With the warm weather hopefully arriving soon our meal inspirations are moving away from rich, hearty winter dishes in favour of lighter, healthier food. Fish dishes are popular during the summer months, often plainly grilled on the barbecue and served up with tasty salads.
However, fish can be tricky to match with wines. Many types of fish have a delicate taste, particularly if they are cooked without any sauces and are easily overpowered by many wines. Some, such as tuna, have a stronger flavour and can cope with a fuller bodied wine but even with these fish you have to be careful.
Fish dishes are paired traditionally with white wine and in most cases this traditional pairing works well. However, different white wine grapes and styles have very different strengths and characteristics so you shouldn’t just pluck a bottle of white wine from the wine rack and hope for the best.
A general rule of thumb for white fish is to choose a white wine with a gentle flavour, soft fruit and low acidity such as a gentle Sauvignon Blanc, a light Italian white or a cool-climate Chardonnay from Europe. If the fish is fried in batter it can take a slightly more flavourful white wine or even a rosé and adding a sauce can give the option of fuller bodied Australian and Californian white wines. If you squeeze lemon juice over your fish remember to take this into account with your wine as it will need a white wine with plenty of acidity to match the acid of the juice.
Cod is a good example of a delicately flavoured fish which needs a careful white wine selection to ensure its flavour is not overpowered by the wine. Whichever way it is cooked it is best served with a soft, unoaked white wine such as a Chardonnay from France, Italy or Australia or a gentle Sauvignon Blanc from Bordeaux, Spain or Chile. Alternatively you could try a bland Italian Soave.
A soft Sauvignon Blanc is a great partner for Dover sole, whether it is grilled, fried or served with a sauce. Its sweet flavour goes well with all but the most aromatic Sauvignon Blancs, particularly an unoaked Bordeaux Blanc or a Vin de Pays d’Oc. As it can cope with a hint of oak you could try a white Graves or a Sauvignon Blanc from Chile, California or Australia. If you are not a fan of Sauvignon Blanc, Soave is almost as good. Lemon sole is best served with a soft, unoaked Chardonnay – try a Chardonnay from the state of Victoria in Australia. Haddock’s mild taste means it is another fish which matches well with a soft Sauvignon Blanc Semillon blend from Bordeaux or a crisp Soave.
Soave makes a good white wine complement for many other types of fish too. Hake needs a relatively light and bland wine such as a Soave Classico or other Italian whites such as Vermentino and Verdicchio. Soave suits the delicate flavour of halibut well too, as does a Sauvignon Blanc, although avoid those from New Zealand which have a tendency to be more aromatic. An unoaked Chardonnay is also good with Halibut.
A light white wine with low acidity is required when looking for a wine partner for plaice. A light Chardonnay from Chile is good, as are lighter Chardonnays from Burgundy, Italy and Australia. Once again, Soave is a safe match. If you like your plaice battered and deep fried then a great match is a Trincadeira das Pratas from Portugal. Light Italian whites, particularly Soave, make a good partner for both grey mullet and red mullet.
If you are planning on eating John Dory or monkfish then a Chardonnay will make an excellent match. John Dory’s meaty flesh and sweet flavour is complemented by both the rich New World Chardonnays from Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and California and the more elegant Burgundies, particularly Pouilly Fuisse. Monkfish is wonderful with a Chardonnay from California or Burgundy but be wary of serving it with an oaked Chardonnay.
Trout pairs well with a soft, lightly fruity white wine and with a dry rosé. The star match is a Garnacha rosé from Spain or southern France but an Italian white from Frascati and Lugana is good as is a Spanish Rueda or a white Crozes-Hermitage.
Simple poached salmon can clash with many wines so it needs a very soft, gentle Chardonnay or Sauvignon Blanc. Try a Chardonnay from Maconnais or Cote Chalonnaise. Alternatively, look for a dry white Muscat from Alsace – its floral perfume reacts deliciously with the salmon. Smoked salmon can take a much bigger white wine and an oaked Californian Chardonnay is the star match.
Fresh tuna is a popular barbecue fish but it can be quite difficult to match its flavour with a white wine. The best partner is probably an Australian Semillon-Chardonnay and some, but not all, Burgundies go well – the best Burgundy option is a Chablis Premier Cru. White wines from southern Rhone make reasonable partners as does Vernaccia di San Gimignano from Italy.
Image by sfllaw.