Fishing for wine? Try red with salmon

April 19, 1992|By Scott Joseph | Scott Joseph,Orlando Sentinel

Like any rule, the mandate that red wine goes with red meat and white wine goes with fish has its exceptions.

Sommelier Anne Bennett, fine wine director for Southern Wine & Spirits in Miami, says that while the formula remains valid in general, there are arguments for serving red wines with fish.

"What some people don't take into account is the balance of what's on the plate," she says. "You don't just get a piece of fish or meat -- you might get a garlic souffle or a fruit salsa on a vegetable presentation. There are just so many things that balance out the main ingredient."

Another factor is what Ms. Bennett calls the weight of the fish in the mouth. For example, Dover sole is a very light fish, but cobia and salmon are heavier. These and other heavy varieties, she maintains, can be paired with red wine.

She cites an example of a restaurant that serves a salmon steak, seared on one side and finished with a glaze of soy sauce, orange juice, sugar and fish stock. The result is a gentle orange-flavor overtone.

Ms. Bennett says she had the dish on two occasions with two different wines. The first time was with a white wine -- Chateau Ste. Michelle's dry Riesling. "It's finished right with .72 residual sugar," she says. "It's so full of fruit that it gives the impression of a little bit of sweetness, and it melds gloriously with the orange glaze."

On the other occasion, Ms. Bennett had the salmon with a Robert Mondavi pinot noir. The fruitiness of that wine also picked up on that overtone of sweetness.

"The fruitiness of the wine worked well with the glaze, but the substance and weight of the red wine matched with the substance and weight of the fish."

Ms. Bennett explained that salmon is a good candidate for a red-wine pairing because it is a relatively oil-free fish. One reason fish is so often paired with white wine is that the high acidity of many white wines cuts through the fish oils. (That is also why most fish are served with a lemon wedge.)

But while some reds will work with salmon, others are inappropriate. "A full red cabernet sauvignon is far too heavy," Ms. Bennett says. "It's overly tannic and it just doesn't work.

"The fruit in a cabernet, such as we drink them, isn't so immediately apparent as it is with a pinot.

"You're going to be overwhelming almost anything but a piece of beef."

It's also true that some whites are inappropriate with salmon. "With salmon, people tend to reach automatically for chardonnay, but so many of them today are finished with wood," she says.

"So sometimes it's more substantial than a young red wine, and it can really overpower the fish."

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