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Wine appropriately when you dine with fish

White wine pairs well with fish. Unfortunately, there's just enough truth in that statement to get the cook into a pot of hot water.

First and foremost, fish, shellfish and other seafood are very rarely served au naturel. When pairing wine with food, one must consider the dominant component or ingredient. Sometimes that is the seafood itself, as in oysters on the half shell, but in most cases, it is the sauce, seasoning or preparation technique as in smoked trout, steamed crabs with Old Bay and salmon teriyaki.

Oysters are most likely served by their little lonesome. If naked and unadorned, they slurp well with muscadet, a wine whose subliminal salinity also hints of the sea.

The Domaine de la Louvetrie Muscadet Sevre et Maine 2010; Loire, France ($17) is aged sur lie (i.e., on top of its yeast, like champagne). This crafts a wine with a yeasty character reminiscent of toasted nuts and freshly baked bread. This layer of flavor is coupled with subtle pear fruit and a subliminal wisp of sea-spray. It would pair excellently with fish or shellfish that is prepared in the simplest of fashions.

"I love oysters. It's like kissing the sea on the lips," said Léon-Paul Fargue (1876-1947), a French poet and essayist.

Rich shellfish like scallops, or sweet-meat crustaceans like crab, do well with white wines that likewise carry a little baby fat. In this instance, the weight of the wine must match the weight of the dish, otherwise the wine is washed away by the seafood.

The Daniel Pollier Saint-Veran "En Messie" 2011, Maconnais, France ($17) packs enough steel and flint to refresh the palate and enough acidity to function like a nice squeeze of lemon. Yet the wine is mouth-filling and hints of fresh, ripe apple fruit. It is the perfect wine to pair with welter-weight seafood such as steak fish and scallops, or with dishes that incorporate cream or mayo such as crab imperial.

Fish or shellfish dishes that incorporate white wine or lemon into their preparations require a wine of equal acidity as foil. Chablis, with is electric, kinetic piquancy, is the non plus ultra of the high-acid white category.

As Karen MacNeil, creator and chairman of the Rudd Center for Professional Wine Studies at the Culinary Institute of America in Napa states, "Chablis is so distinctive, it is almost sacrilegious to call it chardonnay."

The Domaine du Colombier Chablis Premier Cru "Fourchaume" 2010, Chablis, France ($30) is a chalky, flinty, stony white. It is laced with a delicate perfume that hints of white flowers. Underneath this is a subliminal salinity. Serve with grilled freshwater and saltwater fish, moules-frites and fish and chips. The bracing acidity in this wine refreshes the palate with each and every sip and readies the mouth for the next bite of food.

More elaborate seafood preparations that involve sugar and/or spice or elaborate combinations of adornments such as soy sauce, pickled ginger and wasabi need to be paired with white wines that carry a concomitant punch.

The Domaine du Closel Savennieres "La Jalousie" 2010, Loire, France ($23) is an extraordinary mélange of honey and toasted hazelnut. The wine is full of extract; i.e., it packs power in a svelte form. And, it has a touch of sweetness, too. It has enough "guts and stuffing" to marry well with salmon teriyaki and sushi as well as steak fish prepared with tangy sweet sauces such as citrus beurre blanc.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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