April is a wonderful time for lovers of fish and sea food. Fish such as sardines and sea food such as oysters and cockles are in season whilst foods such as clams, mussels and sea bass are still just about at their seasonal best.
There is a multitude of delicious ways to serve and eat fish and sea food from the simplest poached or grilled fish to a shellfish salad or pasta but the basic rules for wine remain largely the same. Firstly, unless you’re eating strongly flavoured oily fish stick with white wine or possibly rose. Secondly, remember that many fish and sea foods are delicately flavoured and therefore need to be accompanied by a delicate white wine. Finally, be careful with your wine choice as some wines, even whites, can emphasize the “fishy” taste of the food unpleasantly.
Let us start with the foods which are coming to the end of their season such as sea bass, mussels and clams. Sea bass needs a white wine with a degree of acidity to cut through the fattiness of the fish. This rule applies even if the fish is served with a variety of different dressings or sauces. A crisp, unoaked Chardonnay such as Chablis makes a refreshing match with sea bass, emphasizing the freshness of both the white wine and the fish (always assuming the sea bass is as fresh as it should be). Another lovely acidic and crisp option is a French Sauvignon Blanc such as Sancerre, white Graves or Pouilly Fume. Sancerre is particularly good if the sea bass is served with a hollandaise sauce. Even Riesling makes an acceptable match.
Clams have sweet and flavoursome flesh which makes them easy to match with white wine. Sauvignon Blanc is once again a good match, particularly styles from Sancerre and South Africa if the clams are served plain. Sauvignons from Bordeaux and Chile are also good but those from Australia and New Zealand can be too fruity. Muscadet Sur Lie, Pinot Grigio or Alsace Pinot Blanc are also enjoyable with plain clams. If you are looking for a white wine to accompany an American-style Clam Chowder try a Sancerre, which is delicate enough to cope with the gentle flavours of this soup. Soave or Vin de Pays des Cotes de Gascogne are also enjoyable partners.
Simple mussels steamed in wine have such a delicate flavour that you have to be careful your white wine partner does not overpower them. Muscadet Sur Lie is the best option although a Sauvignon Blanc from Chile or a Seyval Blanc are also good as are a few Spanish whites. Mussels served as Moules Marinieres offer more options for white wine matches although Muscadet Sur Lie is still the best partner. Soave makes a suitable alternative or you could try a Bordeaux Blanc or a Loire Sauvignon Blanc. The cream and white sauce in Moules a la crème makes a wine match more difficult but Muscadet Sur Lie and Spanish Rueda are the best options.
We can move on now to the sea food which is coming into season. The traditional white wine partner for oysters is Champagne and the dry, crisp flavours of Champagne Blanc de Blancs and other Chardonnay and Chardonnay-Pinot Noir sparkling wines complement the flavour and texture of the oysters brilliantly. However, don’t ignore the possibilities of Muscadet Sur Lie. This is what they drink with oysters in Brittany and the wine shows the oysters at their very best. Alternatively try other crisp and dry whites such as simple Chablis, Rueda, Sancerre, Soave or Frascati. In general it’s best to avoid New World whites as they tend to be too fruity but an Aussie Semillon-Chardonnay can just about cope.
Cockles are very “fishy” and many white wines emphasize this fishiness too much. Some combinations even result in a metallic flavour. No wine is ideal but the best options are bland whites such as a Muscadet Sur Lie or a Terret from the south of France. Cockles are the main ingredient in Spaghetti alla Vongole and the best white wine partners are very dry, reasonably acidic and with neutral flavours. A dry white wine from Sicily is the best choice and other options include a Tuscan Vernaccia-Chardonnay blend or, once again, southern French Terret. Unoaked Rioja or Italian Verdicchio are other dry, gentle and acidic whites which are worth trying.
Finally, sardines. These oily fish can make many white wines taste fishy themselves whilst other whites can make the sardines taste oilier. An excellent match comes from Portugal – a white Trincadeira das Pratas from the Ribatejo region. Other lightly flavoured dry whites which make a successful accompaniment include white Rioja, Bordeaux Sauvignon Blanc, Aligote, Verdicchio and French Terret and Marsanne. For once, Muscadet Sur Lie is best avoided.
Image by alantankenghoe.