Food and wine pairing tips: Fish

Food and wine pairing tips: Fish

by Fiona Beckett 24 August 2015

Food writer Fiona Beckett gives her top 10 tips for matching fish and wine. From shellfish to curries, Fiona's advice will help plan the perfect meal.

Fiona Beckett is an experienced, award-winning food and wine writer who has written for many of the UK's national newspapers and consumer magazines.

Fiona Beckett is an experienced, award-winning food and wine writer who has written for many of the UK's national newspapers and consumer magazines. She is currently wine columnist for the Guardian and a contributing editor to Decanter but also writes for many other publications and websites including Delicious, Sainsbury’s magazine and Scotch She publishes her own website which contains thousands of recommendations for food and wine pairings, recipes, restaurant reviews and a blog which won her the award for International Wine & Spirit Competition blogger of the year, last year. She has written 23 books including, most recently, Fiona Beckett’s Cheese Course.

If you’ve got into the habit of eating more fish over the summer you may well have been accompanying it with the local vino but just as with any other ingredient the perfect match depends on the type of fish and the way you cook it.

There’s a world of difference between delicate shellfish such as fresh crab on the one hand and a powerfully-flavoured Provencal-style fish soup or stew on the other. You can even drink red wine with fish whatever anyone tells you! Don’t believe me? Try a glass of chilled pinot noir next time you order seared tuna.

Here’s my simple 10 point guide to fish and wine pairing:

1. If you’ve got super-fresh shellfish that needs little if anything in the way of adornment, keep the wine simple too. A dry unoaked white such as a Picpoul de Pinet from the Languedoc, Muscadet from the Loire, Spanish Albarino or other crisp whites from coastal regions - will hit the spot perfectly.

2. If you’re cooking with butter or cream, Chardonnay is your friend. Simply grilled or pan-fried flat fish like plaice, brill and sole are fantastic with Chablis, especially premier cru Chablis. For richer sauces or a creamily sauced fish pie go for something a little richer like a Rully, Saint-Aubin or other subtly oaked chardonnay. Scallops and lobster love chardonnay too.

3. Fish dishes with olive oil on the other hand such as seafood salads or grilled seabass with sauce vièrge are better with sharper, zestier whites like a Sauvignon Blanc or a Sardinian Vermentino. Crisp, pale, dry rosés such as those from Provence also work well.

4. Anything fried tastes great with bubbles so next time you order a takeaway fish and chips crack open a bottle of Champagne - or Cava, depending on the occasion. (Maybe goujons for champagne and cava for the chippy ….)

5. If you’re searing or barbecuing fish, especially meaty fish like salmon, swordfish or tuna you’ll find it can take a light red. As well as pinot think Beaujolais or other Gamays, Cabernet Franc from the Loire (such as Saumur-Champigny and Chinon) and Spain’s new up-and-coming red, Mencia from Bierzo. Don’t be afraid to chill them slightly - 20-30 minutes in the fridge should do it.

6. In general oily fish such as mackerel and sardines work best with crisp whites but if they’re barbecued even they can take a red. The sardine-loving Portuguese often drink sparkling red Vinho Verde!

7. Fashionable ceviche is a little trickier. You might think because it’s raw it would suit a crisp white but that can often be knocked for six by the citrus in the marinade. I’ve found Argentina’s pretty, floral white Torrontes works best.

8. With prawn curries and other spicy fish dishes go for an aromatic white such as a Riesling or Gewurztraminer. (One of the best dishes I ever had was lobster with ginger with ‘gewurz’ as it’s known in the trade.)

9. Smoked fish such as smoked salmon or trout also lends itself well to riesling - especially German riesling. Better than champagne to be honest!

10. And that Provençal fish soup I mentioned earlier? Can’t beat a strong dry rosé in my book, Bandol rosé being my favourite.

For further advice about pairing food with wine and other drinks check out Fiona’s award-winning website