When it comes to pairing wine with seafood, it’s easiest to start with the weight and texture of the fish or shellfish. The lighter and more delicate the fish, the more you’ll ask the same of the wine with crisp acidity, lean lines and well-managed fruit. For fish with heartier textures and thicker filets, the wine should bring its own weight in terms of body, style and flavor profile.
Fish Style: White, lean and flaky
Think striped sea bass, sole and tilapia. For the leaner lines and flaky, melt-in-your-mouth textures of mild, more delicate fish dishes, opt for a wine that shares many of those same parameters. Light, lean and dedicated to fresh acidity, these key wine components promise to bring out the best in the dish and not overpower the subtle flavors and savory seasonings.
Wine Style: Look for a wine with decent acidity to bring zip and lively engagement to the fish. Best bets include: Austria’s Gruner Veltliner, Spain’s Albarino, New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, and Italy’s Pinot Grigio or its French cousin, Pinot Gris.
Quick Pick: The citrus-driven, lively acidity of Astolabe’s New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc
Fish Style: White, Medium-firm texture
These filets tend to be firmer in texture and thicker in cut. Classic (delicious) examples include: cod, halibut and mahi mahi. When a fish filet has a bit more heft in terms of both weight and texture, it demands the same of the wine. It’s no mistake that a classic pairing for halibut would be a Chablis. The mild, slightly sweet and savory profile of halibut’s filets make it a natural for the engaging acidity and natural soil-born salinity of Chablis.
Wine Style: In terms of wine, there’s a bit of a range that will work well with the firmer flesh of cod, halibut and mahi mahi. From the contrast of high acidity, medium alcohol and stuffed with citrus Sauvignon Blanc style to the earthy minerality, rounder lines and rich viscosity of Semillon or Viognier this category of fish offers up a lot of flexibility in the white wine range. If the fish carries higher concentrations of oil, then a wine with high acidity will cut through the fatty components and bring a fresh flavor factor to the meal. Keep an eye out for: the dry styles of Viognier, Sancerre, Chablis, Semillon or Albarino.
Quick Pick: The rich, round flavors of Burgan’s 2016 Albarino
Fish Style: Meaty steaks
Salmon, tuna and swordfish come to mind. With heartier filets that often carry intense flavors of their own, turn to wines that deliver rich, round textures. Consider Chardonnay with a bit of oak, or a dry style Chenin Blanc. If the Salmon is grilled or carries earthy undertones in the sauce, then opt for Pinot Noir.
Quick Pick: Delights with old-vine intensity and firm fruit character all wrapped up in the yummy palate irony of this lighter-bodied 2015 Beaujolais from Stephane Aviron Moulin a Vent
Shellfish Style: Shrimp, Clams, Scallops, Oysters
With the briny, sweet textures of most shellfish, go-to pairings include Spain’s Albarino – the local favorite for all sorts of wild and assorted sea life in northeastern Spain. Or check out the Loire’s Vouvray or Cava, Spain’s well-priced sparkler, both promise to partner up well with a variety of shrimp, clams, scallops and oysters. Got some serious butter drizzling on the lobster? Grab the creamy textures of California’s oaked Chardonnay to complement the scene.
Quick Pick: A Classic California Chardonnay, best with butter and cream sauce – Rombauer Chardonnay 2016
The Sauce: Why it Matters
While the texture and weight of the fish has a significant bearing on the wine pairing, the sauce is a partner that can’t be ignored. In fact, depending on the sauce’s intensity and ingredients it can become a bigger player than the fish itself. If the sauce leans into heavy butter and cream themes, stick with a wine that shares the same – namely a California Chardonnay with some oak influence. If the sauce steers light and herbal, run with Sauvignon blanc and Gruner Veltliner. Got some red onions or dazzling dill on that salmon? Grab something light and red like Beaujolais or Oregon Pinot Noir.