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Nothing compliments a dish as well as the perfect wine alongside it. The majority of fish dishes will have an elegant and delicate flavor that can easily be ruined or overwhelmed, therefore it is important to try and find the best wine to pair with them that does not risk overwhelming any of the flavors.

A delicate white fish may pair excellently with white wine, whereas a meatier fish such as salmon may pair better with red wine. It is important to make sure you pair the right fish with the right wine.

White wine glass with bokeh

Why Should You Pair Wine With Fish?

You have probably noticed how popular it is for people to pair alcohol with their meals when they go to restaurants or prepare a nice meal at home. There are many reasons for this, such as the social aspects of drinking, the food stopping you from getting too drunk, and most importantly, the alcohol can make the food taste different and better,

If you pair the perfect drink with your meal, there is a high chance that the flavors of the food will be slightly different, or you can taste it differently and notice different flavors that you could not sense beforehand.

While it may be the most common pairing, you can still choose any drink you want to go alongside your fish. If you are really in the mood for a cider, a beer, or even a soft drink such as cola, then no one can stop you. If you are really wanting to experience this as traditionally as possible though, then wine will be your best choice.

How To Pair Wine With Fish

Pairing drinks with food has somewhat of a science and a method behind it. There is a lot to consider and it can be quite overwhelming. While it may seem like the most important factor, the flavor of the wine is not the only thing that plays a part in how people decide to pair it.

The fish also has many different factors as to what dictates its paired wine. While it would be a simple world to assign a sauvignon blanc to sea bass and a Moscato to a salmon, unfortunately, that is not how it works. The fish is a big factor but so is the sauce, the herbs used, and the way the fish was prepared. As an example of this, the wine you may pair with raw fish may be completely different from the wine you pair with that same fish after it has been fried and covered in a parsley sauce.

There is a general unspoken rule when it comes to pairing wine and fish, this is that red wine is not the best choice. Surprisingly it has nothing to do with the taste or texture of red wine but is more focused on the high level of tannins that red wine has. The tannins can interact with the fish oils and leave a metallic taste in your mouth which is not ideal. If your heart is set on choosing a red wine, then it is best to opt for one with a low tannin level.

What Wine To Pair With Fish

There are many different types of fish in terms of their flavor and texture. Thankfully, to make the whole ordeal less complicated, a lot of wines that work with one fish will work with other fish that are similar to them. To make everything a lot easier to understand, you can sum them up into 4 main categories. These are;

  • Lean and Flaky White Fish
  • Medium-textured Fish
  • Meaty Fish
  • Intensely Flavored Fish

These four main categories will give you examples of what fish are included in them and what wines will pair the best with them. As mentioned, this will be a mostly white wine list, but there are a few light-bodied red wine names lingering around for certain fish to pair with.

Lean and Flaky White Fish

The main concept of this group is fish that are thin and flaky with a subtle-mild flavor. They taste nice but not overpowering, and when properly cooked they will break apart easily with a fork into flakes. They are your most typical fish found in restaurants as they can be used in so many different ways thanks to their versatility. The main examples of these fish include sea bass, black sea bass, flounder, perch, pollock, and tilapia.

The best wine to pair with these will be refreshing white wines that have a zesty and sweet flavor. A lot of these wines will come from Italy but both France and Portugal have some nice options as well. For specific wine pairings, you can get a bottle of Pinot Grigio, Champagne, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, and Muscadet. Any of these wine pairings will work perfectly with your fish dish and can really help make it a better experience.

Photograph of sea bass dish in flanagan’s pub, brickens, claremorris, county mayo, ireland.

Medium-Textured Fish

While the title ‘medium-textured’ might not give much away, these fish are still relatively light and flakey but also have a fair bit of texture to them. They can be a bit firmer than the previous category, which can result in a really nice mouthfeel when eating them. These fish pair better with richer sauces and decadent ingredients. The fish that would be best suited to this category are trout, cod, red snapper, black cod, monkfish, redfish with its strong taste, and halibut.

The best wine to look for in this instance would be an aromatic white wine full of flavor, or a fresh white wine that is full-bodied and aged in oak. The choice is yours if you opt for a drier wine, but it is recommended to not go for a sweet wine here as that plays strangely with the deep sauces found with these fish. Some of the wines you can get for this would be Pinot Gris, Fiano, Dry Riesling, or a Vermentino.

Trout is served

Meaty Fish

By ‘meaty’ you may be a bit confused as surely all fish are…meaty. Well, the use of the word here is to compare them to some meat such as steak. These fish are a lot less flakey and have a much thicker texture that sticks together, just how a steak does. The flavor of these fish will also be a bit meatier as they are less delicate and fragrant.

The fish in this category are tuna, salmon, mackerel, shark, and mild-tasting swordfish. The best thing about these meaty fish is that their flavor is recognizable but also is not overpowering. The taste of tuna, for example, is distinct and delicious yet if you were to add it to any meal you chose, such as a pasta dish, then the flavors would not overwhelm all the other ingredients. This is good for pairing it with wine as you will be able to taste both the wine and the fish without either flavor canceling the other out.

You may not have had the pleasure of eating some of these, but almost everyone has tried tuna or salmon. If so, you now know what I mean by ‘meaty’, as both tuna and salmon are great examples. The wine pairing that you will most benefit from here is a rich white wine with a lot of flavors.

Red wines, and even some sparkling rosé wines, can be used here as well. With the exception of salmon, the fish are not too oily so you can branch out a bit and choose a red with a high level of tannins. The wines you can choose for the best time are an Oaked Chardonnay, vintage champagne, Dry rosé, and Roussanne.

Seared tuna

Intensely Flavored Fish

While most people will call all fish ‘intensely flavored’ there are some that stick out. Fish such as sardines and anchovies that are renowned for being salty are considered to be intensely flavored. They also tend to be quite small and pack a flavorful punch while having a varying texture compared to meaty fish and flakey fish.

While you would not eat a sardine as you would tuna or salmon, some meals can still make use of their meat and flavor. Pizza is commonly topped with salty fish such as anchovies, but when you try to pair wine with that, you would focus more on the pizza and the dough. However, there will always be a wine pairing for fish, and sardines and anchovies are no exception.

When pairing wines with strongly flavored fish the flavors tend to get more intense. This can be seen as a good thing by many seafood lovers who enjoy the intensity. While a white wine might seem like a better choice here, some people prefer drinking red wine with saltier fish.

A Pinot Noir pairs arguably better with salty fish, but a lot of people agree that a Pinot Gris is just as well paired. Sparkling wine or champagne can also be enjoyed here, and for a subtle flavor, fruity rosé champagne will also be a great pairing.

Cooked steamed fish on rice inside orange plastic bowl

Smoked Fish

A lot of fish can be smoked before being cooked. This not only improves the flavor but can also add a nice aroma to the fish. The most common example of this is smoked salmon, yet a lot of other fish can be smoked too such as kipper, trout, and cod. The flavor is not changed too drastically, however, the wine pairings may change. Smoked fish tends to be naturally dry, so a dry wine would not pair well with this. The best pairing would be a nice fruity white or champagne.

FAQs On Pairing Wine With Fish

Do you drink red or white wine with fish?

While you can drink either wine with fish, more people drink white wine. This is because red wine is high in tannins and then can react weirdly with the natural oil from the fish. If you want to drink a red wine desperately, then it is best you find a low tannin red wine.