After traveling across the ocean and the continental United States to college, it turned out that vegetarianism—well, pescatarianism—was pretty easy to follow at a crunchy east coast liberal arts college. I never missed pork or beef or chicken, ate a lot of peanut butter and Goldfish, and was a generally happy camper, gastronomically speaking. Since graduating, I’ve introduced fowl of all sorts back into my diet, and since pregnancy, bacon is familiar territory, but in generally fish finds its way onto my plate fairly often. Unwilling to sacrifice my love of red wine for my arbitrary dietary choices, I’ve often dabbled in red wine and fish pairings, a long pronounced no-no in many food and wine pairing discussions. I’m happy to announce there are scads of options for people like me.
First things first: When you talk about pairing wines and food, it’s important to consider the weight of each. Not literally, don’t whip out a scale, but the heft of the punches the dish and the wine individually pack. If your food and wine don’t match in weight (or at least get close), chances are one will trump the other. With wine, a quick recap, we can consider the weight or body of a wine by comparing it to milk: skim milk is just a tad richer than water, so we’ll call it light. Whole milk is more viscous so we’ll call it medium-bodied. And heavy cream is thick and creamy, totally palate coating and is therefore heavy or full-bodied. They all spawn from the same material, but coat your palate differently.
To put that in the context of actual wines, consider the classic Sauvignon Blanc or Pinot Noir: These are notoriously “light” wines, meaning they won’t coat the inside of your mouth as much as heftier bottles will and are more likely to be called refreshing than rich. Medium-bodied wines include many Tempranillos, Zinfandels, or Verdejos (a Spanish grape, see my article on the Pinot Grigio Problem for more!). Wines dubbed heavy or full-bodied more often include Cabernet Sauvignon and heavily oaked Chardonnay. There are white and red expressions of all weights of wine, something to keep in mind when we get to our dishes.
We’re talking fish here, but fish are just as heterogeneous as wines when it comes to texture, richness, and preparation. What’s the fish’s texture? Is it delicate, white, and flakey? Is it an oily fish? Was it cooked with citrus and herbs? Is there a cream or reduction sauce? What’s your garnish? What’s the most powerful flavor on the dish? When you’re picking out what glass you want to join you for dinner, consider the table as a whole.
One thing, probably the source for that earlier discounted red wine and fish pairing rule, fish oil is generally not a friend to wine’s tannins. The combination of the two chemically creates an unpleasant and persistent metallic taste that’ll dominate whatever else you may taste. And while I’m not an expert, but I do have a few favorite dishes and red wine pairings that I’d love to share.