Wine with Food: Seafood
By Paul Kalemkiarian Sr. | February 1982
Whether you are serving fish and seafood as a course, or as an entree, they deserve a wine of their own. There is no beverage more suitable than wine for the gastronomic delights of the bounty from our seas, lakes, rivers, and streams. It would be an injustice to a chef or cook, to omit wine, if the menu has items from the fish market.
But, what do you serve? Let’s look at the fare, and the selections possible to complement them. (Bearing in mind that you should set aside the finest white wines for the delicate fish, and serve the everyday, crisp and fresh wines for the fresh caught panfish).
Raw Oysters: Classically and traditionally a French Chablis for that flintly character that has not been found in any other wine, anywhere. (This chardonnay wine gains its reputation because of the unique chalky soil in Chablis, France). Another choice from France would be Muscadet, from the Loire valley. No California substitute exists for these two French wines, but a better Chardonnay from Napa or Sonoma will also complement.
Poached, grilled, or sauteed fillets, fried panfish, fried oysters: A California Sauvignon Blanc, Grey Riesling, Emerald Riesling, dry French Colombard, or dry. California Chablis. From other countries, white French Graves, French Macon Blanc, dry Rieslings from Germany, Australia or South America. My favorite import for these is young Neuchatel or Fendant from Switzerland and Verdicchio or white Lugana from Italy.
Lobster, Shrimp, and Lagosta: If the preparation is simple, a premium California Chardonnay, with three or four years of age, will be perfection with a capital “P”. Our winemakers are excelling in this area. To name a few: Hanzell, Chateau Montelena, Raymond, Stags Leap, Grgich Hills, Mayacamas, Heitz, David Bruce. From France, a fine white burgundy from Meursault, or Montrachet, if you can stand still for the prices they are asking. A lesser Macon, as long as it is not too acid, makes more price sense, but rarely matches in flavor. If a rich sauce is used, better consider a dry rose. We have many good ones in California today. A varietal Pinot Noir Blanc or Cabernet Sauvignon Blanc (which in face are really rose’s). Be sure they are young.
Halibut, Turbot, Sole, Plaice, Trout. Again a California Chardonnay of breed as listed above, and their French counterparts should be ideal. (I could be shot at dawn by a firing squad for calling the French White Burgundies counterparts to our California Chardonnays, rather than the other way around!) For lower budgets, a California Pinot Blanc will do nicely, and don’t overlook a dry Johannisberg Riesling sometime. The latter adds a whole different dimension. Use a California, or German, and there are some very decent South American and Australian ones. Another possibility at a very reasonable price is a Spanish white wine made from the Verdeja grape.
Salmon, Poached or Baked: A bold, aged California Chardonnay or French premium white burgundy will do the right complementing. Even more interesting sometimes is a light red wine like California Gamay; French Loire red wines like Bourgueil or Chinon, or Italian Bardolino. All of these reds should be young.