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Pairing wine and seafood

Pairing wine and seafood

Glass of white wine on the table

White Wine

Wines to Pair with Seafood

First of all let me say that I am not an expert; I am an enthusiast. I greatly enjoy food, wine, and craft beer and am continually surprised and excited by just how diverse well crafted beverages can be. I consider myself very lucky to live in a state that has such a vibrant wine and craft beer culture. I started the Snob Free Wine Meetup Group with the goal of demystifying wine and taking a more laid back approach to it. I wanted to share with you some of my pairing thoughts and suggests on seafood specifically. Hopefully you will learn something, try something, and find value in it.

Here in North Carolina we love Calabash-style, or fried, seafood. Next time you are enjoying that classic fish and chips try one of these pairings: a sparkling option like Champagne or Prosecco. The effervescent bubbles cut right through the heaviness of the beer batter around the fish.

Flounder is fish commonly found in our state. This mild, white fish – similar in style to Tilapia – is very versatile and offers ample options for  preparation methods.  Try grilled flounder with a dry, crisp white like Chenin Blanc or Pinot Grigio. If you want to keep it really local serve that grilled North Carolina flounder with a bottle of 2009 Pinot Grigio from the Triangle’s own Chatham Hill Winery.

There are a lot of people who love Chardonnay but find it very hard to pair at meals, and that’s even more true with seafood dishes. I try not to over-think these decisions. You usually won’t go wrong if you pair strong with strong; by which I mean simply be sure that you are not choosing a wine or food that will overpower the other item it is meant to complement. In order to do this with Chardonnay it is very important to know if it is oaked or unoaked. Oaking refers to the amount of oak flavor, color, tannins, and texture that blend into the wine. Oaking usually happens when the wine is fermenting, or aging, inside oak barrels. Unoaked or steel barrel chardonnay, in contrast with oaked wine, is characterized by a very powerful, robust flavor. The use of the steel barrel will often result in a lighter, less complex chardonnay, but in this case fewer complexities do not give way to a lesser quality wine.

Shrimp paired with white wine

Shrimp - photo credit

A lightly oaked Chardonnay is going to be on very short list of whites that can stand up to salmon. Unoaked Chardonnay is a wine that I enjoy with a lot of fish and seafood. It pairs very well with oysters on the half shell, crab legs, or scallops with a butter sauce.

One of my favorite pairings is just about any spicy shrimp dish with a slightly sweet Riesling like that offered by the German Winery GWF. The subtle sweetness of this Riesling really tones down the heat of the shrimp for a very enjoyable pairing.

Most experts would tell you that you would not want to pair big bold red wines with seafood, and I would not argue with that. I would like to mention that you can, however, create some very nice pairings using a lighter bodied red wine like Pinot Noir. Just try to pair these wines with the more meaty members of the fish family; think tuna, salmon, or even swordfish.

Rosé wines get a bad rap. A lot of wine drinkers view Rosé in the same way that a lot of craft beer drinkers view Macro-brewed light beer. This probably has a lot to do with how many of us progress through the wine ranks. Many of us first ordered a glass of inexpensive White Zinfandel because we didn’t want to be the only person at the table without a glass of wine. Then, as we got a little more comfortable and confident in drinking and choosing wine, we ordered a sweet Riesling because we didn’t want to be the only person at the table drinking pink wine. From there we got more and more confident, tried more and more wines, and forgot all about that first blush wine we had. The truth is that there are a lot of really great Rosé wines out there. In terms of pairing with seafood I would look for a dish with acidity. Try a light grilled mild fish served on a mixed green salad tossed with vinaigrette. The Rosé will go nicely with the light level of acidity.

I encourage you experiment with some of the above ideas and see what you think. At the end of the day you need to drink what you like. I would also invite you to join our group at!


Guest Post by Michael Hayek, General Manager of Rockfish Seafood Grill at Southpoint, Durham, NC

Thumbnail photo credit quinn.anya

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  1. Excellent article Michael! Thank you. BTW – I’m already a member of your group. I joined you guys at the AB tasting Sunday with Del and TWE, but somehow didn’t meet you. I look forward to other events soon!

    Thanks again.

  2. Michael,

    Great blog! You had great information, explanations, and suggestions; I really like the end where you encourage people to drink what they like! Wine can be overwhelming for some people, and I think that is the best advice of all!

    Also, I work at Chatham Hill Winery, and on behalf of the entire winery crew, I want to thank you for mentioning our 2009 Pinot Grigio. It is a personal favorite of mine and many of our customers.



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