There are a few rules to keep in mind when choosing which wines to pair with your food. One of the most pervasive and rigidly stuck to rules is that you should never combine red wine and fish. The lack of richness in the fish, coupled with the full body and complexity of a red wine, leads to a mish-mash of flavours that simply do not go all that well together. In fact, by combining one with the other you potentially ruin both.
Or at least, that’s what everybody says. It’s become such a common myth that you should never pair red wine with fish that most people have never even tried it for themselves. After all, why do that when you can enjoy the fish with a nice white wine before having the red with something a little richer?
Well, we’re here to ask the question of “Why not?” Why shouldn’t you pair your red wine with fish? After all, as with any food, making the right choices can actually create a rather spectacular dish.
The Old Ways
In truth, the stigma surrounding red wine and fish is a little old fashioned. Traditionalists will forever note that you shouldn’t put the two together, but in a world where wine is more popular than ever before it is inevitable that some people are going to enjoy the combination and yet others are actually going to be able to find red wine and fish pairings that go really well together on a more objective scale.
Let’s put it like this. Rare is the occasion when you are going to walk into a restaurant to discover that the waiter and everybody who overhears your order is going to breathe through their noses at you and dismiss you as a novice for choosing the wrong wine. The truth is that people are much more liberal with their opinions on what people eat with their wines and you are just as likely to find somebody wondering if you know something that they don’t than you are to find somebody who thinks it’s either their way or the highway.
That isn’t to say that things can’t go horribly wrong when you’re pairing red wine with fish. As with any type of food, if you pick the wrong wine you are going to get a clash. The key issue here is that the tannins in a red wine, which lend the drink the full-bodied flavour that so many people fall in love with, can sometimes feel fairly dry and even a little cumbersome when paired with fish. This is particularly the case when you pair a red wine with strong tannins with a fish that offers a soft and flaky texture. Mix the two together and you often get a strange mix of flavours that is genuinely unappealing.
So if we are to offer any advice in this article, beyond saying that people should experiment for themselves to see what they discover, it is this: pair fish with red wines that have low tannins. A good, fruity red wine that is known more for its lightness than its complexity is usually the way to go.
When it comes to Italian reds, lightness is not always something that comes easy. You are generally not going to pair a Chianti with fish, for example. Instead, something a little more simple will ably fit the bill. A Lambrusco can fit the bill, as can a light Pinot Noir. The former, in particular, is a very good choice as it comes from a region that is very well known for its cheeses and has thus been created with pairing with non-traditional red wine foods in mind.
Along with choosing the right wine, you also need to pick the right fish. Nobody is suggesting that you mix a good red wine with tuna flakes or something equally light. Even the red wines with the lowest tannins will struggle not to overpower such a pairing.
Instead, opt for a fish that offers a rich, meaty texture of its own. A good monkfish steak will fit the bill quite well, as will cod and salmon if cooked correctly. All of these fish offer the solid texture that prevents the clashing issue that we mentioned earlier – dry wine with flaky fish, while being rich enough to actually compete with some fairly frisky red wines.
Another great combination is the Spanish dish of paella with a red wine. Here you will find that the juicy morsels of squid and prawn in the dish actually pair really well with the wine, plus everything surrounding the fish will act as a sort of buffer that will help you to really dig into what makes the pairing so special.
What You Should Avoid
So we’ve already touched a little on what you should probably avoid when creating a red wine and fish pairing, but it’s worth going into a little more detail for those of you who don’t want to too many risks.
As a very general rule, avoid pairing even light red wines with more delicate white fish. Oysters are generally off the table too, as their creamy texture actually calls for a dry white to offset the balance. Of course, the rules are made to be broken, as the old saying goes, and there’s nothing stopping you from trying such a combination if you want to. Just recognize that you’re running a little bit more of a risky game with those than you might with any other type of fish.
The Final Word
So, what have we learned here? We think that if there is a lesson to take away from all this it is that it is perfectly acceptable to pair a red wine with fish. Make some smart choices and you may even end up with a combination that really surprises you with its quality. Follow the general rule of low tannins and rich fish and you shouldn’t go too far wrong.