“You’re having seafood? We should play it safe and order a light-flavored white wine to accompany.”
This is a commonly-heard statement at restaurants like USS Nemo, and for good reason. Most people have been led to believe that seafood is too delicate to handle anything stronger than a Sauvignon Blanc with citrus, fruit or herb overtones. Unfortunately, this is a limiting misconception and closes the door on better wine choices for seafood dishes.
The good news is that learning how to pair wine with seafood isn’t difficult. It’s just a matter of logically thinking about the type of seafood on your plate, how the seafood has been prepared and what additions have been included to the dish (e.g., spices, sauces.) By following a few tips, you’ll be confidently drinking wine with your seafood and surprising patrons at your table with your wine-choosing acumen!
Start With the Seafood on Your Plate
Seafood is extremely varied. Your seafood choices run the gamut from light halibut or flounder, to heartier tuna and swordfish. In other words, there’s no one type of seafood, which means there can’t be one type of wine to go with your preferred dish.
In general, most seafood can be deemed as mild, oily, strong and/or meaty. Mild fish requires a delicate wine that won’t overshadow its natural tenderness. As an example, the Uss Nemo Miso seabass, which tends to fall away in layers, should be paired with a crisp, gentle wine such as Pinot Grigio. On the other hand, if you order a dense swordfish steak, you can pair it with a more robust red wine such as Syrah or Malbec, or dry white wine like Chardonnay.
Oily fish (and salmon tends to top the list) does best when paired with full-bodied wines. Think of White Burgundy or Pinot Gris for a complementary snappiness to the oils in the seafood.
Look at the Seafood Preparation Methods
How your seafood has been prepared could absolutely change the wine you drink at your table. Consider a haddock that’s been fried versus one that’s been sautéed. The first is going to have a savory flavor, which makes it an ideal partner with a sweeter wine. Consider ordering a sunny Riesling as a contrast to the salty bite of the fried fish.
In general, seafood options that have been poached, steamed or baked are inherently lighter in flavor. They call for a lighter wine, but don’t be fooled into thinking that you must lean toward white varieties. Many sweeter, fruitier red wines, notably Pinot Noir selections, are perfectly suitable for bringing out the best in light fish without being overpowering.
If you’re not sure of the preparation method of your seafood, always ask your server before ordering your wine. Some preparation styles are difficult to ascertain from menu descriptions, so it’s wise to be knowledgeable and ensure that your seafood wine pairing is suitable.
Remember the Sauces, Spices and Additions
Similar to the wide varieties available via preparation methods, additions like sauces and spices can change the taste of fish.
Many chefs use seafood as the base for their plates, but the seafood can taste radically different if it’s been infused with a buttery herb sauce, laden with spicy mango-tomato salsa or drizzled with a red wine reduction. These accoutrements add excitement to seafood dishes. At the same time, they may subtly or radically alter the type of wine that will bring out their intense or underlying flavors.
For spicier seafood, you’ll need a wine pairing that can hold up. It’s wise to pick wine like Moscato, which is fruity and sweet. Moscato will help your taste buds adjust better to the spiciness in the dish, but will not compete with the intensity. On the other hand, if you’re going to enjoy seafood such as freshwater trout that’s been lovingly bathed in a rich, creamy sauce, you can feel comfortable heading to the Pinot Noir selections on the wine menu. Pinot Noir is typically fruity and floral, a light-bodied red wine that cuts the heartiness of bold sauces.
If All Else Fails… Add Sparkle!
The next time you wonder, “What types of wine are best with seafood?”, think back to this basic guide. And if you still feel like you’re unsure about the correct wine pairing, you can always hearken back to the one type that goes well with everything: sparkling wine, or Champagne! A delightful glass of sparkling wine is always a classy treat that goes alongside a well-prepared seafood masterpiece.