Wine Tips & Tricks

Pairing Wine with Fish

Learn what wines pair best with the four different groups of fin fish. From flaky tilapia to steak-like swordfish, there are a range of potential wine pairings. Beyond just the choice of fish, the sauce and fish preparation affects what tastes best when pairing wine with fish.

Guide to Pairing Wine with Fish

As a general rule: white wines pair best with fish.

Why not read wine? Red wines contain higher levels of tannin which interact with fish oils on your palate. In most cases this interaction can leave a metallic aftertaste in your mouth.

If you’re hoping to pair fish with red wine, opt for a low tannin red wine.

Pairing Based on Type of Fish

Fin fish can be characterized into 4 major groups by texture and flavor.

  1. Lean and Flaky Fish – sea bass, etc
  2. Medium-Textured Fish – trout, arctic char, etc
  3. Meaty Fish – tuna, swordfish, etc
  4. Intensely Flavored Fish – sardine, herring, etc

Lean and Flaky Fish

Mild flavored white fish with filets that are thin and flaky. If you’ve ever had fish tacos, you know exactly what we’re talking about!

Examples include sea bass, branzino, black sea bass, flounder, perch, porgy, sole, fluke, tilapia, wild striped bass, pollock, and haddock.

Wines with lean and flaky fish

Look for zesty and refreshing whites to balance the delicate fish flavor.

Grüner Veltliner
Pinot Grigio (Italy)
Champagne
Vinho Verde (Portugal)
Fruilano (Italy)
Muscadet (Loire)
Greek Whites
Portuguese Whites
Albariño
Cava
Sauvignon Blanc
Verdejo
Unoaked Chardonnay (such as Chablis)


Medium-Textured Fish

This is still a flaky fish, but with an overall firmer and thicker texture. With a medium-texture, these fish tend to hold up to richer sauces and ingredients – and wine too!

Example include trout, arctic char, catfish, red snapper, grouper, skate, code, hake, black fish, haddock, redfish, halibut, black cod (sablefish), monkfish, chilean seabass, and escobar.

Wines with medium-textured fish

Look for medium bodied whites with high aromatics and rich full-bodied whites aged in oak.
Chardonnay
California Sauvignon Blanc
New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc
White Rioja
Sémillon
Dry Chenin Blanc (try South Afica!)
Fiano (Italy)
Moschofilero (Greece)
Vermentino (Italy)
Dry Riesling (Washington)
Pinot Gris (Willamette Valley)
Pinot Gris (Alsace)
Garganega (Soave)


Meaty Fish

Types of fish that are firm with a meaty and steak-like texture.

Examples include tuna, bluefish, salmon, mackerel, mahi mahi, shark, monkfish and swordfish.

Wine with meaty fish

Rich white wines with lots of flavor and even a few red and rosé wines.

Oaked Chardonnay
Viognier
Vintage Champagne
White Burgundy
Dry Rosé
Italian Chardonnay
Marsanne
Roussanne
Grenache Blanc
Falanghina (Italy)


Strongly Flavored Fish

Strongly flavored fishes that are salty and taste like the sea. Examples include anchovies, sardines, herring and mackerel.

Wine with strongly flavored fish

An interesting thing happens when you get into dishes with anchovies and other strongly flavored fish. The intensity gets a lot bolder. For example, a rich Italian-style pizza with salty-tangy anchovies. Normally, you might choose a white wine to pair with fish, but in this instance, it might be better with a red!

Champagne
Crémant
Dry Lambrusco Rosé
Dry Rosé
Pinot Noir
Gamay
Cava
Grenache Blanc

Fish Preparations & Sauces

Zesty Sauces with Wine

Beurre Blanc, Lemon, Lime, Vinegar-based Sauces
 
Try lighter zestier white wines and wines with more herbal and savory characteristics such as Sauvignon Blanc, Muscadet, Cortese di Gavi, Verdejo, Vinho Verde, White Bordeaux and Grenache Blanc.
 

Sweet Sauces with Wine

Pineapple, Mango, Orange, Teriyaki, Sweet and Sour
 
Look for wines with a touch more sweetness than the sauce. The darker the sauce, the darker your wine should be in the rosé spectrum. For instance, Teriyaki with Lambrusco or Meyer lemon glazed tilapia with Spätlese Riesling.
 

Spicy Sauces with Wine

Paprika, Pepper, Cumin, Coriander, Chili
 
Chili crusted fish are more about the fish’s texture bringing out the spices and seasonings. Spiced fish dishes match well with spice driven wines such as Grüner Veltliner, Gewürztraminer, Riesling and even a lighter red wine such as Grenache.
 

Curry Sauces with Wine

Thai Curry, Indian Curry
 
Curry sauces tend to be a little sweet and because of their spices look for sweet wines like Riesling, Moscato, Gewürztraminer and Prosecco.

Fish Tacos with Wine

Fish tacos go really well with Grüner Veltliner, Muscadet and Champagne.
 

Herb Sauces with Wine

Basil, Parsley, Mint, Cilantro, Dill, Capers, Cucumber
 
Wines with herbaceous notes taste richly floral when paired with green herbs. Check out Sauvignon Blanc, Chablis, Grenache Blanc, Torrontés and Trebbiano.

Smoked Salmon or Trout with Wine

Richly smoked fishes are a little drier and need wine pairings that quench them. Garnacha rosé, Vintage Champagne, Rosé Sparkling Wines, Dry Riesling, Dry Furmint (Tokaji) and White Pinot Noir will pair well.
 

Raw Fish with Wine

Try most sparkling wines and bone dry white wines like Muscadet, Assyrtiko, Vinho Verde, Albariño, Dry Furmint (Tokaji) and Ugni Blanc (aka Trebbiano).

Pair Wine and Food Everyday

Live the wine lifestyle. Use this chart to make amazing food and wine pairings.

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About Madeline Puckette

I'm a certified sommelier and creator of the NYT Bestseller, Wine Folly: The Essential Guide to Wine. Find me out there in the wine world @WineFolly