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A thoughtful pairing of food with wine creates a magical dining experience. The possibilities of creating that extraordinary experience with salmon and wine are many because salmon lends itself well to many cooking techniques and global flavors. But with countless choices, how do we go about picking the perfect wine for salmon?
“I determine the fat, sugar, spice, texture, and acid levels of the cuisine to be matched," says Scott Mattson, co-owner and sommelier at the Noble Riot wine bar. “For example, if I'm pairing a salmon filet that has a spicy green curry sauce over top—served over steamed rice—I am going to end up in a totally different zip code than I would if I were pairing a simple/classic cedar-plank grilled salmon steak with cracked pepper and porcini."
There are a couple of routes you can take when thinking about your wine pairing for salmon. "A good pairing can either harmonize and be congruent with a dish or contrast and complement a dish by bringing in balance. Contrasting is typically the easier path but harmonizing when done well can elevate both the wine and the food to euphoric levels," Mattson explains.
From a zippy sparkling to a fine pinot noir, here are some of the best wines to drink with salmon.
Best with Cedar Plank Grilled Salmon: Hyland Estates 2018 Single Vineyard Old Vine Pinot Noir
Scott Mattson, co-owner and sommelier at the Noble Riot, is partial toward a pinot noir for grilled salmon. “For the cedar-plank steak, with a little more fat and less spice, we are playing with cedar smoke salmon fat (high-toned umami). A wine that makes salmon feel as silky as possible would be my go-to."
The Hyland Estates Pinot Noir is complex and elegant on the palate, with mild spiciness and well-balanced acidity. Expect aromas of berries on the nose with a long and alluring black pepper finish.
Best with Salmon with Cream Sauce: Matrot Domaine Bourgogne Blanc Chardonnay
Also known as the white Burgundy, the Bourgogne is an easy-drinking, fruity, citrusy wine. The citrus flavors in the wine pick on the fat in the sauce and salmon and keep things moving along on the palate. The Domaine Matrot Bourgogne is crisp with a balanced acidity, a pleasant minerality, and a medium to long finish. With just the faintest hints of oak in the background, the finesse in the wine appeals to the powerful salmon and cream sauce duo. This is a well-structured wine with a good mouthfeel that will highlight the fish.
Best with Smoked Salmon: Lucien Albrecht Cremant d'Alsace Brut Rose
“Smoked salmon, capers onions, eggs, and cream cheese on a bagel, scream brunch to me. And that means sparkling wine”, says Justin Trabue, assistant winemaker at Lumen Wines. The pronounced flavors in smoked salmon benefit from a pairing with a wine with a bold acidity. The Lucien Albrecht Cremant Brut Rosé is dry with mineral tones and a crisp acidity. Bursting with flavors and aromas of berries, the wine is an excellent conversation wine.
Best with Blackened Salmon: Bedrock Wine Company Old Vine Zinfandel 2018
Seasoned, most likely, with a combination of paprika, garlic, cayenne, and oregano and then seared until a dark and crisp crust is formed, the blackened salmon is a versatile dish. The bold, nuanced flavors in the Bedrock Zinfandel are a wonderful match for the rich and flavorful blackened salmon. Full-bodied, wonderfully balanced with extensive notes of spice and black pepper, this zinfandel features a silky texture balanced with grippy acidity and an ample personality.
Best with Curried Salmon: Dr. Loosen 2018 Blue Slate Riesling Kabinett
With an interplay of spices and herbs like ginger, turmeric, cumin, coriander, chili, lemongrass, and allspice, the flavors of curried salmon call out to a wine with pronounced minerality and fruity notes. The Dr. Loosen Riesling cools off the heat from the spice with its low alcohol, balanced acidity, and a plush attack that hits mid-palate and finishes delicately. The aroma of citrus, green apple, white peach, and wet rock is refreshing and inviting. The moderate amount of acid in the riesling wrestles the fat from the salmon and the small bit of residual sugar offsets the spice from the curry.
Best with Poached Salmon: Raeburn Chardonnay 2018
Poaching salmon is a great way to create a delicate, moist, and flavorful dish. With its delicate flavors, poached salmon is sort of a blank canvas for many flavorful combinations. It can be dressed up in a complex beurre blanc sauce, a refreshing dill sauce, or the crowd-pleasing hollandaise. The Raeburn Chardonnay has a classic California buttery chardonnay profile and an inviting citrus and apple nose. The well-balanced acidity, hints of tropical fruits, and a luxurious finish create a well-rounded taste that aligns with the rich salmon.
Best with Oven-Baked Salmon: Dominique Piron Morgon Cote du Py
“One of my favorite go-to pairings with baked salmon is a Cru Beaujolais. Julienas or Morgon are my favorites when pairing with salmon as they have a little more heft to handle the fat. And if there is something in the red fruit family for garnish with the salmon, the combo will make sparks fly," Mattson says.
Morgon wines age distinctively. The Dominique Piron Morgon tastes of brilliant cherries and red fruit intermingled with an earthiness. The wine is light and smooth with fresh acidity.
Best with Glazed Salmon: Domaine Weinbach Pinot Blanc 2017
Glazing creates a deep glossy and luxurious appeal to a dish. Glazed salmon can take on many variations—from miso to teriyaki to ginger, honey, or brown sugar. The flavor and spice choices can vary but there is always some sweet element to the flavoring. Whether it comes from fruit juices or honey or anything else, the glaze gets its brilliant sheen from the sweetness. The Doamine Weinback Pinot Blanc is crisp with a medium but lively acidity. The wine is focused on the purity of fruit and citrus and finishes dry. This medium-bodied wine plays well with the fatty, sweetish salmon.
The choice is really between whether you are choosing to highlight the wine or the dish. “Decide if you are cooking a simpler dish to highlight a complex wine or selecting a simpler wine to highlight a complex dish," says Scott Mattson. Pick up the Hyland Estates Single Vineyard Old Vine Pinot Noir (view at Wine.com) for a versatile pairing or if you prefer the reds over the white wines. If you're looking for a white wine and are preparing your salmon with a cream sauce, we recommend the Matrot Bourgogne Chardonnay (view at Vivino).
Why Trust The Spruce Eats?
Renu Dhar is a personal chef and culinary instructor who loves turning seasonal ingredients into sensational food and has years of experience pairing food with wine for personal clients and private events. She loves to travel to wine regions across the globe to find her next new wine love.