When it comes to food and wine pairings, seafood can be a wildcard—primarily because there’s so much variety to be found within the category. Lobster’s flavor doesn’t much resemble a scallop, and the heartiness of trout in no way resembles the delicate taste of shrimp. The idea that fish should only be served with white wine is incorrect, but pervasive.
Still, while a Pinot Noir might complement salmon beautifully, it will almost completely blot out a nice piece of flounder. In general, when dealing with the sweeter end of the seafood spectrum (crab, lobster, scallop), think about a drier white, while darker, oilier fishes (salmon, trout, mackerel), can even stand up to a medium-bodied Merlot. If you just can’t decide (or are confronting a multi-fish dish such as Paella), don’t forget the most versatile of seafood-paring wines, Champagne.
Cantina Terlano 1991 Terlaner Rarity
With white wine, it is a rare thing indeed for 25 years to pass between harvest and bottling. That’s just what Italian producer Cantina Terlano has done with this extraordinary blend of Pinot Bianco, Chardonnay, and Sauvignon Blanc. The 1991 Terlaner Rarity ($350) spent a year in oak before being transferred to stainless steel tanks, where it rested on the lees until bottling in 2016.
“I go to Verona every year for Vinitaly [a trade event], and we always have dinner at a really good seafood restaurant. With wonderful seafood, I love to drink the beautiful white wines of Terlano in the Alto Adige,” says Ivan Zanovello, wine director at The Tasting Kitchen in Venice, Calif. He likens the 1991 Terlaner Rarity to the very best Burgundian whites. “The wine is extremely elegant, with a mineral core and delicate nose with flowers, citrus, and chamomile. It perfectly cuts thru the fat of raw tuna and shrimp, as well as with the fruitiness of the dressings.”
Champagne Marie Courtin 2012 Efflorescence Extra Brut
Champagne Marie Courtin is located in the village of Polisot in the Côte des Bars, in the southern part of the Champagne region, and area renowned for its Pinot Noir grapes. Thanks to slightly warmer temperatures and rich limestone sub soils, however, the Champagne, like this Efflorescence Extra Brut ($75), produced there retains a freshness similar to Chablis. “This is an immaculate Champagne, a celestial god,” gushes Roni Ginach, wine director at Michael’s Santa Monica. “It’s so soft, and full of life. Super powerful and focused. This wine is superb with seafood — specifically lobster or any crustacean.”
E. Guigal Condrieu 2016 La Doriane
For James Beard Award-winning sommelier Belinda Chang, whether it’s the most decadent tasting menus at Michelin 3-star restaurants or glorious dinners served at home, the meal is made luxe by the finest cuts of meat, the best caviar and, always, lobster. “My favorite lobster presentation is a warm, velvety, almost foamy lobster bisque paired with the always unctuous prestige Condrieu from the Guigal family,” says Chang. “This match is rich on rich in the best way.” La Doriane ($135) is made from several vineyard plots with exceptionally low yields. The wine is aged in new barriques, and the result is an almost tropical, textured, and balanced Viognier.
Gothic 2014 Nevermore Pinot Noir Willamette Valley
There was a time when food-pairing rules dictated that white wines were served with fish and red wines served with meat. Jessica Norris, director of beverage for Del Frisco’s Grille, believes that’s a rule that was made to be broken. “I absolutely love Pinot Noir with seafood,” says Norris. Gothic Nevermore ($25) is a pretty little Pinot from Oregon’s Willamette Valley. It boasts bright red fruit, subtle spice and a smooth elegant finish. “This is the perfect match for the rich caramelized sear and sweet-creamy texture of a scallop. Seriously, put them together and its fireworks.”
Sigalas 2016 Assyrtiko Santorini
Founded in 1991, Domaine Sigalas has earned a reputation as one of the finest white wine producers in all of Greece. The winery’s varietal of choice is Assyrtiko, a beguiling grape that is widely planted in the arid volcanic-ash-rich soil on the island of Santorini. “Sigalas makes some of the best white wines in the world,” says Brent Kroll of Maxwell Park wine bar in Washington, DC. “This 100 percent Assyrtiko is savory and ripe, with sneaky natural acidity that’s through the roof. It’s not creamy or oaky, and therefore is at home with briny or fried seafood, which is what they tend to pair it with on Santorini.”