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November 15, 2009

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Red wines can be paired with fish

WHEN paring wines with Chinese food in Shanghai there are two unavoidable realities. First, red wine is quite popular and second, there are many delicious seafood dishes.

Dare we break the historical anecdote, "white wines with fish and red wines with meat?"

My answer is an emphatic yes. While it is true that most white wines tend to pair better with fish and red wines with red meat, there are several delicious exceptions.

The basic qualities of a wine that make it suitable for fish dishes are fruitiness and acidity.

The fruitiness tends to accentuate and complement the flavors of the fish while the acidity of a wine cleanses the mouth much in the same way that lemon does when sprinkled on fish. Qualities found in wines that we want to avoid when paring with fish are iron and strong tannins.

A Japanese study on red wines and fish published in the "ACS' Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry" found that naturally occurring irons found in many red wines accentuate unpleasant sensations of fishiness, especially in the aftertaste.

They also discovered that more acidic red wines worked better with fish as the acid in a wine acted as a chelating agent reducing the sensations of fishiness. Highly tannic or structured wines like the predominantly Cabernet Sauvignon Left Bank Bordeaux wines overpower the delicacy of fish. Therefore, when picking a red wine to match with fish you should choose a young fruity wine with good acidity. It's also a good idea to slightly chill the red wine to about 15 to 16 degrees Celsius. Here are some of my favorite styles of red wines to enjoy with fish.

Pinot Noir & Gamay

Perhaps the most popular grape to match with fish is Pinot Noir. The generous fruit and tartness of many Pinot Noirs make them natural companions to many fish dishes, especially when the fish is grilled or fried.

Pick a young Cote de Beaune from Burgundy for a fresh water fish dish like sauteed trout in a butter sauce or a robust New Zealand red wine from Marlborough like the Terrace Height Estate Pinot Noir or Spy Valley Pinot Noir for more flavorful fish dishes like Shanghai style river eel in brown sauce.

The high acidity and extreme fruitiness of Beaujolais reds make them very suitable for delicate white meat fish like flounder and sea bass. Recently, I enjoyed sauteed Dover sole in a light cream sauce with a Brouilly Cru Beaujolais. The combination was sublime.

Italian & Spanish Red Wines

In a country where fish is adored like Italy, its no surprise that there are red wines that are perfect with fish dishes. Two of my favorite Italian red wines to pair with fish are Chianti from Tuscany and Barbera from Piedmont. The natural acidity of a young Chianti wine is a flavor enhancer for grilled swordfish, tuna and sea bass.

Likewise the acidity of a Barbera interacts beautifully with a wide range of fish. My personal favorite is pairing Chinese or Thai style deep-fried whole fish in rich sauces with a top Barbera like Bricco dei Guazzi. Spanish reds that are lovely with fish include the young, unoaked or slightly oaked wines. The Joven red wines from Rioja and Ribera del Duero are natural companions to simply prepared roasted fish. Less pricy Joven wines from the emerging Spanish wine regions of Navarra and Castilla-la Mancha will add distinction to deep-fried fish and fish stews. For darker or more fatty fish like bluefish and wild salmon, more substantial Crianza red wines like those made by Muga and El Coto work better. The richness of these wines balances and augments the deep flavors of the fish.


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