September meals still hold summer's warmth. Lighter dishes in the form of fish and shellfish continue to find their way onto the table, yet nights are cool and beg for red wine.
Red wine with fish? It can be done, and successfully too. It just takes knowing your elements and how to combine them, alchemy fashion.
Tannins in red wine often react with fish oil to produce a bitter, metallic, copper penny taste on the palate. The fish ends up tasting quite fishy and the wine turns into liquid aluminum foil.
But not always.
In truth, it's the nature of the tannins that play the pivotal role in fish and wine pairing.
Tannins from the grape skin, present in all red wine, don't necessarily wreak havoc unless the fish is quite oily. Wood tannins, on the other hand, present in barrel-aged red wines regularly turn a fish dinner into disaster. And the more excessive the barrel regimen (100 percent new oak, toasted heads etc), the more pronounced the case of metal mouth.
Are there fish-friendly reds? Absolutely.
They are low-tannin reds such as pinot noir, abundantly fruity reds such as dry dolcetto, high-acid reds such as Beaujolais. And the match is even better if you can find all three attributes in one wine!
Cabernet Sauvignon and Bordeaux-type blends often express far too much wood tannin to make the match. And it is quite challenging to pair aged reds with fish. They lack fruit. Plus, some grape varieties, such as cabernet franc or tempranillo, are not particularly fruit-driven by nature. These won't work as well either.
You can also help to make the red-wine-with-fish combination a match made in heaven by preparing your fish in a red-wine-friendly fashion.
Grilling a fish adds a char element that helps bridge the gap. Incorporating tomatoes into the preparation also smoothes the way for plate-glass harmony, and cooking with "steak" fish (which are less oily by nature and already quite "meaty" in texture) increases the red-wine-with-fish compatibility in a major way.
Could you serve Chianti with sautéed flounder? Sure. But the fish will be tasteless and the wine will lose its luster. It would be far better to take a thick chunk of cod and incorporate it into a spicy tomato-based preparation and uncork that Italian red. Chianti is only moderately tannic, high in acid and full of cherry fruit. And it's a natural with tomatoes.
Tomatoes are the equivalent of a magic kitchen wand. Savory fish stews such as Bermuda fish chowder, bouillabaise and seafood gumbo, because of their tomato component, are actually better matched with light reds than with whites. These are great dishes to bridge the change of seasons.
Who says you can't have your cake and eat it too?