I was recently asked if there is a food I like to cook that is versatile enough to pair with a wide range of wines. My first instinct was to talk about chicken, which can be quite versatile. But chicken is too easy! There’s a saying with chicken, “darker meat, darker wine.” If you follow this rule, your pairing should work about 90% of the time. So I feel like I should challenge myself a little more. The dish (or fish) I would recommend that could pair with a wide range of wines is salmon!
With fish, the “darker meat, darker wine rule” doesn’t necessarily apply all the time. Fish is tricky and the wine pairing depends on a number of factors. You need to first consider the seasoning or the marinade. Sometimes there will be a sauce, and it may be creamy or citrus-based. There are many different cooking methods, as you might bake, grill, steam or poach your salmon. All these factors play an important role in creating a solid pairing.
Of course, the wine itself is the most important factor. Three of my favorite wines to pair with salmon are Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir (yes, red wine pairs, too)! I believe these wines represent a wide range of flavor profiles that match a wide range of preparations.
Chardonnay is usually a slam-dunk with salmon. If the salmon dish has any cream sauce or butter components in its recipe, a full-bodied Chardonnay will be a perfect complement. As an accompaniment, I would personally serve this type of salmon over a bed of risotto. To understand why this meal pairs well, think about how risotto is usually creamy and savory. Chardonnay has a moderate oak structure, which leads to a creamy texture in the wine, which matches the rich profile of the complete dish. Everything works in harmony with the salmon in cream sauce.
If your salmon recipe calls for fresh herbs, a crisp, citrus Sauvignon Blanc is the white wine you’ll want to pair. Sauvignon Blanc is typically a very crisp, herbaceous wine. It is usually balanced out by a touch of acidity, which can really help to enhance the fish. Remember that acidity is important with seafood. It’s the same reason you might squeeze a lemon over any fish dish.
Finally, when you are ready to get adventurous, try pairing red wine with salmon. Before I get into my wine pairing suggestion, let me start with a fundamental way to help you understand the relationship between fish and red wine. All red wines are red because of the skin contact that occurs when the grapes are pressed. Tannins are a component in red wine that are derived from the grape skin itself. Tannin gives you the drying effect in the inside of your lips when you drink red wine.
Tannins are a fish’s biggest enemy. They are a great complement for a juicy porterhouse, but when it comes to fish, you generally want to avoid them. It would be like combining chocolate and orange juice. It just doesn’t work.
Pinot Noir is the best red wine to pair with salmon, in my humble opinion. The bright fruit, acidity and soft tannins of most Pinot Noir are the exact qualities you need in order to nail a red wine and fish pairing. The best part about Pinot Noir is that it can pair with a salmon that’s grilled, baked or pan seared.
One of my all time favorite recipes to pair Pinot Noir is my Grilled Salmon Steak with Caramelized Brussels Sprouts. It may look difficult to prepare, but it’s much easier to make than it looks (especially when I’m teaching you)! And salmon steak, in case you’re wondering, is just a cross section cut on the fish as opposed to a fillet. This cut makes it much easier to grill.
I hope you have fun cooking and experimenting with your own pairings of wine and fish. With salmon season right around the corner, it’s the perfect time to level up your wine game. Let me know how it goes, and if you have any questions, use the hashtag #AskFabio and I will answer! #Wine101