Enjoying a hearty Italian meal with the family is never complete without the perfect wine to complement the food. Italian fare is meant to be an experience from start to finish, meaning that the wine which is chosen to accompany the meal is every bit as important as the meal with which it is being enjoyed. The rich flavors of pasta and meat are supposed to be balanced by an equally elegant wine, bringing out the best of the ingredients, and pleasing the company with whom you’re sharing it.
But sometimes finding the right wine can be difficult, especially given the vast selection of wine varieties available to us. How can you be sure if you’re choosing the right one?
As expert wine crafters and enthusiasts, our Candoni De Zan team will walk you through the intricate world of wine pairings and how you can find a bottle that uniquely highlights every dish. This month, we will focus on finding a crisp, light wine that truly complements one Southern Italian staple: shrimp.
Understanding the Dish
Seafood and Italian cuisine go hand-in-hand. Homemade favorites like Linguine Allo Scoglio, Scampi, and Fra Diavolo all use shrimp (or prawns) as the focal point of the dish. Chefs, not wanting to overpower the fresh flavor of the shrimp, will typically use a light sauce with hints of spice, herbs, lemon zest, and garlic.
When cooking with seafood, our connoisseurs stress the importance of freshness. The flavor compounds that we mentioned above, like garlic and lemon, bring out the best of the shrimp without making it taste overly ‘fishy.’ The buttery sauce that so many of us enjoy with sautéed shrimp is the perfect counterpart for a soft white wine.
The Science Behind The Taste
As a general rule of thumb, our wine experts recommend pairing seafood, and especially shrimp, with white wine. While it might seem like this pairing is just personal preference, it turns out there are some serious scientific explanations behind why this is a match made in heaven.
White wine is particularly acidic when compared to red wine. As we all know, acidity is a great addition to seafood, because it actually neutralizes the ‘fishy’ flavors of the dish. This is exactly why lemon juice is such a common ingredient in seafood recipes. Very acidic white wine is low in pH, while fish and shrimp are naturally chocked full of alkaline amines, which are high in pH. As you probably suspect, the addition of white wine brings these levels to a happy medium, enhancing the overall flavor of the shrimp and reducing the briny, salty taste that is associated with natural alkaline compounds.
To compare, red wine has large concentrations of iron, which can easily overpower the light flavors of seafood and shrimp. Because a glass of red wine doesn’t bring the same level of acidic oomph, it can give the dish a metallic tang or make it taste fishier than it otherwise would be. While there are surely some cases of red wines that pair with seafood, we almost always find that drinkers, both casual and professional, find shrimp to be best served with white wine.
This explanation might sound overly complicated, but our experts agree that these small chemical reactions are the foundation of wine pairings. Without realizing it, every time you take a sip of white wine there are thousands of tiny ammonium salt reactions taking place, sending waves of flavor across your palate. When you recognize the distinct flavor compounds of the dish, you can better find a wine with the acidity and body to match it.
It is important to note that the vinification (or winemaking) process carefully selects grapes that have these qualities. At the Candoni De Zan vineyards, for instance, white grapes are hand-picked during the peak of freshness so that they have a balanced level of sugar and acid. If left on the vine for too long, grapes begin to lose their acidity, so in order to achieve the highest caliber white wine, grapes have to closely monitored throughout the season.
What Qualities to Look For
Even though we know that white wine is the perfect option for shrimp, there are still so many varieties to pick from. To help narrow down the list of possible wine pairings, there are a few key characteristics that will help you determine which bottle is the perfect option for your seafood dish:
- High acidity: Again, high acidity is truly the key to pairing with seafood. An acidic white wine will make the dish taste fresher and livelier by minimizing the ‘fishy’ aftertaste, especially if ingredients like lemon or garlic are cooked into the shrimp.
- Crisp: Each sip of wine should be a short-lived flavor experience. The texture of the wine shouldn’t overpower the meal, but should slightly enhance the flavor after each bite. In many ways, the wine is serving as a palate cleanser, much like fresh ginger with sushi.
- Light aftertaste: Wines that end with a particularly dry finish or a sweet aperitif note can get in the way of shrimp’s light flavor. The wine should not actually impart any real flavor to the shrimp, but should instead leave the drinker’s mouth feeling refreshed.
- Served chilled: The acidity and flavor of white wine is best experienced when served at a temperature between 46°F and 50° This is warmer than the average refrigerator, but colder than room temperature. Serving it too cold will make the wine taste especially sharp, while serving it too warm will make it taste overly sweet.
- Flavors and aromas: Flavor compounds are frequently added to white wine to bring notes of fruit, nuts, or other spices. Light tasting notes will create a deeper, more complex wine pairing.
- Slightly dry: Some wine experts suggest a dry white with seafood, but we usually recommend a lighter option with shrimp. Unless there is a heavy cream sauce poured over the seafood, then it’s best to opt for a white wine with only a crisp, slightly dry finish.
- Medium to full-bodied: Because shrimp dishes are usually very light in ingredients, we want a developed white wine that brings a variety of rich flavors.
- Slightly sweet: We certainly don’t want a sweet wine like Moscato being paired with shrimp, but we do find that a slight sweetness matches buttery and tart seafood sauces, bringing a salty-sweet combination that accentuates the dish.
Selecting the Right Wine
The Candoni De Zan Family crafts each and every wine with food pairings in mind. Each white wine is delicate enough to be enjoyed by itself, but rich enough to match with any seafood dish that you are sharing with your family. Our team of sommeliers and winemakers has selected the following white wines as our top picks for shrimp and seafood meals:
Tenuta Polvaro Lison Classico
The grapes for this full-bodied wine are picked early during the third week of September to preserve the acidity and flavor of the grapes. After fermenting in both steel tanks and oak barrels, the wine is blended to bring a complexity of crisp fruit with a nutty, almond finish. Because of its rich, flavorful tasting notes, we recommend our Lison Classico with heavier shrimp pastas or seafood bakes that require an equally savory wine.
Carletto Ricco Bianco
This popular wine brings two flavor elements together: the crispness of Pinot Grigio with the creaminess of Sauvignon Blanc. When you are enjoying buttery shrimp scampi or grilled seafood, this wine finds a perfect balance between rich flavor and light texture. This medium-bodied wine has a creamy finish with a hint of lime and citrus in the aftertaste. Candoni De Zan highly recommends this uniquely blended wine for fans of seafood.
Tenuta Polvaro Oro Blend
In Italian, “oro” means gold – and the Tenuta Polvaro estate has named this bottle of wine after its distinctive color and full-bodied, regal taste. This white wine packs fruity notes of honeydew and apricot, with a dry white pepper finish, giving the wine a highly acidic and springy flavor. Blended with a variety of grape varietals like Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio, Verduzzo, and Traminer, this wine is a wonderful complement to hearty seafood dishes or heavy shrimp pastas.
Candoni Pinot Grigio
For a crisp, slightly-fruity flavor to complement a light seafood meal, the Candoni Pinot Grigio is a great pairing. This medium-bodied wine features notes of acidity without overpowering the delicate, sweet finish. Because this wine has a higher sugar content, we recommend pairing it with light, oil-based sauces that highlight the flavor of the shrimp. It also pairs perfectly with flavorful vegetables like zucchini or squash.
Candoni Prosecco Brut and Shrimp Risotto
While we did not mention it above, seafood can also be paired quite nicely with an effervescent white wine. The Candoni Prosecco finds notes of moderate acidity that are complemented by sweet honey taste and delicate, slightly bubbly texture. Our double fermentation process uses a traditional Charmat Method to achieve the highest quality sparkling wine. Chefs in and around Italy are finding this to be a perfect pair for shrimp risotto, enhancing the richness of the ingredients without overpowering them. Click on our video below for more information about this specific pairing.
Wine pairings can be a difficult undertaking for beginners, but with a little bit of information to guide you through the selection process, you can find a pairing that matches your tastes and accentuates the unique flavors of the dish. Check back soon for more information about wine pairings from our monthly Candoni Complements blog posts.