The Wine Connoisseur: Pairing red wine with fish

The Wine Connoisseur: Pairing red wine with fish

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By Bob Lipinski

Bob Lipinski

For years, chefs, critics, and food writers have been telling us that red wines need to be paired with red meats and white wines with white meats or fish. This is what I call “The One Size Fits All,” concept and doesn’t take into consideration the multitude of recipes that fall “outside the box” and don’t adhere to the old “red with red wine and white with white” rules.

Some classic recipes that include fish cooked or served in a red sauce are spaghetti with red clam sauce, bouillabaisse (and other fish stews), baccalà (dried cod) in a rich tomato sauce, and lobster fra diavolo in a spicy tomato sauce. Besides these, there are hundreds of recipes for fish cooked in a red sauce and many are great paired with red wine.

Often, it is not the type of fish that determines which wine to drink, but the type of sauce, and the herbs and spices that have been used in the dish’s preparation. Fish can be poached, boiled, broiled, grilled, blackened, crusted, and so forth. It’s all about the texture of the fish after cooking. A poached fish is a simple dish that is silky tasting but lacks texture. The same fish blackened gives it a heartier texture that can stand up to a light-bodied, dry red wine.

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A young, full-bodied, oaky, and tannic Cabernet Sauvignon pairs well with beef. Yet, paired with fatty, oily, or smoked seafood, the tannins in the wine react with fish oils producing a fishy, metallic, tinny taste, and aftertaste. It would be better to serve a young, fruity, light-bodied, higher-acid, dry red wine that is low in tannin.

Some red wines that pair with fish are Pinot Noir, Barbera, Bardolino, Gamay (Beaujolais), Grignolino, Carignan, Montepulciano, and Sangiovese. These reds are also terrific with fleshier fish, such as tuna, shark, swordfish, and especially salmon. In addition, because they are in higher in acidity, oily fish like sardines, anchovies, mackerel, and bluefish also pair well with these wines. The acid helps balance the oils in the fish, similar to why we squeeze lemon onto fish.

Besides red wines, dry, crisp rosé wines like the wines from Provence and Tavel, France, and others made from Cinsaut, Grenache, Sangiovese, and Tempranillo grapes are great with shellfish (clams, oysters, mussels), scallops, shrimp, crab, and lobster. They are also pair well with a chilled shrimp cocktail sauce or mignonette served over oysters.

Don’t always follow the rules; create your own!

Bob Lipinski is the author of 10 books, including “101: Everything You Need To Know About Whiskey” and “Italian Wine & Cheese Made Simple” (available on He consults and conducts training seminars on Wine, Spirits, and Food and is available for speaking engagements. He can be reached at OR [email protected].