High Acid, Low Tannin
"The best wines for seafood are always crisp, high acid, mineral-driven, un-oaked whites. Things like Riesling, Chablis, Chenin Blanc, Verdicchio, and Vermentino are some of my go-tos for seafood, but there are many, many more. For lobster rolls, I’m still in a heavy testing phase but I have found that Vermentino from Corsica is quite delicious. I’m going to keep testing though ;). For salmon on the grill, you could actually jump into a lighter red here. Something like Trousseau or Pineau d’Aunis from France or maybe Schiava from Alto-Adige in Italy are all fun, light reds that play with salmon quite well. The trick there is to steer clear of tannins; they will make the fish taste metallic." — Dustin Wilson MS (Eleven Madison Park)
Seek Out Slovenian Wine
"For raw oysters, I have one favorite that I have on the wine list right now: Verus, Furmint from Slovenia. It’s light and crisp with high mineral content. But a Muscadet from Loire Valley will do as well. But for that one I would have to be there. In France :)." — Petra Polakovicova (EPIC Roasthouse)
Enhancing Textures and Flavors
"Having had the opportunity to work with so many different fish at Riffle has shown me how versatile seafood can be when it comes to wine. The right wine will vary based on fish, where the fish is caught (such as albacore tuna in cold Oregon waters vs. the same fish when it comes from warm Hawaiian waters and is called Tombo), as well as the set that creates the dish. The main things I think about when pairing a wine with fish is: 1. What kind of texture of wine will play well with this fish? And 2, what flavors will enhance the fish and not overpower it?
For more assertive, textured fish like mahi-mahi I like to play around with textured wines. I love orange wine that has a hint of phenolics—northern Italian or Slovene wines like the ones from Movia come to mind, or even local wines that have the same sort of texture, like Eyrie's sans soufre Original Vines Pinot Gris or Anne Amie's Huntington Hill Pinot Gris.
For delicately flavored fish, I prefer more mineral driven wines. Halibut or scallops, for instance, are fun to pair with minerally wines that have richness. I love a wine like the Clos Canarelli Corse Figari Blanc with these fish. It's 100% Vermentino from Corsica and it has a hint of salinity, a deep minerality, supple, round mid-palate and enough acid to keep it all fresh. I also love a Vouvray or Montlouis sec; Chenin Blanc, that is white flowers, chalky limestone, lemon zest, and a hint of green apple. So delicious.
With raw fish, like hamachi sashimi, I like a more bright, often aromatic, white. I love the Quattro Mani Toh-kai for fish like this. It's aromatic but in a more botanical way than a floral way. Or the Yves Leccia Cuvée C281 Muscat sec, also aromatic on the nose but minerally and sea-fresh on the palate. Or a good Greek Rhoditis. Or a muscat-based Cava like the Avinyó Vi d’Agulla Petillant, I could go on and on…
For a lobster roll I would go with something rich. I can't imagine something better with a lobster roll than a white Burgundy—probably a Meursault. For salmon, I like to pair light red wines—like a soft, layered, Rossese di Dolceacqua from Liguria, Italy—equal parts rose petal, mulchy dirt, and strawberries, with a dash of truffle. Or a local Pinot Noir in a cooler year or from a cooler site—such as the Cancilla Cellars 2007 Pinot Noir or the 2007 Brandborg Love Puppets Pinot Noir." — Brianne Day (Riffle NW)
The Best Kind of Excuses
"Oysters and Chablis are a classic pairing that works but honestly I’ll just create any excuse to drink Chablis. Creating excuses to drink what you like to drink is a commendable policy.
If those lobster rolls are spicy, an off-dry Riesling would be a beautiful thing. For grilled salmon, I would probably do a richer style of red Burgundy, to not overwhelm the salmon but stand up to the grittiness of the char." — Brian McClintic MS (Les Marchands Wine Bar & Merchant)
The Best Wine for Seafood is Champagne
"Champagne with everything, all the time, no matter what. No, really, in the case of such a general question, Champagne is the most flexible and satisfying. The acidity, dryness, and richness all complement seafood dishes. You even have Pinot Noir in there to go with salmon." — Steven Rhea (Hospoda)
Do As the French Do
"Two of my best experiences with fresh seafood were in Europe. Once in Vouvray in the middle of the Loire Valley, I was visiting with a winemaker and we walked into the village where an oysterman shucked oysters from what was essentially the back of a pickup truck. We drank a semi-dry Vouvray (Chenin Blanc) with these plump, briny oysters. The match was awesome.
On another visit to the south of France we ate in a harborside restaurant near Bandol and drank the local rosé while we ate fresh fish that was baked 'en croute'—underneath a big crusting of sea salt. The pink Bandol (nice and dry) washed down the fresh salty fish and gave it an almost buttery texture." — Dan Beekley (Remedy Wine Bar, CorksCru)
Sauvignon Blanc for Oysters
"Seafood is much broader a category than most people think. I usually try and match up similar characteristics. With oysters I love Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand. I judged the annual Wines for Oysters Competition at Old Ebbitt Grill for several years and without fail, New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc emerged the stand out victor. It's bright, crisp, fresh, limey and delicious with oysters.
Lobster rolls are delicious and luxurious on their own. Rosé is fantastic with them but rosé champagne is AMAZING. To me, eating lobster on a sandwich is a delectable juxtaposition, drinking champagne while eating a sandwich takes that to a whole new level. Give me a bottle of pink bubbles to wash down that lobster roll, and I’m as giddy as Brian McClintic in the front row at a Justin Bieber concert." — Sabato Sagaria (The Little Nell Hotel)
Consider the Preparation
"I would suggest sake or Champagne for sushi/raw/crudo. Muscadet for oysters. I’m thinking aioli on the lobster roll bun, so a lightly oaked Chardonnay to match the richness and texture. The smokiness and char of the grill suggests a wine with some toasted barrel tones, but with light fruit nuances and silky texture… Pinot Noir. The more delicate the seafood, the more important it is to consider the accompaniments, the sauce, and the cooking method." — Richard Matuszczack (La Toque)
Grown By the Sea
"The best wines for seafood are usually wines that are grown near the sea. A nice salty character tends to be embedded into the wines themselves, which make them a natural combo. My favorite seafood wines come from the Loire Valley. Not only are these wines moderately priced but they are also extremely complex and very balanced. When shucking oysters in your backyard, a classic Muscadet should be your go-to. If you want to move on to something more substantial like a lobster roll, a richer Vouvray would match the texture of the dish and help to freshen your palate with its bright acidity. Not all seafood needs to be drunk with white wine however. When preparing seafood on the grill, red can be more appropriate than white. I enjoy cracking a juicy bottle of Beaujolais when I am grilling up salmon." — Eric Railsback (Les Marchands Wine Bar & Merchant and Mason Pacific
Viognier for Oysters
"For oysters, Viognier does it for me. It’s a touch sweet on the nose and fruity on the palate but brings out the salty/briny taste of the oysters with the slight minerality. It’s a texture thing! Oysters are briny and Viognier carries that oily texture in a small dose so the two blend perfectly. At the moment, I’m very much a fan of California Viognier; Porter Creek has perfected it right now."— Samantha Shaw (Crystal Springs)
Consider the Dark Horse
"While Muscadet and Champagne get all the attention here, I think the whites from Liguria are a dark horse in this category. Working with varieties such as Pigato, Vermentino among many other odd balls, these wines have a vein of salinity and an herbaceous character that make them natural with all things bivalve. Grown often times on steeply terraced slopes that tower over the Mediterranean, these wines just seems to absorb all that sea air and the wild thyme and rosemary that grow all around them." — Michael Garofola (Genoa)
Consider Other Cultures
"For fish, I would look at cultures that eat a lot of fish. For example, for sushi, I like beer and sake. For light fish dishes, Txakoli and Cava (sparkling wine) from Spain are perfect matches." — Jorge Tinoco (The Restaurant at Wente Vineyards)
Chenin with Oysters
"Generally, when I consider wines for seafood, I mainly lean towards fresh and lively whites without any oak. You want to stay in a clean, citrus fruit style and maintain good and potent acidity. Delicate wines for delicate flavors. With oysters you can go a couple of different ways. Champagne is very traditional, but Chenin Blanc from Vouvray, Montlouis, Jasnières, and Sauternes are my favorites." — Matt Tunstall (Husk)
"Grüner-Veltliner offers green vegetable notes and white pepper flavors that play well with vegetable and spiced seafood dishes. Grüner-Veltliner can be a chameleon in regards to weight and power, which is beneficial when selecting a specific one. I would take it in a sparkling form with oysters or lobster rolls and try to find a Smaragd style from Wachau for richer seafood like salmon." — Brent Kroll (Neighborhood Restaurant Group)
Pink with Salmon
"To be safe, wines from areas that are located by the sea usually work best with seafood. Go figure! For salmon on the grill, look to rosés or lighter reds. For rosé, try the best this side of the Mississippi, the 2012 Matthiasson Rosé from Napa, or for a lighter red, try the 2010 Occhipinti Frappato from Sicily." — Josiah Baldivino (Michael Mina)
For Lobster Rolls: Beer
"There are many factors to consider when attempting to match wine with a particular dish—seafood or otherwise. Some of these factors include the type of fish, the preparation method, the sauce, and the set. For instance, a branzino grilled over a wood fire and served with a rich sauce would match with a rich white wine or light red wine; perhaps a California Chardonnay or a Pinot Noir from Burgundy. Whereas that same fish baked in a conventional oven with a bit of lemon and olive oil, served with a salad of fresh greens lightly dressed with citrus and white wine vinegar would match best with a lighter bodied white; perhaps a Sauvignon Blanc from the Loire Valley or an Albarino from Rias Baixas.
I am a native New Englander, and I have eaten a lot of lobster rolls. Just to be clear, my definition of ‘lobster roll’: split-top hot dog bun overflowing with hot lobster meat dripping in melted butter—and nothing else. I associate eating them with hot summer days, and picnics at the beach, so for me, the best match with a lobster roll is an ice cold lager or Pilsner-style beer with the smell of salt air on the breeze." — Steven Izzo (Waterbar)
Acidity is Essential
"For me, the best wines for seafood have to be searing in acid. I happen to love Aussie Riesling, Muscadet, and even the aromatic Torrontés. Sometimes the waxy nature of Torrontés is just what the doctor ordered." — DLynn Proctor (Penfolds Winemaking Ambassador)
Salmon and Pinot or Zin
"Living in the Northwest, I've experimented with a lot of salmon and wine pairings. Oregon Pinot Noir is the classic pairing around here. A few of my favorites are: Thomas, Cameron, Cristom, Patricia Green Cellars and Evesham Wood.
Another favorite is slightly chilled California Zinfandel on a warm summer evening with grilled salmon. Favorites include: Ridge Vineyards, the Lytton Springs or Geyserville bottlings; Green & Red Vineyard from Napa; Dashe Cellars from Sonoma. The bright berry fruit and black pepper flavors just pair so well with the fish." — Randy Goodman (Bar Avignon)
"Seafood is interesting to pair with because while it’s often delicate in texture, it can also have really bold flavors. As a result, I lean towards wines that are lighter in body but fuller in flavor. I’m partial to a wine that’ll really bring out the brininess of an oyster while complementing it's texture. One great option would be Gaia’s 'Thalassitis' ('Thalassa' means sea in Greek); it’s 100% Assyrtiko, grown on the island of Santorini with vineyards right next to the Aegean sea, and has a fantastic mineral backbone with a citrusy lush finish. For salmon on the grill, I’m moving in the direction of a Jura red. Tissot’s Poulsard has great acidity that cuts the fattiness of salmon with some tart cranberry and blood orange notes to play really well with the char flavor from the grill." — Julia Travis (Cull & Pistol)
Lobster with New World Chardonnay
"Lobster is one of the few reasons I will crave New World Chardonnay above all others—a buttery, California Chardonnay is the perfect accompaniment. Just like dipping lobster in drawn butter. The other perfect pairing for these wines being popcorn and a chick flick."— Jennifer Tietz (Tru)
"I will drink Chablis all day with oysters, lobster rolls, Dungeness crab, mussels, anything. The heavier the dish, the higher the cru. Chablis can really deliver on a lot of levels—it can be rather full-bodied, rather generous in fruit depending on the vintage, bright acidity and so creamy." — Cara Patricia (Hakkasan San Francisco)
Try Rhone Valley Whites with Lobster
"No matter how a lobster is cooked, it invokes a sensation of butter and decadence. Chardonnay would be the classic choice, but a Rhône Valley white wine made with Marsanne/Roussanne will give you the look of an enlightened wine guru all your friends want at their dinner party.
When we're considering salmon, the grill brings in a smoky note that adds a power and punch that demands a bigger presence to the wine. Try a nice Viognier, it has delicate floral notes over tropical fruit. The most famous come from Condrieu but look to California for a different take at a more approachable price." — John Toigo (Fiola)
Try Schiava with Salmon or Ocean Trout
"I've totally fallen for a wine that I inherited on our list: Weingut Niklas Schiava. It's a pale-hued, light, high-acid red, redolent of strawberries and violets from the cooler Alpine Italian DOC of the Alto Adige. We have an ocean trout, which is salmon-like, on the menu that's served with a spring salad over a carbonara with the bacon component replaced by smoked hon-shimeji mushrooms. The pretty Schiava provides beautiful contrasting tones to the smokier note of the dish along with plentiful acidity that cuts through the oil-rich fish." — Patrick Dorsey (Hatfield's)
Try Sake and Oysters
"For West Coast oysters, I lean towards Chenin Blanc. East Coast oysters need more salinity—like a Muscadet. But I truly love how a balanced Junmai sake complements the flavors of the oysters, a true perfect match." — Chris Johnson (Cherry)
Don't Forget Sherry
"For wine with oysters and other shellfish, think coastal and islands, places like far western Loire, the island of Corsica and its wealth of clean, saline, acid tightrope rosés and whites, Cassis in Provence is classic, Albarino from Spain! And Champagne, ah champagne, and fino sherry." — Star Black (Olympic Provisions)
Bolder Wine For The Grill
"Grilled salmon: a fish that screams red wine! Normally I go for Burgundy when I’m having salmon, but throw that little fishie on the grill and all of a sudden it warrants a bolder wine. I won’t even begin to try to list all the wonderful Sonoma Coast and Russian River Pinots that are perfect for this dish, ah okay, I will: Aubert, DuMOL, Failla, Marcassin, Morlet, Rochioli, Three Sticks…" — Chris Bradford (Culina)
Torrontés for Oysters, Chardonnay for Lobster
"I recently combined oysters with a Torrontés from the Calchaquí Valley in Northern Argentina and the outcome was fantastic. A medium-bodied Chardonnay (especially from South Mendoza!) is a fantastic complement to lobster rolls, and salmon on the grill is an ideal occasion to open a sparkling rosé, perhaps a blend of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay." — Sebastian Koncurat (Malbec and Tango House)