Pairing Wines With Seafood

WINE OF THE WEEK Bruce Cochran

Hello Everyone,

Let’s talk about seafood dishes this week, something good on a warm summer evening. I’m listing some of my all-time favorite dishes and the wines that pair best with them.

Try a new wine this week!


It’s always seemed to me there’s more variety in seafood dishes than in beef dishes.

From mussels and clams to Lobster Newberg, some are very light and delicate while others are much richer — especially those recipes that include cream and butter. Some have lemon juice, which really affects a wine’s flavor, while others do not. Here are some of my favorite seafood and wine combinations:

• Boiled shrimp with Riesling: I’ve loved this match for years, ever since as a young fellow I was introduced to it by a much more worldly couple. The Riesling should be on the dry side, but many Riesling lovers, myself among them, prefer the classic “off-dry” style. Ideally, the small amount of residual sugar in the wine is offset, almost hidden, by Riesling’s naturally tart, green apple-like acidity, which also obviates the need for lemon.

• Mussels with sauvignon blanc: Here’s another classic, especially with today’s crisp, lively, unoaked “Pacific Rim” style popularized by New Zealand sauvignon blancs. I include dishes such as cioppino here, an Italian seafood soup or stew where seafood is simmered in a tomato-based broth. For this combination I do like a little lemon juice.

• Sautéed grouper with lightly oaked chardonnay: This dish can change a lot with the sauce, but simply deglazing the pan with wine, then reducing the wine a bit is one of my favorites. Too much oak can dominate the fish, but I think a subtle touch of oak adds some complexity and body — hopefully just enough to complement this wonderful fish. This is also the style of wine I like with most seafood bisques and other cream-based soups.

And speaking of cream — and, yes, butter — I can’t resist a good Lobster Newberg. Rich in flavor and texture, for me it calls for a full-throttle, oaky, buttery chardonnay, an increasingly difficult style to find. Younger readers may not have had this classic combination yet, which means you have something to look forward to.

Another style of chardonnay, found in many Central Coast offerings, has tropical fruit notes that pair well with fruit salsas. The combination of sweet and spicy is great on swordfish.

And for us red wine lovers, it’s hard to beat tuna steaks and pinot noir, preferably one that emphasizes cherry-like fruit flavors over toasty oak and puckery tannins.

The newly released California Karma Chardonnay is made with Monterey County grapes, where cool ocean breezes help the grapes retain their crisp, tart, palate-cleansing acidity. Seventy percent unoaked, this is the style I like with sautéed grouper and seafood bisques. It retails for around $13-$14 a bottle.

Bruce Cochran has traveled to every major wine region on four continents. A 30-year veteran of the wine trade, he taught continuing education wine classes for 26 years at colleges throughout Arkansas.

Categories: Legacy Archive