ShelfLife Special Tasting: Summer wines with fish
It may seem to be an obvious match but very neutral white wines aren't always the best match for fish. Instead Helen Coburn outlines how to ensure you achieve a perfect pairing
14 July 2015 | 0
Summer is a great time for eating fish but, contrary to what some people think, very neutral and clean tasting white wines aren’t always the best match. Too much greenness and acidity can crowd out delicate white fish, and when served with heartier fare, such as monkfish or halibut, neutral wines just fall back and add nothing to the dining experience.
In Ireland, conservationists have urged us to eat a greater variety of fish. This would reduce discards at sea by trawlers, due to the fact that certain fish, like pollock, rock salmon and haddock are hard to sell here. Partly as a result, I’ve been making an effort both to cook more fish and to find really good wine matches.
When selecting wines for fish, you need to consider texture, depth of flavour and oiliness. Oily fish such as mackerel can stand a bit of acid and a decent Italian pinot grigio or pinot bianco goes really well. Sauvignon blanc can work with oily fish, provided that the wine doesn’t have a very marked tropical fruit character which will clash with strong “fishy” flavours. With salmon, for example, French sauvignon blanc tends to work better than New Zealand’s, and with tuna, mackerel or herring, the freshness of chenin blanc and young German riesling is ideal. Red Beaujolais also works well with tuna, so it’s worth experimenting with different styles.
Don’t forget that cooking method can affect wine choice, with more powerful wines needed for roasted or barbecued fish. A great way of trapping fish flavour is to wrap a whole salmon or sea bass in several layers of foil and let it bake away. After an hour or so, unwrap carefully, and insert a skewer into the thickest part of the fish. Leave the skewer for a few seconds and then hold it against your wrist. If it’s hot, the fish is cooked. If not, keep testing periodically until it is. If using a food thermometer, you’re looking for a temperature of around 63°C. For fish which has been well seasoned and oiled before baking, a lightly oaked chardonnay can be the perfect wine match, as can a lush southern Italian white such as falanghina or fiano. Tesco and O’Briens each do one of these, while Vesevo Falanghina can be got at Corkscrew and independents.
Fillets cook best on a sizzling pan, skin side down, and fried for around five minutes before being turned to the flesh side for about two minutes. Thicker pieces may need longer on the flesh side. If fish has been pre-packed, check the cooking instructions. Some pre-packed fish has water added, so that it sticks and falls to pieces when fried. In these cases, do what it says on the pack. While poached salmon or white fish will be happy with a crisp wine, such as chenin, pan frying adds more zest and you can go for a fuller, riper wine.
Here are some more suggestions for your summer fish.
Monkfish: For a special treat, try Kendall Jackson Chardonnay 2013 (O’Briens €24); other good matches include Italian fiano, almost all southern French whites, and Alsace riesling.
Cod: Aromatic wines can work well so long as they aren’t too flowery; Martin Codax Albarino 2014 (Approach Trade €15) is widely available and strikes the right note for grilled or pan fried fish. Austrian gruner veltliner has citrus flavours and some power; good value is Rapel Gruner Veltliner Austria 2014 (O’Briens €14.99, but currently on offer). Unoaked chardonnay also works very well.
Barbecued salmon: This can be quite robust in flavour. Lightly oaked chardonnay is good, but rosé and light reds, including pinot noirs, are worth a look too. If choosing pinot, don’t go for a premium style; lighter versions work better with fish. Cono Sur Pinot Noir 2013 (widely available €13.50) is ideal, while Santa Digna Chile Rose 2014 (Mitchells, other outlets, €12) is a pink wine with decent body.
Pan fried and poached salmon: While simply cooked salmon is great with French chenin blanc, Italian verdicchio is my own favourite. Albiano Verdicchio dei Castelli de Jesi 2014 (O’Briens €9.99) is good value at present; Sartarelli Verdicchio 2014 (Nicholson, €14) is a fine classic at a fair price.
Hake/Haddock/Pollock: German or a slightly restrained Australian riesling works with these. Peter Lehmann Portrait Riesling 2013 (Londis, other outlets €13) is well concentrated and good value. Chenin blanc and young semillon are also good – try Tim Adams Clare Valley Semillon 2013 (Tesco €15) and Cloof Bush Vine S.Africa Chenin Blanc 2014 (O’Briens €9). Italian Soave goes nicely if it’s not too neutral – for a treat try Pieropan (Corkscrew, Wineonline, €17 – €19) or Pra (Nicholson, €19).
Tuna: Rosé works well but don’t go for an off-dry style. Spain’s Marques de Caceres Rose 2014 (Cassidys, widely available €15) is delicious chilled with pan fried tuna steaks or for a light red try a Beaujolais Villages such as Domaine Faively 2013 (Barry & Fitzwilliam €16, various outlets). If you definitely prefer white, unoaked chardonnay goes well, as do Alsace riesling and pinot blanc.
Prawns: Don’t forget Muscadet when choosing shellfish. Domaine de la Chauviniere 2014 (O’Briens €9.33) is perfect for prawns, shrimps or scallops. Chenin blanc, unoaked chardonnay, and young Riesling are all pretty failsafe or, for something completely different, try Chateau Clement Termes Gaillac 2012 (M&S €12), a slightly sparkling wine from southern France and made from an interesting local grape blend.
Dover sole: Semillon really triumphs here, both on its own or in Bordeaux blends with sauvignon blanc. Chateau Villa Bel Air Bordeaux 2012 (Barry & Fitzwilliam €19) is a real winner which delivers on price. Spanish verdejo is good too: try Marques de Riscal Rueda 2013 (Findlater, widely available, €13). If there is a sauce, Hunter Valley semillon and lightly oaked chardonnay are tasty alternatives.
Turbot: Again semillon has to be thought of, or even viognier. D’Arenberg Viognier Marsanne 2013 (Febvre, independents, some SuperValus €19) makes a smooth, slightly exotic, partner. If you’re feeling flush, you won’t go wrong with white Burgundy but if the budget is tighter, Cono Sur Bicicletta Chardonnay 2014 (Tesco, other outlets €11), is a tasty alternative.
Cod and chips: Join the jet set and try a sparkling wine. Jacob’s Creek Sparkling (widely available €17) will up the tempo, or for a touch of European class there’s Langlois Chateau Cremant de Loire (O’Briens €24). Oyster Bay Rose Sparkling (widely available €18-21) adds a real touch of summer to the bubbles. If you find fizz a bridge too far for an everyday dish, come back to earth with El Coto Blanco 2013 (Mackenway, widely available €12.50), a light and modern white Rioja which has just enough acidity to cut that fat nicely.