Just as different types of seafood vary in flavor, texture and personality, so do the best wines that can be chosen to accompany them. The fat contained in a fish is a major determinant of its flavor profile. Most white-fleshed fish are mild in taste while also being lean. Darker-fleshed fish contain more fat and are stronger in flavor. To choose a wine that will be great with any given type of seafood, it is wise to consider the fat content of the fish as well as how it will be prepared. Will it simply be broiled with herbs, or will it be fried, or served with a rich, creamy sauce?
Of course, choosing the right wine to have with seafood is a matter of personal preference, and whatever a person likes is what they should choose. But in general, choosing a wine that is equal to a seafood dish in intensity, fullness and richness will ensure a more memorable dining experience.
One general rule for wine and food pairings is to “Pair like with like”. For example, delicate, white-fleshed fish nearly always pairs well with a wine with similar delicacy, such as a dry, crisp Sauvignon blanc. This light to medium-bodied wine may vary in flavor from grassy or herbal to citrus or tropical, but it is not likely to overpower a mild, simply cooked seafood dish.
Seafood that is served with a rich, creamy sauce needs a wine that is more full-bodied. A Chardonnay is often a good choice, with its buttery, oak and sometimes vanilla-like flavor. This wine also complements lobster and crab served with butter.
Pinot Gris, from the Alsace region of France, and Pinot Grigio of Italy are two other great white wines that can be paired with seafood. The Italian Pinots are light and crisp, often with notes of citrus or melon, and pair well with light seafood dishes such as steamed cod. Oysters also pair well with this wine. The Pinots of the Alsace region are a bit richer, with notes of almond and honey. They pair well with smoked fish or with seafood served in a creamy sauce.
German Riesling wines can be served with almost any type of seafood because there are as many variations of this wine as there are of seafood. Riesling wines have notes of apple, pear and peach, and they vary in sweetness and are categorized by their style. The driest Riesling is Kabinett, which works well with Asian or Thai seafood dishes. Spatlese, which is off-dry and medium-bodied, complements lobster and scallops. Auslese, which is sweeter, goes well with crab. The remaining Riesling wines are even sweeter, and are dessert wines.
Fried fish, shrimp, and similar dishes require a bold wine that can stand up to the high amount of fat used in cooking them. Sparkling white wines are excellent for this purpose. Prosecco, which is usually moderately priced, is a great choice, with high acidity that can take on the strong flavors of fried or spicy seafoods and can cleanse the palate. Of course, Champagne is always appropriate, too.
Some other general considerations for pairing wine and food that also apply to white wines and seafood are that the sweetness levels of the wine and the dish should be somewhat similar. The wine chosen should be equal to or greater than the amount of sugar in the dish. For salty dishes, a crisp wine, such as Sauvignon blanc, is needed to balance the flavor. Similarly weighted wine and food also complement one another. For example, lobster and Chardonnay go well together because they are both medium-bodied. Wines can also be paired by color and acid levels. Sauvignon blanc is pale yellow and pairs well with citrus flavor, and a dish which is high in acid should be paired with a wine that is also high in acid.
Of course, there are many other white wines available on the market in addition to the ones mentioned above. But in any case, knowing the characteristics of the wine, such as color, acidity, sweetness or dryness, and body, is key to making a good choice of wine for any given seafood dish.