Another great blog post brought to us by Taalib Hasan - Wine Director - Oceanaire Seafood Room Atlanta
Everyone is well aware of the old moniker that white wine goes with poultry and fish and red wine goes with red meat. Well, red wine is perfectly suited for a variety of seafood.
I’ll begin with the wine. The first choice is an easy one, pinot noir. It is light fruity, often acidic, and generally lacking in tannic structure. The light body of the varietal pairs well with the lighter mouth feel of seafood. Furthermore the broad range of flavors this varietal displays makes it an ideal food wine. There are two broad distinctions when discussing pinots, old world and new world and a plethora of lesser distinctions. I will be discussing the two broad distinctions.
Old world pinot noirs are found throughout Europe; particularly in France, Austria, and Italy. In France they are world renowned and named for the land where they grow, Burgundy. The striking balance of fruit and earthy undertones are the calling cards of red burgundy. They are known as pinot nero in Austria and Italy. The Austrian and Italian counterparts are not quite balanced and tend to be earthier.
I personally prefer the pinot noir of Burgundy. Often these wines convey red berries on the nose and palate accented with spice box notes (cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, ginger, etc.) with long, acidic, and juicy finishes. More muscular, aggressive red burgundy will display darker berry flavors akin to dried fruit accented by herbal aromas of basil, mint, and chervil. Also the earthy undertones of these wines are quite pronounced reminiscent of barnyards, hay, and mushrooms.
New World pinot noir is found around the world including: Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, South America, California, and Oregon. My favorites are found in California and Oregon. The pinot noirs of California are as diverse as the land they grow on and are found in almost every grape growing region in state. Oregon is a relatively new area for modern viticulture and does display a lot of diversity; though not as much as California. It’s most acclaimed growing regions are the Willamette Valley, Rogue Valley, and Umpqua Valley. The Willamette Valley is by far the best known and is famous for its pinot noirs.
California pinot noirs like their parents in Burgundy display many of the same characteristics, with one general difference. That is the California variety tends to be fruiter, because of the warmer climates that aid the ripening of the grapes. Also because, American winemakers are making wine for Americans who tend to prefer fruiter flavors to earthiness. Hence California pinot noirs are generally fruiter and are often jammy. Oregon pinot noirs, particularly Willamette Valley pinot noirs, grow in climates very similar to Burgundy and produce wines similar in structure and balance. However no matter how much an Oregon winemaker wants to pay homage to the classic wines of Burgundy; they still produce wine primarily for American consumption. For this reason, these wines are the happy median between the jamminess of California pinot noirs and the earthiness of red burgundies. Willamette Valley pinot noirs particularly strike an impressive balance, with fruity noses and berries on the palate and long finishes accented by a hint of earth and herbaceous notes.
The key to pairing these wines with seafood is the body, pinot noirs are almost exclusively light bodied and at times medium bodied, which directly corresponds to mouth feel of seafood. Another key feature of pinot noir is the acidity; acid gives the wine structure, refreshes the palate, and acid is a natural accompaniment to seafood. Finally there is the tannic structure or lack there of, that makes this style of wine an ideal partner for seafood. Seafood and tannins (the tiny particles left behind in the wine from grape skins, seeds, stems, and the oak barrels used for fermentation) are incongruent. Tannins build on the palate, create a dry sensation, and can overwhelm the palate; which means it is difficult to taste seafood while drinking a tannic wine. This is the reason why red wine generally is not paired with seafood; and contrastingly, why pinot noir is so well suited for seafood pairings.
In practice a light flaky fish such as either trout or halibut pair better with lighter fruiter pinot noirs with flavors of red berries, a jammy California pinot will do such as Etude. Of course denser fishes like salmon, swordfish, and tuna pair better with heavier pinot noirs with deeper flavors. I would recommend either an Oregon pinot such as Domaine Serene (particularly for the salmon) or a red burgundy such as Alex Gambal. If you are considering shellfish, I admonish you do not try pairing pinot noir with either raw oysters or raw clams, it generally does not work. It will pair well with raw tuna and raw salmon. Lobster, scallops, oysters, clams, and shrimp cooked whether steamed or prepared in more elaborate manners are perfect pairings for the well balanced pinot noirs of Oregon.
So if you are a red wine drinker, and you find yourself enjoying a seafood feast with friends and family do not hesitate to pour nice glass of pinot noir for everyone.
Till Next Time.