Sunday, March 11, 2012

International Boston Seafood Show: Wine & Seafood

It has been a long, fascinating and delicious day, roaming the myriad rows of the 2012 International Boston Seafood Show (IBSS), sampling a multitude of seafood items, from oysters to lobster. I am feeling quite full after this long day and probably won't even eat dinner. Though I found numerous recipes at the various booths, suggestions and advice on preparing many different species of seafood, there was far less information about wine pairings for these various dishes.

I asked many different exhibitors about which wine they would recommend with their various dishes. The results were rather disappointing. A fair number of people said they knew little about wine pairing so their suggestions tended more to just "white wine." As for those that offered more specific recommendations, it still tended to be the standards, such as Pinot Noir for salmon and Chardonnay for oysters. The only intriguing idea was from Pickled Willys, who recommended a light Riesling from Chateau St. Michelle with their pickled seafood products.

So I wanted to remedy that situation to a degree, providing some basic suggestions for seafood and wine pairing, as well as offering some more uncommon pairing ideas.

In general, the concept of pairing wine with food can feel very intimidating to many consumers, as they hear all about the "rules" of wine & food pairing and worry that they might be doing something wrong. But, consumers are best served if they stop worrying about these so-called rules, which in actuality are more guidelines and suggestions. The perfect food and wine pairing is the one that you most enjoy, no matter what any expert tells you. Personal preference outweighs everything else.

But, even though there are no absolute rules, there are scientific and logical reasons why many people might find some wines and foods pair much better together than others. So, I want to offer some pairing suggestions to you, especially some that are much less common, with some reasons why you might find the pairings work well. Try out these ideas, and if you like the pairings, then remember them. And if you don't like them, no worries either. But at least we willing to try something different, to expand your palate.

When considering which wine to pair with seafood, there are a number of considerations. Which type of fish? Is it shellfish, white fish, red fish, or something else? How has the seafood been prepared? Fried, baked, grilled, poached? Was it prepared with a little olive oil & lemon, or a heavy cream sauce? All of those factor into which types of wines might work well with the dishes.

Let us first banish the myth that you do not drink red wine with fish. Yes, there are valid reasons why red wine does not pair well with some seafood dishes, but it should not be dismissed out of hand. Some red wines, and it is difficult to determine beforehand, contain minute amounts of iron that can cause seafood to leave a fishy taste in your mouth. In addition, strong tannins in a red wine can adversely react with the iodine in seafood and leave a metallic taste in your mouth. Red wine will work best with stronger red fish, like tuna and salmon, and generally they should be softer reds, such as Pinot Noir, Merlot and Barbera.

In general, white wines work well with many types of seafood and varied preparations, but the specific style of the wine does matter. For example, Chardonnay and oysters is usually a good pairing, but it is best with the drier, less oaked (or unoaked) versions. We also cannot forget the versatility of Champagne and Sparkling Wines with seafood, especially shellfish.

For seafood pairings, though many think initially think of common wines like Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, and Pinot Grigio, there is much more out there. Think about wine regions that are located close to the sea, as their white wines were probably produced to pair well with seafood, such as Spanish Albarino, Portuguese Vinho Verde, South African Chenin Blanc, or Italian Friuliano. Though even a land locked country like Austria makes whites that work with seafood, like Grüner Veltliner. Instead of the same old white, try something different, like one of the wine types I mentioned.

Another good choice for wine pairing with seafood that many people don't think about it is dry Fino and Manzanilla Sherry from Spain. The Jerez region where Sherry is produced is on the southern coast of Spain and they eat plenty of seafood there. These sherries pair well with seafood, especially shrimp, mussels and more oily fish like sardines and anchovies. Many other white wines have difficulty working with more oily fish but these sherries do the job very well. Amontillado and Oloroso Sherries, being richer, work better with stronger fish, such as bluefish and tuna. Scientifically, the vast amount of volatile molecules in these sherries make them very versatile with food of all types, and not just seafood.

One of the most versatile beverages to pair with seafood though is Sake. The flavor profiles of Sake are diverse and plentiful, so there is a type of Sake which should pair well with basically any seafood dish, no matter how prepared. A richer Junmai Sake can stand up to a heartier seafood dish, or a red fish like tuna or salmon. A Kimoto or Yamahai style, with its earthier notes and higher umami, can stand up to stronger seafood dishes, especially anything with lots of mushrooms. A more delicate Ginjo or Daiginjo go well with simpler seafood dishes or sushi. Sparkling Sake, Nigori, Genshu and others all have their place in food pairings as well.

An important reason why Sake excels is the fact that it contains twenty different amino acids, a greater variety than found in any other alcohol and seven times more than red wine. Their amino acids help prevent Sake from being overwhelmed by strong flavors, such as wasabi. In addition, the amino acids help to neutralize any fishy flavors found in seafood, something wine generally cannot do. So for a complex item like sea urchin, which many wines would find hard to tackle, Sake will reign supreme in that pairing. I very much wish there was someone at the Boston Seafood Show serving Sake with all the seafood samples.

This has been some basic suggestions, and some that may be off the beaten path for many consumers. Please be adventurous and try some different wines or Sake with your seafood dishes. You might just find a new favorite!

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