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Matching red wine with fish – Le Cordon Bleu

It's one of the recurring mis-conceptions that we have to deal with. Yes, red wine with fish can work, and it's very easy to prove it. Here's how...

Which red wine with fish?

10 second guide

  • Remember acidity and tannins clash.

  • Go for something medium to light bodied.

  • Think about the flavour of the dish, not just the fish.

  • Beaujolais and Pinot Noir are good bets

james bond, wine quote, decanter

‘Red wine with fish. Well, that should have told me something.’ James Bond in ‘From Russia with Love’ in 1963.

Full article

Firstly, there are red wines and there are red wines.

The best option is to select wines with very little or no tannins, because these are the party crashers.

This is especially true if a drizzle of lemon has been added to the fish once on the plate.

Acidity and tannins naturally clash, leaving a searing, bitter, metallic aftertaste.

The ‘go to’ red, in these circumstances, needs to be medium to light bodied, with clean and fresh flavours. The fruit intensity and the alcohol need to be balanced by a welcome acidity.

Remember the basic rules of wine and food matching, too.

The cooking method or the main flavouring ingredient, rather than the fish itself, will have the strongest influence on wine choice.

Avoid classic Beurre Blanc.

The acidity of the shallots and white wine will enhance bitterness, even in the smoothest of red wines.

Light reds

Grilled fish will work very well with lightly oaky red wines, because the charcoal smokiness toys with the light vanilla of the oak.

To start safe, try barbecued tuna with a light, fresh, cool-climate Pinot Noir from a good producer like Mac Forbes in Australia’s Yarra Valley.

The wine, being low in alcohol with a vibrant acidity, will cut through the texture of the fish without being overpowering.

One could also pair a juicy red wine, along the lines of a Beaujolais cru.

Try a Fleurie such as Domaine de la Madone 2014 with a fish and seafood stew cooked in fish stock and red wine.

The Gamay grape variety possesses a lovely freshness and is packed with crunchy berry flavours.

In this dish, the base usually also includes tomatoes and they will marry favourably with the acidity of the Gamay.

Other types of wines that would fit the bill are unoaked Joven Spanish wines based on Garnacha or Mencia.

Austrian Zweigelt, young Italian Valpolicella, and red wines from the Jura in France would also work.

Mature reds

If you are considering a more mature red wine that has got undergrowth, vegetal, slightly meaty flavours, then add a few earthy notes to the dish.

Mushrooms, root vegetables, squash and nuts would do the trick.

For example, if you are having a roast loin of cod with chanterelles, butternut squash and cobnut, you could go with a traditional Red Rioja Reserva of the likes of the La Rioja Alta Viña Ardanza Reserva 2005.

This wine is a real classic with an aroma of coconut oak, autumn leaves, meat, cherries macerated in brandy, milk chocolate and a complex mellow palate with a fresh finish.

All the various flavours and textures should mix to the point of harmony, making it almost difficult for you to decide which one of them to associate to the wine or to the dish.

Next time somebody serves you the ‘no red wine with fish’ myth, you can safely banish it with a flick of your corkscrew!

Editing by Chris Mercer

About Matthieu Longuère MS

Matthieu Longuere is a Master Sommelier based at Le Cordon Bleu London, a leading culinary arts, wine and management school.

Sommelier in the UK since 1994, he has won numerous awards and accolades for wine lists in the establishments for which he has worked: Lucknam Park Country House Hotel, Hotel du Vin Bristol and La Trompette.

Since joining Le Cordon Bleu in 2013, he has developed the school’s comprehensive Diploma in Wine, Gastronomy and Management; a unique programme which combines the theory of wine with a strong emphasis on practical learning.

Alongside the full Diploma, he also teaches an array of evening classes which are relaxed, yet studious, making them perfect for beginners as well as the more knowledgeable.

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