For many diners, fish is a delicate yet lighter alternative to meats. And there are many types of fish that taste very different from each other. Finding the right wine to match them and bring out the best of the meal and the wine can be challenging. In this article, you’ll learn all you need to know to find the best fish and wine pairings.
The Basic Rules for Pairing Fish and Wine
The most common rule regarding wine and food pairing is pretty simple: Drink red wine with red meats and white wine with white meats. As fish is usually put into the white meats category, most wine lovers choose a white wine to accompany it.
As a general rule, this recommendation is absolutely fair. However, there are some additional things you should keep in mind:
- Light meals go with light wines. For richer meals, you can choose a bolder wine.
- High-tannin wines can create a very unpleasant metallic taste when combined with oily fish. Thus, pair oily fish only with low-tannin wines.
- The fattier the fish is (respectively, the heavier the sauce), the more acidity your wine should have.
- If your fish is very spicy or breaded and fried, try it with sparkling wine.
After discussing these basics, let’s have a closer look at some specific fish and wine pairings.
Tuna and Wine
Tuna is a saltwater fish with hearty but lean flesh that appears red when uncooked. Due to this meaty flesh, gourmets often compare it to beef and call it the “sea steak”. Commonly, it’s served seared, glazed, or raw.
Seared tuna goes best with a light red wine that has decent acidity. Red Burgundy wines are fantastic pairings, and Pinot Noir or Gamay wines from other regions typically work well, too. Their fruity and earthy notes match the tuna’s salty taste perfectly. Fruit aromas are in particular vital if you choose a spicy seasoning for the fish. For grilled preparations, you can also pick bolder reds. Try, for instance, a Barbera wine from Italy.
If you’re not into red wines, don’t worry. Grab a dry French Riesling instead. Alternatively, consider a rosé wine. Especially Spanish Rosado from the Navarro or the Rioja region is an excellent choice.
Sometimes, tuna comes with a fruity glaze. Especially citrus juices like lemon or lime are popular for this purpose. These flavors open the door for fruity white wines. Verdelho, as well as New World Sauvignon Blanc, belong to this category.
Raw preparations like tuna tartare or sashimi are too light to stand red wines at all. Thus, it’s better to combine them with a dry white wine. Grüner Veltliner is a good pick, and so are Chardonnay wines from the Chablis appellation in Burgundy.
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Salmon and Wine
Just like tuna, salmon has pink flesh and is comparable to meats rather than to other fishes. It’s a bit oilier and richer, though, making it more difficult to pair with wines:
- First, it’s too powerful to pair with light-bodied wines. Thus, you need a medium- to full-bodied wine.
- Second, salmon is very intolerant of tannic wines. The combination of its oily flesh and high level of tannins can produce very unpleasant metallic tastes. Therefore, make sure to pick a wine that is low in tannins.
Great pairings for grilled salmon are bold, acidic red wines. Its smokey flavors go very well with Grenache, Pinot Noir, or Gamay wines from France. Merlot or Zinfandel are superb matches as well if you choose a spicy Asian or Cajun-style seasoning.
Glazes with sweet aromas, including Teriyaki or Yakitori, make your meal a good pairing for wines that offer intense citrus flavors. Interesting wines that fit into this bracket include dry Riesling, Gewürztraminer, and Albariño.
Salmon might also come uncooked in the form of sushi, sashimi, or gravlax. These dishes are best with zesty white wines such as Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, or Grüner Veltliner. Another delicious option is a Saignée rosé wine.
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Halibut and Wine
Halibut is a flatfish living in the Northern Pacific as well as the Northern Atlantic. It has white Halibut is a flatfish living in the Northern Pacific as well as the Northern Atlantic. It has white flesh with a tender texture, and it has the typical “fishy” taste that you expect from seafood. However, it’s relatively mild with subtle sweet notes.
The best ways to cook halibut are searing it in the pan, grilling it, or roasting it in the oven. As it’s low in natural oil, it’s prone to drying out. Thus, chefs cook it in a lot of olive oil or butter or marinate it properly before exposing it to heat. The marinates they make for this purpose include lemon juice, onions, parsley, black pepper, or garlic.
Excellent wines to pair with halibut are aromatic white wines. Think of a white Burgundy, especially Chardonnay, or a Portuguese Alvarinho wine such as Vinho Verde. Their high acidity and fruit flavors add perfectly to the meal because they outshine the fishy taste to some extent.
Swordfish and Wine
Swordfish is a mild-tasting fish with oily but mild flesh that is white to pinkish in color. It has an intense taste of its own that isn’t typical for fish, though. Instead, it might remind you of a very lean beef steak because of its dense texture.
The best way to prepare swordfish is to grill it after seasoning it with olive oil, pepper, and salt. However, you can also bake, broil, smoke, or fry it. With herbs such as basil, garlic, or chili, you can add some extra flavors.
The most-common wine pairing for swordfish is Chardonnay. Especially oaked variations are just bold and complex enough to stand the meaty fish without overpowering it. Wines with citrus flavors complement most seasonings, in particular those that have fruity ingredients.
If you serve the fish with a creamy or tomato-based sauce, consider matching it with dry rosé wine. The combination of fruity and floral aroma that you can find in many rosés complements the swordfish’s flavors perfectly. In any case, make sure your wine has sufficient acidity to cut through the sauce. Alternatively, try a light red wine like Pinot Noir or Gamay.
Rainbow Trout and Wine
Rainbow trout is one of the multiple species of the trout family. It can be found in many freshwater bodies all over the world. Its delicate flesh is mild in flavor with a buttery, sometimes slightly nutty taste.
Traditionally, rainbow trout is fried with the skin in butter. As it might taste rather plain on its own, it usually gets seasoned with a variety of herbs and spices such as pepper, garlic, parsley, thyme, and oregano. Lemon juice is also a common ingredient.
Aromatic white wines with medium to full body are the best choice for rainbow trout. Try a Vermentino wine from Tuscany. It offers a great combination of fruity and herbal flavors that is delicious with properly seasoned fish. Alternatively, try a Chablis wine from the Burgundy region.
Another terrific option for preparations with lemon juice is Sauvignon Blanc. Its citrus aromas complement the fish’s seasoning perfectly. Go for New World wines, for instance, from Australia or New Zealand.
Fish Soup and Wine
Fish soup comes in many different variations. Traditionally, most fish soups were made from leftover fish so that you can find an incredible variety of recipes with many different types of fish. The most famous ones come from countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea.
In France, for instance, you can enjoy Bouillabaisse. This fish stew can contain all types of lean fish, including snapper, grouper, or cod, but also mussels or different kinds of shellfish. In combination with vegetables such as onions and tomatoes and herbs like thyme, bay leaf, or garlic, it offers a wide variety of flavors.
The right wine to pair with Bouillabaisse is a Sauvignon Blanc with a good acidity level. Make sure to pick an unoaked wine. Oaked types are too bold and can easily overpower the soup. A bottle from the Provence, especially the Coteaux d’Aix appellation, creates a perfect regional match.
Cacciucco is a variation of fish soup from the Italian Tuscany region. Like Bouillabaisse, it contains multiple types of fish, shellfish, and oysters. They are boiled in a tomato-based broth and seasoned with garlic, sage, chili peppers, and white wine. Traditionally, the soup is served over garlic-flavored white bread like pane Campagnolo.
Cacciucco is very versatile in terms of wine pairings. You can pair it with off-dry white like German Riesling Spätlese or French Pinot Gris, as well as light reds such as Pinot Noir. Rosé wines from Italy (Rosato) are an option as well, and so are sparkling wines. Try a white Prosecco or a red Lambrusco.
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Fish and Chips and Wine
Fish and chips might not be the first thought that a gourmet has when it comes to fish dishes. Nevertheless, this fast-food meal that you can get in many British pubs can be delicious when made properly.
Traditionally, fish and chips was made primarily from cod or haddock. But nowadays, cooks use a wide variety of white-meat fish to prepare it. They coat the filet in batter and fry it for a short time before serving it with fried potato slices (“chips” are thick variations of french fries) and pies. Tartare or vinegar-based sauces often come as a dip.
While the Brits tend to enjoy this meal with beer, you can also create surprisingly good fish and chips and wine pairings. Dry white wine with citrus aromas is a safe choice. You need some acidity to cut through the batter and the sauce, so go for a crisp Sauvignon Blanc or a Pinot Grigio. For the latter, make sure to pick a dry Italian wine because French Pinot Gris variations are too sweet. Also, stay away from oaked wines as they’re too bold and overpower the meal’s flavors.
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If you like sparkling wine, you can pair your fish and chips with a Spanish Cava or Champagne. These bubbly wines work taste fantastically with most fried finger foods because they help clean your palate after every bite.
There are many delicious fish dishes and, logically, an equal number of fantastic wine pairings. In this article, we’ve discussed the best wine pairings for the most famous fish dishes. Now it’s your turn to find out which is your favorite match.