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There’s a lot to think about when pairing food and red wine – especially when you’re cooking fish. Yes, you read that right – red wine with fish. It’s true that the received wisdom still often says only white wine should be served with fish. But in fact, there are many great red wines which can be drunk with fish – a whole other world of taste sensations that you may not have considered yet. Fish can have delicate, nuanced flavors and can risk being overpowered, so some care is needed. Read on for some helpful tips and examples of red wine and fish pairings!
First things first: what sort of fish is on your menu? Is it strong, oily fish like mackerel or sardines? Meaty like tuna? Maybe it’s got more of a medium texture and flavor, such as trout, sea bass or cod. Or perhaps it is leaner and flakier, such as sole or perch. Knowing the fish’s character is key to matching it up with the right wine, as is an awareness of how it is cooked, and what other ingredients you’re using. Is it a spicy Asian dish, or will it be barbecued? Will there be a sauce, and how creamy? (Some sauce ingredients are a natural fit with red wine – think of tomatoes, roasted peppers, olives or mushrooms – even bacon too). Will your fish be served with meat, as a ‘surf and turf’? One thing to consider leaving out, though, is that twist of lemon you might usually use with fish – the acid can clash with the tannins in red wine and leave many of them seeming a little flat.
Oily fish: the fat in oily fish and the tannins in red wine complement each other very well – the tannins can often help to release the flavor of fats in the fish such as salmon, sardines, trout and mackerel, whilst the fat smooths out some of the more stringent tannins. Light, juicy, delicate reds like Burgundian Pinot Noir go famously well with salmon, especially when it’s cooked simply. Consider chilling the red wine too slightly for very oily fishes.
Meaty fish: tuna is the best example of this type of fish, and again it makes a great match for Burgundian Pinot Noir. Tuna is rich in iron, and this can accentuate the fruitier notes in the wine. This pairing works well whether the tuna is raw in sushi with a touch of spicy wasabi, or cooked. In particular, meaty fish also goes well with wines from Beaujolais, perhaps a Cru Gamay, as well as slightly heavier Pinot Noirs such as those from the Cote de Nuits. If you’re grilling or barbecuing your fish, the typical red wine flavors like smoke, tobacco and dried herbs will be a real winning combination.
Light, flaky fish: pike and perch are good examples of more delicate, white-fleshed, fresh-water fish. A great recipe to try is this one for Pike-Perch with Black Trumpet Mushrooms which is also served at Domaine de Cromey. A Jean-Jacques Girard Bourgogne goes surprisingly well if you’re looking for a red to pair it with. Another great idea is to serve fresh-water fish with the meurette red wine sauce you would use in an Oeufs en Meurette dish. A reasonably priced Pinot Noir or perhaps a light Beaujolais works brilliantly. This sauce requires fruit and acidity, but nothing that would overpower the dish.
As you can see, if you know what to look out for and get to know these general rules which help avoid bad pairings, then drinking red wine with fish dishes doesn’t have to be difficult or complicated. Above all, remember that if it works for you and brings you pleasure then it’s a good pairing. Be brave, uncork that red Burgundy and try it with fish tonight!
Look out for more of our articles exploring the wonderful world of Burgundy wine, like this one which is all about how to properly open a bottle of wine, and this one which takes a look at Aligoté, Burgundy’s lesser-known grape. And don’t forget our brand new Burgundy Wine Club, open for membership now!