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Wines and Seafood

August 1, 2013

While there is always a good time to enjoy fresh seafood, summer seems like the perfect season to enjoy the bounty of the ocean.  Warm nights invite us outside to dine in the seemingly endless light of summer evenings.  And with temperatures pushing the mercury upwards, lighter fare is usually on the menu.

While summer is a perfect occasion for seafood, seafood is a perfect complement to an array of wines.  The prevailing theory states “white wine for fish, red wine for meat”.  And while there is certainly some validity to that statement, wine drinkers shouldn't limit themselves to only one category.  Like any other food and wine pairing, there are a number of factors that should be evaluated in addition to the type of protein on the plate.  For example, sauces and accompaniments are important factors - just ask your local sommelier or chef.  Here is a little guide to aid you in finding that perfect match for a perfect summer night.


The rule for pairing seafood with white wine is not set in stone.  Yet, like many clichés, there is truth in the declaration.  There are a wide range of whites that pair well with seafood whether it is shellfish or swordfish, oysters or octopus.  And it is the type of seafood that will determine the best match for the wine glass.  For white flaky fish that isn't too meaty, like tilapia or cod, stick to lighter bodied whites such as Verdicchio from the Marche region of Italy or Sauvignon Blanc from Marlborough in New Zealand or the Central Coast of California.  Shellfish offers an opportunity for another range of whites, this time with bright acidity a must.  Champagne and oysters are a classic combination, although any sparkling wine on the drier side (Cava from Cataluña, Spain; Proseco from Veneto or Friuli-Venezia Giulia in Italy) will undoubtedly pair nicely as well.  Another option would be a crisp white from the Vinho Verde DOC in northwest Portugal with its abundant acidity and slight effervescence.  For more meatier fish such as tuna or swordfish, look to match it with a white that has a bit more body such as a Pinot Gris from Willamette Valley in Oregon or a Viognier from the Rhone Valley in France, Australia's Eden Valley, or Mount Harlan AVA in California.  Chardonnay is another popular option but can pose a challenge depending on its style.  New World styles found in California and Australia usually display butter, toast, and vanilla characteristics with a creamy body.  Old World styles, such as those in Burgundy, tend to showcase mineral aspects and a more structured body.  Be sure to take those differences into consideration when finding a pair for Chardonnay.


Rose is another category that can make a good pairing with seafood, especially with thicker fish. Provence in the south of France may provide the best examples although many of the world's wine regions make the style. Tuna provides an interesting pairing, especially one that may carry a bit of spice and heat.  Many Roses display an attractive fruitiness that will pair nicely with spice.


As the adage goes, red wine should not be considered when having seafood. Yet, one of the best matches may be Pinot Noir with Salmon.  The light body of Pinot Noir and delicate flavors will not overpower the fish, while Salmon is meaty enough to match a red wine.  If you care to enhance any earthy aromas in the dish, the Cote de Nuits in Burgundy is the logical choice.  If you want to lean more towards a fruitier style, Oregon's Willamette Valley, Carneros AVA in Napa Valley or Sonoma Coast AVA in California and Central Otago in New Zealand all provide promising pairings.  If Pinot Noir proves too big for your seafood dish and you are intent on drinking red, Gamay offers a lighter style.  Beaujolais in Burgundy is the region to head to and look for a wine made in one of the 10 Beaujolais Crus.

Bon appetite!

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