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April 4, 2021

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Try the red road with your seafood

SPRING brings rebirth and warmth. Derived from the Old English word springan — meaning to leap and burst forth as well as spread and grow — spring is indeed a glorious season. In Shanghai, the advent of spring also means seasonal seafood delights that are best enjoyed with fine wines.

The wine world’s historical food pairing, white wines with fish and red wines with meat, is increasingly antiquated. It remains true that on average white wines pair better with seafood and red wines are natural companions to red meat; however, there exist several delicious deviations. One example is pairing red wines with seafood.

The perfect wine for seafood very much depends on the type of seafood and preparation method. Fruit, minerality and other qualities found in wines are all beneficial; but in wine and seafood pairings, acidity rules.

Gourmet cultures around the globe have historically used acidic ingredients to embellish their signature seafood dishes. In the West, it’s popular to sprinkle lemon on fish and shellfish, while in the East Thais liberally use lemon grass to add freshness and balance. Likewise, enjoying hairy crab without vinegar is inconceivable.

Qualities in red wines that we want to avoid when paring with seafood are iron and strong tannins. A Japanese study on red wines and seafood in the prestigious “ACS’ Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry” said naturally occurring irons found in many red wines accentuate unpleasant sensations of fishiness, especially in the aftertaste. They also found more acidic red wines worked better with seafood as the acid in a wine acted as a chelating (bonding) agent that reduces the unpleasant sensations of fishiness.

So, when picking a red wine to match with seafood your safest bet is to choose a fruity and acidic wine that’s naturally low in iron and tannins. A noble and historic grape variety sports all these seafood-friendly attributes.

The first love of wine aficionados is seldom Pinot Noir. Like many of the gourmet world’s greatest treats, this delicate and difficult grape tends to be an acquired taste. While Burgundy is still the unquestioned spiritual home of Pinot Noir, making some of the most sought after and costly red wines, a growing number of precocious New World wine regions are discovering the secrets of this perplexing grape. One of the most notable hails from the land of the Kiwis.

Marlborough

On the northeastern tip of the South Island, Marlborough is New Zealand’s largest and most famous wine region. The first vines were planted in the 1870s but over the next 100 years winemaking remained obscure and inconsequential. Commercial winemaking started in earnest in 1973 and by the early 1980s, Marlborough Sauvignon Blancs had exploded onto the world’s wine scene becoming the poster child of New World whites.

It almost seems sacrilege to write about Marlborough and not focus on Sauvignon Blanc, but this white Bordeaux variety hardly fits my topic of red wines and seafood.

The white variety put the region on the world’s wine map and continues to dominate the landscape. But since 2000, Pinot Noir has built its own bravura reputation in Marlborough.

Before the new millennium, Pinot Noir was used mostly for sparkling wine. Since then, plantings have grown fourfold and the wine has built its own laudable reputation.

Marlborough has three major sub-regions: the Wairau Valley, the Awatere Valley and Southern Valleys. The latter with moisture retaining clay soils, rolling hills and cool ocean breezes is particularly known for Pinot Noir.

Marlborough pinots commonly offer sensations of black cherry, plum and red fruit with hints of spice and fine tannins. One excellent example is the Nuala Marlborough Pinot Noir. Nuala means purity in Maori and this wine is clean and elegant with excellent varietal qualities.

Other Marlborough producers with excellent pinots in our fair city include Matua, Villa Maria, Spy Valley and Seresin.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that some of New Zealand’s most acclaimed Pinot Noir wines come from other regions. The Marlborough examples tend to be lighter, fruitier and less tannic than other Kiwi pinots and therefore my pick for many seafood dishes. However, other regions make exceptional Pinot Noirs that can also be successfully paired with delights from the sea.

Central Otago is one of the world’s most southern important winemaking regions with an extreme climate and breathtaking natural beauty.

The natural wild beauty of the region attracted the makers of “The Hobbits” and “Lord of the Rings” movies and — more important for wine lovers — a growing number of highly-skilled winemakers.

The region boasts many distinguished whites, but in Central Otago Pinot Noir is king. These exhilarating fragrant and concentrated pinots often feature lush red and black fruit and robust tannins. As a result, these pinots are best served with more robust seafood dishes.

I learned about Martinborough wines in general and the region’s pinots in particular from one of New Zealand’s foremost wine authorities, my buddy Bob Campbell. A sub region of the Wairarapa region, Martinborough is a small colonial village surrounded by vineyards. With the exception of the Martinborough Winery, most producers are small and family-owned.

Martinborough pinots typically offer rich and savory fruit flavors with good complexity and silky tannins. They are elegant wines and seafood-lovers extraordinaire but unfortunately hard to find in China. Two you can find are the producers Ata Rangi and Dry River.

Most recent vintages for Marlborough Pinot Noirs have been good to very good. To accentuate the freshness and seafood-friendliness, it’s also a good idea to slightly chill your pinots to about 15 degrees Celsius.




 

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