Can You Drink Red Wine with Fish

I hope to tear down a few taboo walls here today. I plan to do it with an unusual recipe for Spiced Salmon with Wine Braised Shallots, Edamame & Sunchoke Puree I adapted from Holly Peterson, CIA.

The wall that’s about to tumble today is the old belief that red wine is for meat and white wine is for fish. 9 out of 10 people you ask will agree with this premise. And there’s a lot of conventional wisdom (and even some science) supporting this malarkey. But like all conventional wisdom (and all malarkey for that matter), it’s never as simple as the simpletons would have you believe. It’s a mantra we’ve heard regularly, so we tend to stick to it rigidly– even when our own palates tell us otherwise.

Sure white wines are generally a good choice for fish. Fish itself is lighter and more delicate in flavor than meat dishes. One of the first ‘rules’ in pairing food with wine is the proper balance of ‘weight’ and ‘texture’ between the food and wine, so at the most basic level it makes perfect sense to choose white wine with fish and red wine with the heavier textures found in meat.

But that doesn’t mean you can’t pair red wine with fish. The key still lies in balance; you don’t want to overpower the flavor of the fish with a big wine unless there are supporting flavors and textures that change the overall weight of the flavor profile.

Which is exactly what today’s recipe accomplishes. Because hidden in this recipe is a bridge between the fish and the bolder, spicier nature of some red wines. And I have a map to that bridge I’m willing to share.

If we look at the recipe I included below we will see a mixture of strong spices. Black pepper, cumin, coriander and mustard seeds. These spices are not only heavy handed, but their power is amplified because I am using them as a dry rub on the fish.

This treatment certainly defines the flavor profile and must be considered when pairing this spice rubbed fish with wine. Still, not any fish could hold its integrity when handled this way, so I chose salmon. Salmon is a fatty enough fish with enough of its own weight and texture to stand beside these bold flavors and still assert itself.

My thinking goes like this: If a meaty fish has enough weight to stand up to cumin, certainly it has enough chutzpah to handle a nice fruity red wine. Maybe something with just enough spice to mirror some of the flavors in the spice rub. The same spices that completely change the balance in this recipe and add an extra element of weight that needs to be considered when pairing this fish with wine.

Typically, I’d pair a dish like this with a very specific wine. I considered doing that today. But then you’d be substituting conventional wisdom for my advice. Both are reasonable ways to choose wine, but I’d rather you think about the pairing on your own. Because ultimately I prefer the wisdom in another old wine adage: Drink what you like, and you will like what you drink. GREG