Let me ask you a seemingly simple question: Why do we follow the rules? They tell us it’s a trade off. We give up the freedom to drive wherever we want at any speed. We gain the security of knowing that a car won’t plow into us at an intersection.
But what happens when following the rules offers no such safety? What happens when we do as we’re told, but we don’t get the safety we’re promised?
That, my friends, is the time for revolution.
The most antiquated, archaic, downright sadistic culinary rule is to drink “red with beef, white with fish.” Brand me a heretic. Put me in the stocks in town square. Burn me at the stake. Because there is a secret that the old guard isn’t telling you.
They are wielding the politics of fear. They say break the rules and baaaaad things could happen.
“Sure, maybe there are some reds out there that could pair well with seafood. But many of them don’t pair well with seafood, so just follow the rules and you’ll always be safe with white.”
But what if I told you that you aren’t always safe with white. There are nearly as many white wines that don’t work with seafood as red wines that don’t work.
Or in a more positive light, there are countless reds and whites that go great with seafood! “Color” is not the determining factor. “Weight” and “acidity” are the most important factors.
I proclaim from the highest mountain: “End segregation. Judge no wine by merely its color. The streets will run red with fruit-forward Pinot Noir and we will cast away the shackles yesterdays food rules. Power to the people!”
Don’t think of these are rules, think of these as suggestions. (Now if I could only get some people to listen to me on this whole “don’t eat until everyone is served” rule…)
“Yes” You Can Drink Red With Seafood
Red wines, especially Pinot Noirs, are great with fish and shellfish: Tuna, Salmon, Swordfish, Sardines, Mackerel, Clams and Mussels. Other red wines that are great with seafood include Valpolicellas, Beaujolais and Italian Barberas.
And “No” Not Every White Goes With Seafood
Just because it’s white doesn’t mean it’s a great seafood pair. White wines that are sweet, oaky or too buttery can be terrible matches with fish. Stick to bright, crisp whites like Albarinos, Sauvignon Blancs, light Chardonnays and Sancerres.
It’s not just the fish – the sauce (and seasoning) plays a huge part in pairing. Creamy, buttery sauces , rich spicy sauces or flavorful seasoning can always take a bigger wine. And crisp whites tend to “cut” through buttery sauces very nicely.
Begging For Complements – And Contrasts
Wine isn’t just about “matching” – wine can complement the flavors in food as well as contrast them. A bright crisp Albariño can compliment Halibut with lemon, but it can also nicely contrast a briny raw oyster. Don’t get obsessed with matching – a red tie looks better with a white shirt and dark blue suit than with a red suit and red shirt.
Start With Tart
As a general rule, wines are higher in acidity pair well with seafood. The same way that squeezing lemon on fish bring out its sweetness, so do acidic wines. This holds true for reds and whites.
Stay Out Of The Woods
Heavily-oaked wines tend to overpower light fish, especially in Chardonnays. Un-oaked “stainless steel” chardonnays are great…and lightly oaked Chardonnays work too. Want a woodier wine? Pair with smoked or grilled fish.
Lay Off The Sweets
Fresh seafood is sweet – a purely sweet wine will fight with the fish. However, complex wines with sweetness can be a nice pair if they have other flavors alongside the sweet, such as dry Rosés and high end complex Reislings.
Drink What You Like!
Never let the idea of pairing force you into a wine you don’t like. Sometimes wine compliments food, and sometimes food showcases wine. Want to drink a big Cabernet? Great! Its possible to pick seafood that will let it be the star.
Jon Alexis is the owner of TJ’s Fresh Seafood Market and one of the very few fishmongers in Dallas. He is also a regular contributor to craveDFW.