Pairing wines with wild-caught fish this summer is more than a matter of choosing between a cold bottle of something white or rosé. Considering wild-caught fish’s versatility as a protein, you can actually get much more out of your pairing when you match the tasting notes of your wine to the flavor profile of the overall dish.
Whether you like to choose a wine that matches your meal or prefer to pick your bottle first and have that dictate what you’re eating with it, these wine pairing ideas have you covered all season long.
Sweet and Savory Dishes
Making something sweet and savory with a sticky glaze, like miso-marinated sablefish, a teriyaki fish burger, or soy-maple salmon? A wine with a little more body and a hint of sweetness will be a perfect match; the wine won’t be overpowered by the flavors on the plate, and the sugar and richness of the dish won’t overpower your palate for the wine.
A California chardonnay like this bottle of Rorick Vineyard from Cruse Wine Co., grown in the Sierra Foothills of Petaluma, is hefty enough to stand up to sweet and savory flavors, with floral and fruity notes that come through without being too oaky. You could go with a French chardonnay as well, but French chardonnays tend to be less fruit-forward and won’t be quite as good of a pairing.
You could also go with a rosé, but branch out and find one from a region outside of the country’s famed Côtes de Provence; the rosé wines from this region are going to be a bit too light. Instead, try a darker pink rosé for more body. A bottle of A Table!!! from Fabien Jouves isn’t sweet, per se, but its flavor of nearly-ripe strawberries is a fine complement and a fun bottle to have on the table.
Fried or Oil-Poached Foods
Fried or oil-poached fish recipes benefit from acidic wines to cut their richness; you want a delicious white wine that serves as a palate cleanser, and you can go either flat or bubbly in this regard.
A crisp bottle of Graci’s Etna Bianco from Sicily has refreshing minerality with a hint of salinity that goes with practically any oily dish, whether your fish is battered, breaded, or poached. Even something pan-seared in oil would pair well with a coastal white wine like the Etna Bianco.
If you’re having a humble basket of fish and chips, a bottle of Guy Larmandier champagne is genuinely a delicious match and will satisfy your love of things both high- and low-brow. But you could also go with a more affordable Spanish cava from Recaredo, a vineyard near Barcelona, which will still be a treat.
Generally speaking, rich dishes pair well with acidic wines as sour, fresh, or citrusy flavors in the wine help to cleanse the palate. However, when you’re pairing wines with butter-based sauces, you’ll want more than just a palate cleanser in your glass if you want to get the full potential out of your meal.
A bottle of Clemens Busch Riesling Trocken is medium-bodied, but dry and has an acidity that will balance the buttery notes of your recipe, whether you’re keeping your fish simple with a drizzle of plain or herbed butter from the pan.
If you’re serving something in a brown butter sauce or something creamy — think casseroles or chowders — a riesling can actually be a little too acidic. An even better pairing is a California chardonnay with a bit of oak and creaminess like the Carneros Ranch chardonnay whose classic characteristics enhance brown butter’s caramelized notes and match heavier sauces while still being acidic enough to cut through the richness.
Acidic or Citrusy Flavors
Acidic recipes and acidic wines go hand in hand, as this pairing actually enhances the non-acidic flavors of what you’re drinking. Perhaps more importantly, if you are drinking a low-acid wine, you’ll barely be able to taste what’s in the glass after taking a bite of your meal.
For a simple fillet served with a wedge of lemon or grilled fish tacos dressed with fresh lime, a bottle of Spanish txakoli like Arzabro Txakolina’s Luzia de Ripa is a clean and citrusy match.
Spicy seafood curries — typically made with bold ingredients and flavored with something citrusy — would pair up with a bottle of fruity, zesty sauvignon blanc from Down Under or New Zealand. If you want to be a little adventurous in your pairing, try a bottle of Gentle Folk’s Schist Sauvignon Blanc, which is macerated with its skins for just a few days; it’ll be just slightly tannic due to this short period of maceration (tannins and fish are typically a no-no), a characteristic that will give the wine more heft to hold up against the stronger flavors in the dish.
A fuller-bodied rosé might be a nice match with tomato-based dishes. A bottle of Cirelli Cerasuolo d’Abruzzo, an Italian rosato made from Montepulciano grapes named for its cherry-like notes (cerasuolo means cherry in Italian), would pair well with something like sheet-pan cod with cherry tomatoes or halibut topped with a Mediterranean-inspired herbed tomato sauce.