Seafood—think oysters on the half-shell, plank-grilled salmon, shrimp cocktail and more—is perfect for this season’s warm weather. Because we know it can be intimidating, we asked California wine country-based sommelier Jennifer Ingellis, one of Food & Wine magazine’s Sommeliers of the Year in 2012, for her tips on how to pair wine with seafood. Read on for her helpful hints and food pairing suggestions, then pick up a bottle for your next dinner party.
Consider Whether Your Seafood Is Delicate or Rich
Just like other food and wine pairings, if your seafood choice or the overall dish is delicate or lighter in style, a light, dry white wine is in order. Conversely, if the seafood dish is more substantial, a richer, more full-bodied white would be the best choice. Shucked raw oysters with mignonette are best when paired with a dry, crisp white wine, like this Napa Sauvignon Blanc, or sparkling wine, whereas grilled lobster tails are perfect paired with a rich, buttery California Chardonnay.
Choose Wines from Seaside Regions
Look to places around the world whose cuisine is centered around fish for inspiration. The wines from these seaside regions are tailor-made for seafood and local winemakers have, for centuries, crafted wines to pair with the “fruits of the sea”—the heart of their cuisine. One of our favorite seafood dishes, fish with lemon and caper sauce, works well with a Sicilian white from the slopes of Mt. Etna: Murgo Etna Bianco.
Don’t Be Afraid to Pair Fish with Light Reds
Throw out any notion that only white wine goes with fish or seafood. In fact, lighter red wines stand up beautifully to many hearty or spicy seafood dishes. For instance, Spanish paella with with chorizo and seafood is classically paired with Tempranillo, or cedar-planked salmon is seamless with Pinot Noir. Strong-flavored and dark-fleshed fish, like swordfish, also pairs well with reds. And finally, look to other bold ingredients in the recipe for guidance; many seafood dishes incorporating mushrooms or olives can also stand up to light red wines.
Incorporate Sweet, Spicy, or Tropical Flavors
Sweet-fleshed fish and shellfish, like prawns and crab, pair naturally with juicy, fruit-driven whites, like Sauvignon Blanc from the United States, German Riesling, or French Chenin Blanc. If the dish incorporates a bit of chile heat, look to a white wine with more fruit, like an off-dry Riesling. Or, if tropical fruit or citrus is the collaborating ingredient, such as in shrimp tacos with pineapple salsa, look to a juicy Sauvignon Blanc or this Verdelho from Australia.
Last but not least, remember to have fun along the way and experiment with pairings. Some of the best combinations can happen purely by chance!