a touch of spice involved. That’s true of smoked fish like smoked trout too.
What type of fish - or shellfish - it is
So the WAY a fish is cooked is obviously going to make the biggest difference but some fish and shellfish have a particularly strong character that might influence your choice of wine
‘Meaty’ fish - like hake, turbot or monkfish need fuller bodied whites like oaked white rioja, white Côtes du Rhône, Cape white blends from South Africa or even a light red
‘Oily’ fish - you know, the kind that’s good for you! Like mackerel, sardines and sprats pair well with sharp lemony whites. (Try Greek assyrtiko!)
‘Posh’ shellfish like lobster and scallops also need a rich white like a good burgundy or other creamy chardonnay. With more delicate white crab meat I’d go for a sauvignon blanc or a riesling. Brown crab meat again is much richer - think chardonnay or even champagne in the case of Nigella’s crab mac’n’cheese. (You haven’t made that? You SHOULD!)
Can you drink red wine with fish?
You absolutely can, as I’ve already indicated. With ‘meaty’ fish like monkfish. With robust stews, especially those cooked with red wine or with beans, as the Spanish do with hake for example With fish that’s blackened or on the barbecue. Better still if you chill your red lightly. Try it!
What country the dish comes from
Sometimes you should let the other flavours in the dish or the place it comes from be your guide. So if it’s from a place that has a wine culture like France, Spain or Italy think to yourself what would the locals drink? Muscadet with moules frites for example or dry Italian whites like vermentino with spaghetti vongole.
if it’s a curry or other spicy dish you need to pay more attention to the spicing than the type of fish. Austrian grüner veltliner is a good all-rounder as is, you may be surprised to learn, a fruity rosé (with Thai green curry at least). And a dry rosé is good with Moroccan chermoula spicing too.
So just as you’re probably prepared to cook fish more adventurously than you used to don’t be afraid to drink more adventurously too!
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