What is the best wine to pair with your catch? The short answer is there is no definitive answer. Or, as my Uncle Bud used to say, “All wine is great once you get through the first bottle.”
For those of us with slightly fewer ironclad constitutions, there is an assortment of tantalizing taste bud matchups one can make based on how the consistency and richness of different fish interact with wines. Thanks to the incredible variety of wine now available to most of us, throughout all seasons and the country, your options are as boundless as the bubbly.
Pinot Gris is Great with Grease!
Pinot Gris has long been a standard go-to for several fish pairings, as well as just for seafood in general. It has an acidic flavor that bursts with fruity undertones, making it a great choice to pair with more oily varieties of fish that would otherwise overpower the wine. Herring, whitebait and mackerel are good examples, as are sardines. A beautiful fat piece of salmon or tuna can go well with Pinot Gris as well, depending on the richness of the catch, although I would not bake either if you plan on pinot-ing it. Aim for a pan fry instead.
Note: A nice German Reisling is also an excellent white wine with similar paring qualities to Gris, so feel free to branch out.
Moscato and Spice and Everything Nice
Moscato might be derided as a girly drink by the ignorant set, but we love this mildly fizzy sweet sauce, and we’re comfortable with that. Traditionally, it is used as an after-dinner dessert wine, thanks to both its sweetness as well as beautiful aromas (think peach, vanilla, and caramel to start). That very sweetness makes it a great guest to bring on spicy dinner dates. If you see a lot of fish tacos in your future — all with the proper heaping piles of spicy salsa, of course — then bring some Moscato along for the ride.
Fry the Heck-oh out of Prosecco
Like Moscato, a lot of people treat Prosecco as a dessert wine. The problem with that is when you down some sweet sparkling ‘secco along with a mouthful of say, ice cream, the flavors of both get lost in all that sugary goodness. Aim instead for something on the other end of the spectrum, like the pub grub standby of Fish and Chips. The punch of salt from deep fried cod goes wonderfully with the crisp sweetness of a good Prosecco.
Get Dense with White Zin
White Zinfandel is an oft-misunderstood wine. Born in the 1970s and explicitly developed as red wine, White Zin could compete with the white wine market; a market where white wines resoundingly dominated the world of wine for a long time. Looking more like a rosé when it came out, it ended up being a phenomenal success for originator Sutter Home Winery.
Critics, as they often do, were critical, deriding it as a simple wine that lacked any sophistication. Critics can suck it.
White Zinfandel’s “simplicity” actually goes great with fish. It is mildly sweet, crisp and effortless to drink, so it works well with thicker choices like tuna, salmon, and sablefish. You will find subtle undertones of the zin start to creep out, and any doubts over its lack of sophistication will quickly wash away.
Go Mild with Sauvignon
Sauvignon Blanc is a very dry white wine; you want to avoid getting complicated if you plan on filling your glass with it. Saddled with deep earthy undertones, the wine pairs best with your milder white fish like tilapia and halibut. A simple-baked flounder is also the right choice. A little dill or comparable herb is okay, but go easy on the seasonings overall, and let the wine carry you to the French countryside on a fresh, brisk wind.
Note: Chardonnays and light Burgundy also do well here.
Yes to Pinot and Freshwater
For the uninitiated, there is somewhat of an unspoken rule that red wines and fish don’t mix – as it is preposterous and we believe a rumor largely fostered by Russian troll bots. While it is true that the high levels of tannin in red wines can easily overpower a fish meal, Pinot Noir rides the line with a light-bodied flavor that can work wonderfully with the right partner.
Lower in tannins than most other reds, Pinot Noir utterly kills it with your most popular varieties of freshwater fish, especially salmon and trout. You can feel free to lather up your catch with heavy sauces and even pasta if Pinot is involved, and we can all but promise people will be back for seconds of both plate and glass.
Gamay Gamay Gamay Some Bass!
Similar to Pinot Noir, Gamay is a light red wine that is easy on the tannins and is meant to be served chilled. It also tends to be a little cheaper than Pinot, making it an excellent option for those looking to venture down the red wine road. While it also works well with salmon and trout, we love it with hearty baked sea bass. The soft fruity undertones of the Gamay play well with bass, as even white wine aficionados are turned to the dark side after your meal.
All in all, pairing wine with fish is not hard. All you have to do is consider the consistency of the fish in question. Delicate, light fare tends to go best with delicate, light white wines. For example, while thicker and richer varieties of fish do well with richer varietals of whites and Pinots.
And hey, even if you screw up, it will all taste great by the second bottle.
Chef Bobby is a Chef and Cookbook Author. He loves to share his knowledge of cooking and handling of fish with our community.