I would like to share a piece from the newest book of chef Nathan Outlaw which my sister gave me as present this May. Hopefully you will find it interesting and helpful 🙂
Damon Little, Sommelier, Restaurant Nathan Outlaw
There’s nothing better than discovering a sensational new wine – one that ticks all the boxes, and every sip is absolute bliss. If it’s then paired successfully to a recipe the pleasure is heightened even further.
If you are feeling a little adventurous and fancy trying something new, consider buying wine from an independent wine merchant. Often the people who work there will have tasted most of the wines on offer and will be able to give you sound advice and make suitable suggestions.
Higher price does not necessarily indicate better quality wine, as you may be buying a very expensive wine that is not ready to drink and could therefore be rather unpleasant. Having said that, please be aware that if you purchase a wine for £5 almost half of that goes towards excise and duty, leaving wine that is, in reality, worth approximately £2.50. Deduct VAT, the cost of the bottle, transport, the retailer’s mark-up and the producer’s mark-up and eventually the liquid in the bottle is worth only a few pennies… Are you really going to enjoy that?
If you are not sure where to begin when it comes to choosing wine to drink with seafood, my advice would be to start by having your favourite wine with your favourite recipe. You’ll get to know which combinations are pleasurable and which are not so good. Most of us would taste the wine before eating, so sip the wine again after a mouthful of food and see how the food affects the wine and vice versa.
There are many, if not hundreds, of wines that work well with seafood beyond the familiar classic partners, such as Muscadet or Champagne with freshly shucked oysters. The most successful pairings occur when the structure of the wine works in harmony with the structure of the recipe. The structure of wine can be broken down into body and flavour intensity, acidity and sweetness.
Body and flavour intensity
A bold dish requires a bold wine. The most practical way to determine the body of a wine is to compare the mouth-feel to that of water, milk or cream, which would translate to light, medium and full bodied. Match the textures of your recipe with the body of your wine. If the dish is bold then the flavours of wine should be bold.
You can determine the level of acidity in wine by assessing the effect on salivation. The next time you taste white wine, tilt your head forward and down with your lips closed to ascertain how much saliva builds up in your mouth. Acidity in wine is detected towards the back and at the sides of your tongue. Acidity in wine pairs well with fatty or oily foods, as it has a palate-cleansing ‘cutting through’ effect, which counteracts the richness of the food. Note that acidity in food reduces the effect of acidity in wine.
This an incredibly objective aspect of wine. You may have a dry aromatic wine offering flavours of ripe peaches and apricots, which in our minds resembles sweetness, yet it is still a dry wine based on actual residual sugar. The sweetness level in wine is detected at the very tip of your tongue.
Sweet food reduces the sweetness in wine, so the sweetness in wine should either be equal or preferably a little higher than that of the dish. Sweetness in wine is also a fantastic complement to salty food, so a sweet wine works with blue cheese. Try Sauternes with Roquefort or foie gras.
Be aware that the bitterness in food increases the bitterness in wine. Also, heat generated from chilli can increase the perception of bitterness, astringency and acidity – and you will also feel the heat from the alcohol causing a slight burn.
Red wine with fish?
We have had many successful red wine pairings with seafood. There are numerous low tannin light bodied reds available. The reason those reds have a lighter body and lighter tannic structure is because the actual skin of the grape is much thinner than others. For example, Gamay and Pinot Noir will be lighter than Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. One of the most sensational combinations is salmon and beetroot with an earthy, spicy Pinot Noir that has good acidity.
Wine and seafood varieties
When choosing wine, you need to consider the different characteristics of fish and shellfish varieties.
Flat white fish: Dover sole, lemon sole, plaice, megrim, witch, turbot, brill, rays
These range in density, but generally have a light flavour. Minerality is key when choosing your matching wine. For the lighter style of flat fish like sole or plaice, pair floral wines that offer orchard fruit (apple/pear). Of course, hints of citrus are an advantage too.
Round white fish: bream, cod, gurnard, haddock, hake, John Dory, ling, monkfish, whiting
These have slightly more flavour than flat white fish, but pair well with similar wines. Wines with hints of citrus and orchard fruit work best.
White fish with slightly oily flesh: grey mullet, red mullet, bass
Wines produced on marl (marine fossil soil), such as Jura wines, complement the subtle earthiness of these fish, but acidity is of the essence here to cut through the oiliness of the fish.
Oily fish: mackerel, sardine, herring, salmon, sea trout
These stronger flavoured fish call for aromatic wines with higher acidity to cut through their oiliness. Alsace wines are good options, especially Riesling. Avoid red wine with tannins as it may cause a metallic reaction.
Cephalopods: squid, octopus, cuttles
These have a delicate flavour and a soft texture. The light, white pepperiness of Grüner Veltliner backed up by the hints of soft stone fruit work particularly well with cephalopods.
Molluscs: clams, razor clams, cockles, mussels, oysters
As these are high in minerals, avoid serving red wines with tannins, as it may cause a metallic reaction. The ultimate pairings include Champagne, Chablis and Muscadet, all of which are crisp, zingy and mineral.
Shellfish: scallops, crab, lobster
These are usually cooked with butter, or have a buttery sauce or dressing, so fuller bodied, buttery wines are an excellent choice. Try a white Burgundy from the Côte de Beaune. Very fresh shellfish has an underlying sweetness, which could be complemented by an off-dry style of wine, or a crisp, aromatic Albariño from Galicia, Spain; Gisborne from Eastland, New Zealand; or Montevideo from Uruguay.
There may be several different fish and shellfish within a dish, plus vegetables, fruit, etc. to consider when you are choosing a wine. As a guideline, try and match the flavour of your wine to the strongest flavour of the dish, but consider how it will pair with the mildest flavour too.
Reference: Nathan Outlaw (2016). Everyday Seafood: From the simplest fish to a seafood feast, 100 recipes for home cooking. London, UK: Quadrille Publishing Limited.