Throwing some fish on the grill and spritzing it with a squeeze of lemon is an easy way to celebrate the waning days of summer. For drinkables, the rules had always been “drink white wine with fish.” An inevitable backlash brought red into style, but there is room for both on the porch, soaking up the last illuminated evenings of the year.
The wine you serve with a meal should never overwhelm your food, so if big oaked reds are your favorites, consider putting them aside for the night in favor of a wine with a lighter touch. If you insist on a powerful, oaky wine, try to select a richer fish like salmon, a bold sauce (enhanced with mushrooms, soy, and some of the wine), or hefty sides. (Or throw out your seafood plan and go with burgers instead.)
When picking wine to drink with grilled seafood, you have the added complexity of smoke (especially if you use charcoal) and the crisp charred edges of the fish—there are lots of flavors to play with here. If you marinate your fish or use a sauce, be sure take that into account when selecting a wine that will help make your meal shine. If you’re going simple, look for wines with fresh acidity and lots of minerality with lighter fish, and slightly richer body if you’re going for buttery scallops or sweet shrimp.
Fresh, light whites will serve almost any kind of grilled seafood well, and are especially delicious with delicate white fish. A classic Muscadet from the Loire Valley in France like Domaine de la Pépière Sèvre et Maine Sur Lie is zingy and bright with crisp citrus and luscious minerality. ($11-$15, find this wine)
Heading over to Santorini, Greece, the indigenous assyrtiko grape offers a broad yet clean palate full of rain-on-stones minerality and a savory, slightly nutty finish. Try the 2010 Gaia Wild Ferment. (Around $24, find this wine)
An Italian white that is packed full of fish-friendly minerality like the 2010 Villa Sparina Gavi di Gavi will brighten any seafood that you can throw on a grill. ($13-$23, find this wine)
Throwing an haute-barbecue with grilled scallops and shrimp? Rich, fuller whites will be a particularly tasty pairing. Burgundy offers some delightfully balanced chardonnays with zippy lemon-bright acidity and hints of round buttery flavors; I like the 2007 Domaine Caillot Bourgogne Blanc ‘Les Herbeaux.’ (Around $24, find this wine)
Up for something funky? Are your guests willing to experiment a little? Try serving a crisp and salty fino sherry like the Emilio Lustau ‘Solera Reserva’ Fino. The fortified wine from Spain loves a simple fish sprinkled with herbs and breadcrumbs. (Around $16, find this wine)
If you’re serving salmon or other richer fish, you have the option of soft, earthy reds like pinot noir—the pairing is a classic because it’s delicious. An elegant Oregon pinot like the 2009 Four Graces Willamette Valley Pinot Noir tastes of freshly picked raspberries and will soften into the fatty fish. ($20-$30, find this wine)
If you are all pinot-ed out, look to Austria and its indigenous saint laurent grape. The earthy stink, dried cherry, and herb flavors of the 2008 Rosi Schuster Sankt Laurent are a delicate pairing with salmon. ($20-$25, find this wine)
Sicilian reds also lend themselves to seafood with their light, silky tannins and dusty berry flavors. A blend of two local grapes, nero d’avola and frappato, the 2009 Arianna Occhipinti SP68 Sicilia Rosso is perfect served with a slight chill. (Around $24, find this wine)
Of course, there are many more options—what’s your favorite wine to drink with grilled seafood?
About the Author: Sarah Chappell is a winemonger and writer living in Brooklyn. She holds the Advanced Certificate with Distinction from the Wine and Spirit Education Trust and has contributed to Foodista, Palate Press and WineChap.
First Photograph Courtesy of: avlxyz on Flickr
Second Photograph Courtesy of: tomcensani on Flickr