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What Wines Should You Pair With Fish & Seafood?

Sep 22nd, 2023

Knowing what wine to pair with your seafood can elevate your nice dinner to a memorable culinary affair, and all it takes is a little knowledge of flavor, intensity and acidity.

Here are just a few of the ways you can pair your fish with wine and what flavor notes you can keep an eye out for!

Seafood and fish wine pairings

Wines to pair with lean and flaky fish

When we talk about lean and flaky fish, we’re talking about your typical white fish that you’d enjoy in a fish taco or in a fish patty.

These kinds of fish are light in flavor and delicate in texture, so they need a wine that doesn’t overpower them on the palette. Rather, choose a light and refreshing wine that matches the flavor intensity just enough to balance the meal, and you can always choose to go sweeter or more acidic to add that bit of contrast to your meal. 

Usually, this means light white wines are your best bet with light fish. Pick a chilled white wine with a crisp taste and fresh flavors and you’d be hard-pressed to go wrong!

Types of fish:

  • Tilapia
  • Sea bass
  • Flounder
  • Sole
  • Haddock
  • Fluke
  • Perch
  • Branzino
  • Pollock

Wines that pair well

  • Sauvignon blanc
  • Pinot grigio
  • Moscato
  • Chenin blanc

Wines to pair with meaty fish

Meaty fish are at the other end of the texture spectrum with a flavor profile that often overlaps with a few red meats and poultry.

Meaty fish are the tunas, salmons, mackerels and swordfishes of the world. Their meats have a tight texture, a higher fat content and bold flavors, all of which contribute to a fuller profile that can stand up to stronger wines.

Choose your wines based on how the fish is served. If your fish is served cold with a fruity salsa or a salad, then anything from a sauvignon blanc to a  rosé to a white zinfandel to a chilled pinot noir will pair well with the zesty dressings and refreshing fruits. If your fish is served hot, baked and slathered in butter, then a full-bodied white wine is your perfect fit. 

Types of fish:

  • Salmon 
  • Tuna
  • Mahi mahi
  • Swordfish
  • Monkfish
  • Shark

Wines that pair well

  • Sauvignon Blanc
  • Rosé 
  • Pinot gris
  • Pint grigio
  • Riesling
  • Chenin blanc
  • Pinot noir
  • White zinfandel
  • Chardonnay
  • Gamay

Wines to pair with medium-textured fish

Medium-textured fish aren’t as meaty as, say, salmon or tuna, but they’ve got a little more oomph than your typical tilapia. These types of fish can hold up well to sauces and stronger ingredients while still staying light and delicate, making them a great choice for fried fish, fish and chips and filets. 

Pair your medium-bodied fish with a medium-bodied white wine to match the flavor intensities. If your fish is fried (like for fish and chips), then a sparkling wine or a buttery chardonnay is perfect. 

Types of fish:

  • Catfish
  • Red snapper
  • Trout
  • Arctic char
  • Grouper
  • Skate
  • Black cod
  • Hake

Wines that pair well

  • Prosecco
  • Riesling
  • Pinot gris
  • Sauvignon blanc
  • Sémillon

Wines to pair with strong fish

Strong fish would be the kind of fish that tastes, well, strongly fishy. 

Not in a bad way, of course! More like a salty, powerful, fishy sort of strong.

These would include preserved fish, dried fish and salted fish like anchovies or sardines — the kinds of fish that have a very distinct and strong flavor. 

Because they have such powerful flavors, these types of fish pair well with other strong wines and often benefit from a rich, dry pairing to balance the dish. A full-bodied dry white wine works well here, as does a light red, a dry sherry or even a port wine!

Types of fish:

  • Herring
  • Anchovies
  • Sardines
  • Mackerel

Wines that pair well

  • Sherry
  • Port
  • Gamay
  • Cava
  • Pinot noir
  • Champagne

Wines to pair with oysters

We’re giving oysters their own category because they are pretty unique in flavor, texture and mouthfeel, so it makes sense to let them shine on their own.

Oysters are best served chilled, as should the paired wine. Choose an acidic wine that will balance out the saltiness of the oysters, though don’t go too strong on flavor as that may overwhelm the delicate shellfish. Notes of citrus and fruit go well with most oysters, too. 

Type of shellfish:

  • Oysters

Wines that pair well

  • Muscadet
  • Champagne
  • Riesling
  • Assyrtiko
  • Sauvignon blanc

Wines to pair with shellfish

Shellfish vary widely when it comes to taste and texture, but if you’re looking for a simple rule of them then always pair it with a light, dry white wine.

Most shellfish are light, flaky and refreshing, and since many of them carry a slight salty or briny flavor, a full-bodied acidic white wine will more often than not be the ideal match. 

Looking at how the shellfish is cooked can also give you direction on how to pair a wine with it. If it’s raw shrimp with a cocktail sauce, a chilled Riesling works wonders. If it’s steamed clams, try a more full-bodied sauvignon blanc.

In dishes where shellfish (usually lobster or crab) is served with a sauce or liquid, the broth is generally made with a butter or cream base and fresh green herbs. If that’s the case, then a buttery chardonnay will make a perfect match while still providing enough contrast to balance the flavor profile.

Type of shellfish:

  • Shrimp
  • Prawns
  • Clams
  • Lobster
  • Crab

Wines that pair well

  • Chardonnay
  • Sauvignon blanc
  • Riesling
  • Rosé

You’re practically a sommelier at this point, so pick up some refreshing whites from Washington or fruity reds from California and experiment with their flavor, sweetness and acidity alongside with your favorite dishes. You’ll have the best dinner parties around in no time!


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Featured photo courtesy Pixabay/Nicolae_Balt

Author of Article

Colleen Ford is a South African who now lives in Spokane, Washington. She loves to travel, camp (in warm weather) and bake.

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