Fish is another food which suffers from a rule regarding wine: white wine with chicken and fish. But, as with most things in the food world, changing cuisines and preferences have meant that white wine need no longer be immediately set out. That said, such rules often express delicious pairings.
Lightly Flavored Wines for Lightly Flavored Meals
One of the very useful tools for pairing a perfect wine with any meal is to remember to match the bodies of both. So a light fish should have a light wine alongside. This need not always be a white wine, but most will work quite well. That said, red wines which fit the bill are quite good as well.
Stronger Wines for Stronger Meals
Even lighter fish can demand a heavier wine, when it has been prepared in a more flavorful way. Should your fish be poached or steamed, a delicate wine will serve the meal best. Poaching a fish in a well flavored wine or dressing it with a butter sauce infused with lemon, garlic, or herbs will require you to choose another wine. Even in the white wine family, stronger wines such as Pinot Gris, Chardonnay, or a drier Sauvignon Blanc will be among the best choices. Be careful when choosing a Sauvignon Blanc, as the flavors and sweetness can vary depending on the climate. If you are determined to serve Sauvignon Blanc for dinner, consider sushi or sashimi, as the wine pairs quite well with both.
Heartier fish demand stronger wines. Think swordfish or tuna, shark and salmon (which is its own discussion entirely): these are fish which more than hold their own, even when prepared with few flashy additions. Light red wines are fine for these, such as a young Pinot noir or Chianti. A too light white wine will lose its own when it comes up against that stronger fish. Essentially, treat the very strong fish like you would a piece of meat. It has the flavor to be accorded that treatment; pairing it as you would pair a white fish will do disservice to the entire course.
More so than many other dishes, fish tends to suffer from the stereotype that it must be served with white wine. Fish is still perceived as a delicate food and so requires delicate beverages. But this is just a bias, a preference which has held sway from when wines had less variation than modern examples. For strongly sauced fish—even milder white fish—serve a stronger wine. For very assertive fish, serve a wine which matches it. And serve what you like, not what tradition demands. Tradition has a lot to say, but your tongue is the final judge. Follow the latter and you will be rewarded.
|Food||Wine (Best Pairing Listed First)|
|Blackened fish||Chenin Blanc, Pinot Blanc|
|Breaded/Fried fish||Pinot Grigio, Sparkling Wine|
|Fish/Seafood stew with broth-based sauce||Sauvignon Blanc|
|Fish/Seafood stew with tomato-based sauce||Chardonnay, Dry Rose, Pinot Blanc|
|Meaty fish (like swordfish, tuna, shark)||Chardonnay, Pinot Noir|
|Medium, white fish (like cod, halibut, bass, grouper, orange roughy, pike)||Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc|
|Mild flavored, delicate fish (like sole, flounder, snapper)||Pinot Grigio, Sauvignon Blanc|
|Smoked trout||Chardonnay, Pinot Noir|