Rules are meant to be broken. We’ll begin with a common misconception found in the food and wine world. White wine does not always have to go with seafood. Period. It could be red, rosé, orange, or white. Wine is for pleasure; pairing is even more fun if there are more possibilities and less rules!
But, there is a bit to consider in a wine pairing. It is important to think of the dish as a whole; a pairing is the sum of all its parts. Pair the complete dish versus the individual food. This allows you to keep in tune with regional pairings. While halibut by itself would pair well with a dry white, the additions of lentils and salsa verde lend themselves well to a red wine. It’s important to step back and see the entire picture.
Fish has texture, an element that escalates food’s ability to play well with wine. Is the fish’s texture lean and meaty or soft and flaky? There are soft and elegant reds like Pinot Noir and Gamay and grippy reds like Sangiovese and Nebbiolo. Oak usage is another fascinating factor in the game of wine pairing. Too much will usually overpower the nuances in your dish. Oily fish like anchovies, mackerel, and trout make themselves even better contenders for pairing with reds.
Saucework and other accoutrements are integral in not only playing up a dish, but also tying the dish together. One might call sauce the glue of cooking. Sauces are not unlike a glass of wine, enhancing the food, and making it quite memorable. A pairing we love is Pinot Noir and sushi. Given the seafood possibilities that go along with a sushi experience, mix in the details of soy sauce, seaweed, and wasabi. These marry wonderfully with the elegant fruitiness and delicate minerality of Pinot Noir.
This is one of our most beloved rules when it comes to pairing food and wine;
what grows together goes together.
Volcanic wines, like Etna Rosso, will have a sense of smoke and underlying minerality speaking true to the wine’s origin. Red wines from such places as the Canary Islands, Sonoma Coast, or the Languedoc often reside a stone’s throw from the ocean. The Loire, Bordeaux, Rhone, and Burgundy are all wine regions founded upon the banks of a river valley. Take a look at the soil from any of these places and you’ll find infinite possibilities of deposits underneath the ground. In turn, the vines will take in these nutrients, quite literally expressing the terroir around them. Naturally, coastal red wines go with coastal food!
The famous Chicago chef, Charlie Trotter was famed for not only his tasting menus, but also his approach in making wine as important as the food. It was commonplace in his kitchen for the food to be paired with the wine, not the other way around. Often he would be seen pairing great Bordeaux wines with fish or vegetables, and it worked. Many of us don’t have the resources to adapt a meal to the wine; however, it is a suggestion for a greater topic—wine can certainly be the inspiration for a meal.
Preparation is integral to pairing—roasting, grilling, searing, barbequing, curing, marinating, heat, smoke, and char. These preparations make seafood even more red wine friendly, often echoing those same nuances in wine itself. Let’s use bouillabaisse, the Provencal fish stew, as an example. It’s a robust, textured stew of tomato, garlic, olive oil, fennel, wine, saffron, herbs, and plenty of briny seafood. The stew is enhanced by the pungent rouille sauce. Bouillabaisse has everything going for it to pair well with red wine: multitude of textures, Mediterranean spice, rich fats, and lingering complexity. In Lulu’s Provencal Table, writer Richard Olney spoke of pairing a young red Tempier Bandol Rouge with bouillabaisse, and it certainly worked.
Are you hungry yet? Thirsty? Join us in opening a bottle of red with fish. Fleurie Beaujolais and crispy skin trout. Etna Rosso and grilled bass. Willamette Valley Pinot Noir and Copper River Salmon. Put a chill on it if you’re so inclined. Change it up and have fun! We love the world of wine pairing and we certainly enjoy breaking the rules.