There are people who tend to go for the same wines all the time, probably because they feel safe with the familiar. However there are so many flavours, aromas and textures in what we eat, finding the right wine to go with a dish can work wonders for the eating experience.
Matching wine with fish or seafood can be daunting but needn't be. Yes, white wines are generally the right choice, but which ones? Choose a dry white when you need a full-bodied, wine and you will be disappointed. What about seafood with heavy sauces like barbecue or tomato sauce? Do you use the same wine with grilled scallops that you do with lobster Thermidor? It can all be confusing. Here are a few rules of thumb and a few wines that I reach for whenever I am serving seafood. Don't worry if you can't get the exact wine as these are general rules, and as we all know, rules are made to be broken. As for how to tell a good wine from bad wine the answer is very simple. It has nothing to do with price, vintage or grape variety, if you enjoy it…then it's a good wine, simple!
Sparkling wine, whether it's from France, Spain, Italy, or the new world is good with fried food. I list this one first because a lot of fish and seafood are pan fried or deep fried, and while light beers match up well with fried seafood, most wines lose something when you pair them with battered or breadcrumbed fish. Not so with sparkling wine, whose bubbles cut through the weight of fried food as if the wines were made for the dish. These wines also pair well with caviar, lobster and oysters.
These are the aristocrats of white fish wines. Dry, austere and crisp, Chenin Blanc and Pinot Grigio are the wines I reach for when I am serving lean, white fish cooked simply. Sole, turbot, sea bass, silver mullet, hake, ray wings, pollack and oysters all do well with these wines.
This is the realm of the fuller whites.
Oaky Chardonnay is out of favour these days, but I love it with crab, smoked haddock, smoked mackerel and salmon. The theory here is to match a full-bodied wine with a full bodied dish. If you have a hearty soup, such as a bisque or chowder, Chardonnay works wonderfully.
If you have a fish that's a little oilier, such as sardines or mackerel, try Pinot Gris or Viognier.
These are even fuller whites that often have some lingering sweetness to them. I go for these wines with Indian, Thai or Chinese seafood dishes or anything spicy. However these wines are not good for quaffing more than a glass or two, so it's best to drink this wine with the fish course and change wine as you move on.
These wines are from Spain and Portugal, but are increasingly being produced in California. There's something about them that makes these wines absolutely perfect with shellfish: clams, mussels and scallops.
I chose this particular sherry because it is the perfect wine to go with prawns, crevettes and langoustine. If you like a prawn cocktail, a pint of prawns, bbq tiger prawns, or even a king prawn stir fry then this is the drink to go with it. Be sure to buy a good quality Spanish dry fino sherry, it should be dry enough to make your tongue ache and slightly salty.
Basically this is the light red wine category.
There are precious few instances where you'd want a big red with seafood, but light reds do quite well with salmon, tuna, mackerel, sardines or any other fatty, meaty, big-flavoured fish. I love a Chianti , which is mostly Sangiovese with pasta seafood dishes that are in a tomato sauce.
However try to avoid combining reds with spicy seafood, as you will probably get a nasty metallic/inky taste.
I will serve a good rosé when the sauce is heavier than what I want for a white, but not quite right for a full-on red. Roses can substitute for full-bodied whites such as Chardonnay and Fume Blanc. I use them a lot in summer. These are good with barbequed `seafood, whereas salmon and sea trout always seem to sit well with a nicely chilled rosé.
Finally I must give a mention one of the best wines in the world that surprisingly comes from only a few miles away from us in here in Bodmin. Camel Valley produces some great wines right here in Cornwall and their 2011 Camel Valley 'Cornwall' Brut is simply stunning. If you have any negative preconceptions about British wines this will change your mind in one sip…guaranteed!