The idea that white wine is served with fish is so ingrained in our culture that most of us don’t think twice when it’s time to uncork something to complement a seafood dinner. Although it’s true that few things pair better with lobster and drawn butter than an old-vine Chenin Blanc, or with baked halibut in cream sauce than a lightly-oaked New World Chardonnay, these pairings don’t have the last word. Food and wine traditions are shapeshifters by nature rather than written-in-stone rules, so don’t be afraid to color outside the lines.
When it comes to seafood, it’s time to rethink red wine’s place at the table. And the first thing to understand about straying from the beaten path when it comes to long-standing pairing traditions is that preparation techniques, texture and ingredients are what really matter when pairing. Char, smoke and sauces create bolder flavors in seafood that call for mixing up the whites and reds when seafood is on the table.
The following are just five seafood entrées that play particularly well with red wine.
As a dish with its roots planted deep in French culinary tradition, trout almondine cries out for a pairing partner from the same region. New world Pinot Noirs are typically too bright for trout’s delicately subdued flavor, and most white wines languish when paired with rich fish such as trout. An old world Pinot Noir introduces complex subtleties, bringing out the best in trout almondine’s crispy, caramelized skin and signature brown butter sauce teased with freshly squeezed lemon and parsley. Look for something fruit forward and unoaked.
A simple drizzle of olive oil and a finishing touch of sea salt is all it takes to bring out the best in grilled black cod, but the wrong wine pairing makes this dish fall flat. Black cod is richer and more buttery than regular cod, so although you can get away with a big Chardonnay, grilling brings an element of char to the picture that makes a medium-bodied Cabernet Sauvignon a completely appropriate pairing option.
Related: Food and Wine 101: Red Wine
Tuna’s distinctively meaty flavor pairs well with any type of light red wine, but chilled Beaujolais brings out the best in tuna pan-seared in olive oil – especially when it’s been coated in coarsely ground peppercorns, freshly grated ginger, minced scallions, and chopped cilantro.
Choose a Beaujolais with strong notes of red summer berries to complement this dish.
Pairing mussels and wine depends on the type of sauce used in the preparation. Steamed mussels with just a shake or two of salt and a little butter need white wine or light beer, but everything changes when tomatoes make an entrance. Mussels sautéed with tomatoes, parsley, and onion need a plummy Merlot instead of something white. To pull it all together, add a splash or two of the wine you’ll be serving to the skillet as the mussels are sautéing.
Maple-glazed Dijon salmon sounds like a complicated dish, but it’s actually quite simple: Mix equal amounts of Dijon mustard and maple syrup, brush it over the salmon liberally with a pastry brush, wrap it in foil, and bake in the oven. Lambrusco’s sparkle brings a festive note to the table, making even quick weekday dinners seem a little like special occasions.
Keep in mind that a healthy sense of adventure is the best pairing partner no matter what type of food is on the menu. Let your personal preferences guide you, and don’t be afraid to get creative – remember, there are no wrong pairings. Whether you enjoy and appreciate the way the contents of your glass interact with what’s on your plate is all that really matters.
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