User ID:

Remember me
Lost password?

Wine And Food Wednesday
Red Wine With Fish

Aside from being the title of a book about wine and food published years ago, the notion of red wine with fish is among the most verboten of combinations in all of the common wisdom about how to partner wine and food. We know better now, of course, because there the old rules of the road were laid down as generalities, not as absolutes, and it turns out that red wine does go with fish. It is just that there has to be a good understanding of the wine and the fish before rushing out and partnering your Dover sole with Petite Sirah.

In the following commentary, our Associate Editor Steven Eliot explores some of the “old saws” about wine and food. Steve is particularly well-qualified to comment on this subject, because, in addition to his brilliant writing in CGCW, he is also the senior Wine Instructor at the California Culinary Academy in San Francisco, where he instructs tomorrow’s chefs about wine and leads them through a series of tasting exercises designed to break down the old rules and explore why components like fat, acid, tannin and texture are the basic building blocks upon which wine and food choices are based.

By Steven Eliot

“Red wine and fish”. “There are no rules; the old rules are too limiting; and you should feel free to experiment with anything that you like”. All are commonly heard declarations these days that, while not without some truth, are worrisome and potentially the paths to gastronomic disaster if embraced without at least a bit of understanding. As I warn my culinary students, it is wise to know what is behind the “old rules” before summarily discarding them as there is generally some fundamental rightness about them that led to their being rules in the first place. The search for new food-and-wine combinations is, in fact, one of our happiest pursuits at CGCW, and there are certain cautionary signposts that, if heeded, can bypass needless train-wrecks at the table. The old saw, “white wine with fish and red wine with meat” is still a good place to start. For most of us, the grabby tannins of weighty red wines merge with fish oils to result in a bitter, medicinal, sometimes vaguely metallic quality that is anything but appealing. Of course, there is a middle ground wherein lighter meats and meaty fish seem equally capable of going with both bigger whites and lighter red wines, and, while graceful, low-tannin reds such Pinot Noir, can indeed do nicely when matched up with meaty fish such as salmon or ahi tuna, few winelovers will find virtue in a partnership of young Cabernet Sauvignon and grilled snapper. White wines, which are typically higher in acid and tannin free, are the sensible choice for seafoods in that their acidity serves to cut through fish oils and cleanse the palate. There is a reason, after all, that the standard garnish for fish the world around is a high-acid wedge of lemon! Red-wine tannins, which can be so unsympathetic to fish, are substantially tamed by meat fats and protein, and, what on its own is a rough and unattractively astringent wine, can suddenly seem smooth and surprisingly articulate in flavor when teamed with a well-marbled piece of beef or lamb.

An Added Comment by Charles Olken

Back about two decades and change ago, I was more or less commanded by a winery owner to make an appearance at his place of business for lunch and a long chat. Since this was a winery whose offerings were generally well-regarded by CGCW, I went with little trepidation and enjoyed a leisurely lunch on the patio and a pleasant couple of hours of philosophical meanderings. Just before it was time to leave, he leaned over to me and said in a conspirational manner as only a couple of good old boys can do. “I’ve been thinking about Connoisseurs’ Guide” quoth he, “and I have concluded that you need to add more maps. You don’t do enough maps of the wine country. No one else does maps and you are the California experts so you should do maps”. Of course, I thanked the gentleman and went on my way, but I did learn something that afternoon that changed the way I thought about wine and food.

As we were sitting out on that pleasant spot overlooking vineyards and valley, and as our first course was being cleared away, he pulled the cork on a bottle of Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon. It was a wine that never got to market and was used at the winery for its dinners and, I suppose, for his special treats. When the main course arrived, it was a piece of salmon and my wine and food radar started making unhappy noises. But it turned out that this very rich and supple wine went perfectly with his jerk-seasoned salmon sautéed in butter. Richness served richness, and because the wine was not overly tannic, it turned out to be an absolute treasure with the dish. Sometimes, the old rules just do not apply. Connoisseurs’ Guide is going to offer its take on wine and food every Wednesday. Some of what we suggest will seem like old hat, but, along the way, we hope from time to time to open up new avenues of food and wine pairing.

Wine News of The Day

“Duval-Leroy, one of the larger Champagne houses which produced more than 6 million of the 320 million bottles of Champagne made last year, will start selling bottles with aluminium tops later this year.

This will be the first time cork has not been used to secure bottles of the famous sparkling wine in its 350-year history.

The move has taken the wine world by surprise and left many alarmed that one of the most pleasurable rituals of drinking Champagne – easing out the hard cork stopper – might be over.

Adam Lechmere, editor of, the leading wine website, said: "It is one of the most evocative noises in the world, and of course I will mourn its passing. But to regret the passing of cork is 99 per cent sentimental. I am sure there was an equally big outcry when they first stopped using goatskins and started putting wine in bottles."

Our Reaction: Bring back the goatskins. Really loved bubbly made in goatskins.

The fact is that technology will always win when it makes sense. But different is not better Screwcaps have not won the day in most of the world for still wines. This new cap for sparkling wine will need to be more than a heavier hunk of tin to be accepted by the makers of $100 a bottle Champagne. In the meantime, corks are getting better and better because of the competition from artificial closures. Is this the beginning of a revolution for sparkling wine? Maybe. But, for the moment, it is a press release about a limited experiment being carried out by one producer.


Wine and Fish
by DailyPour
Posted on:9/8/2010 11:29:03 AM
I use a general rule for wine and fish pairings, the darker the (raw) fish, the darker the wine it can match with. So Sole pairs with white white, Salmon pairs with Pinot or Rose and Ahi can handle all but the most tannic red wines. There are exceptions to this rule the most notable being that whenever a fish is doused with citrus juice of any sort, white wine is a must. Cheers.
The Daily Pour
by Charlie Olken
Posted on:9/8/2010 11:21:45 PM
We are honored by the presence of The Daily Pour, a website devoted to the listing of recent blog entries and important wine news. This well-respected compendium of currently offered wine writing on the Internet has recognized our Connoisseurs' Wine Blog by including it in the list of sources to be referenced. Not bad for a one-week old fledgling--and quite humbling.

Leave a comment below, but please limit your comments to 1,200 characters or less. We find it helpful to make a copy of our comments to be sure that they fit. In that way, you can edit them if they run long.

(Please note: your e-mail address will not be visible after posting)



Note: Refresh your browser to see your latest comments.

Having technical problems with the comment system? Click here.