Pairing wine with fish or seafood can be daunting. Yes, white wines are generally the right choice—but which ones? Choose a dry white when you need a full-bodied, lush wine and you will be disappointed. What about seafood with heavy sauces, like barbecue or tomato sauce? Do you use the same wine with grilled shrimp that you do with lobster thermidor?
It can be confusing. Here are some quick rules and eight go-to wine types for whenever you're serving seafood. Don't worry if you can't get the exact wine here. These are general rules, and as we all know, rules are made to be broken.
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Sparkling wine, whether it's from California, France, Spain, or Italy, is spot-on perfect for fried food. While light beers match up well with fried seafood, most wines lose something when you pair them with tempura or a thick beer batter. Not so with sparkling wine, whose bubbles cut through the weight of fried food as if the wines were made for the dish. These wines also pair well with caviar. Don't like sparkling wine? Try a Portuguese vinho verde.
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These are the aristocrats of white fish wines. Dry, austere, and crisp, chenin blanc and pinot grigio are the wines to reach for when serving lean, white fish cooked simply. Flounder, halibut, walleye, snapper, raw clams, or oysters all do well with these wines. Alternatively, you can use these wines to cut through the natural fat in some fish, such as striped bass, catfish, lobster, or mussels. Looking for something off the beaten track that fits this style? Try an Italian vermentino or a Greek assyrtiko.
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This is the realm of the fuller whites. Oaky Chardonnay gets a bad rap these days, but it's great with striped bass, crab, raw oysters, even lobster. The theory here is to match a full-bodied wine with a full-bodied dish. If you have a broth-based soup, chardonnay works wonderfully. If you have a fish that's a little oilier, such as bluefish or mackerel, try pinot gris or viognier, or an Italian grillo.
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These are even fuller whites that often have some lingering sweetness to them. These wines are perfect with Asian seafood or anything spicy. Gewürztraminer is especially good with zingy Vietnamese seafood, and the tropical aromas of Roussanne and Marsanne, which are Rhône white varietals, marry perfectly with the flavors of Asia.Continue to 5 of 8 below.
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Dry fino sherry is the perfect wine with simply cooked shrimp: period, end of story. If you eat a lot of shrimp cocktail, steamed, grilled, or stir-fried, this is the drink to go with it. Be sure to buy real Spanish dry fino sherry, which is achingly dry and slightly salty. Tip: This wine marries well with almonds, too.
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Basically, this is the light red-wine category. There are precious few instances where you'd want a big red with seafood, but light reds do quite well with salmon, tuna, marlin, swordfish, mackerel, bluefish, or other fatty, meaty, big-flavored fish. Chianti, which is mostly Sangiovese, with spaghetti and clam sauce or octopus stewed in tomato sauce is wonderful. Be careful, though: avoid combining reds with spicy seafood, as you will probably get a nasty metallic taste.
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Spanish, French, or California rosés are great when a dish's sauce is heavier than what a white would call for, but not quite right for a full-on red. Rosés can substitute for full-bodied whites such as chardonnay and fumé blanc. Consider them when grilling swordfish or tuna steaks. Rosé also is a good choice with a tomato-based seafood soup, such as cioppino or zuppa da pesce.