Food and drink matching: fish

By Fiona Sims

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Wine Chardonnay

Fish: choose wines carefully
Fish: choose wines carefully
Fiona Sims looks at how licensees can boost drinks sales by recommending to go with different fish.

In the first of a new series on how to drive drink sales around food, Fiona Sims looks at which wines licensees should be recommending to go with different styles of food. First up: fish

White wine with fish, red wine with meat. That's what we've always been told. But it makes sense — fish dishes are lighter and more delicate in flavour. And if you follow the basic guidelines balancing the weight and texture of the food and the wine, it makes perfect sense to choose white over red.

But it's not always that simple. Lighter red varieties, such as Pinot Noir, Gamay, Sangiovese and Grenache can work with oilier, meatier fish such as salmon, tuna, marlin, swordfish and mackerel. And rosé works, too — just stick to the drier mineral styles from Provence, say, or Bordeaux.

And big, robust reds with fish? Don't go there. They'll leave a nasty metallic taste in the mouth as the tannins react with phosphates in the fish. So generally then, white with fish is best — but where to start?

This depends as much on the way the ingredients are cooked as the flavours of the ingredients themselves— a steamed piece of cod is a world away from a rich, dark, octopus stew.

There's no point, for example, putting a Pinot Grigio with bouillabaisse-style fish stew — it just wouldn't stand up. But put it with an oaked Chardonnay, a Fumé Blanc or a Pinot Gris and the match is made. The bolder the flavour of the dish, the bolder the wine must be to stand up to it.

A piece of fried fish creates an oilier effect than just grilling. And if you're serving it with chips, rather than rice, you'll want something crisp, such as Pinot Grigio or a Loire Sauvignon Blanc. Bubbles work well here too — Champagne and fish and chips are a perfect match, as is Prosecco or Cava, cutting through the tempura or beer batter beautifully. If you don't like bubbles, think about a spritzy Vinho Verde from Portugal.

For grilled fish, plain and simple, go for dry, crisp, steely whites that won't overwhelm the fish (I love Italian Vermentino and Greek Assyrtiko). If the fish is being grilled, or roasted, and served with a rich sauce, you need to crank up the richness of the wine —a Viognier, for example, or an Australian Semillon.

Acid test

One of my favourite matches for shellfish is Albariño from Galicia in Spain. It works there, so take their lead with clams, mussels, scallops and lobster. And I've just got back from Jerez, in Spain, where I drank sherry with seafood — throughout the meal.

Okay, so we're mostly talking dry sherry styles here: Fino and Manzanilla, which work a treat with the lightly-battered squid and pan-fried baby sole dishes that are popular here. But the nuttier styles of sherry, Amontillado and Oloroso, also worked with meatier fish dishes — tuna cooked with garlic, baby shark with tomatoes and onions.

You also need to look at other factors that can distort and influence flavour in a dish — acidity, for example. An acidic wine will make a dish seem less rich, and can also heighten the flavour of a dish, in the way a squeeze of lemon might.

And talking of lemons, which may be used in abundance when it comes to fish, the accompanying wine must have equal acidity or it will taste flat. Choose a white with a zing to it — steely Sauvignon Blanc from the Loire, or Chenin Blanc from South Africa.

What else should you avoid? There are some ingredients that fight a losing battle with wine. Vinegar is enemy number one, killing the wine completely — which makes it tricky when you get to salad dressings, or when you splash it over chips, so try using more mellow vinegars, such as sherry or balsamic — you could even splash wine in your dressing in place of vinegar.

Sensitive areas

Smoked fish is another wine-sensitive area. Kippers and smoked mackerel are a disaster — instead, try an Islay malt, or an oak-aged beer, such as Innis & Gun. Smoked salmon is more forgiving — the best match I've come across is an aged Grüner Veltliner from Austria, but the lightly oaked Chardonnays cope well enough, as do the more aromatic Alsace varieties.

Champagne and smoked salmon? The acidity certainly cuts through the oiliness, but as the smokiness of the fish can overwhelm a bubbly, it's better to stick to those with more Chardonnay in the blend.

If you like your fish curry hot, then wine is a no-no: an abundance of chilli obliterates the fruit (I prefer beer with really spicy food). But with a moderate amount of chilli in a dish there are plenty of wines that work — look for those with more residual sugar to temper some of that heat, such as Marsanne, Roussanne, Riesling and Gewürztraminer.

ETM spreads the wine word

PubChef looks at how a London gastropub operator is equipping its staff to help drive wine sales Tom and Ed Martin, owners of the ETM Group, which operates eight London sites, have created an educational wine scheme for their pub and restaurant managers in a bid to improve staff knowledge and boost sales.

The ETM Wine Academy will reward the highest-performing staff on the scheme with fine wines, trips abroad and the title of in-house wine ambassador.

The move by the brothers, whose sites include the Botanist on Sloane Square, the Empress of India in Victoria Park and the Gun in Docklands, is a sign of how seriously the company takes selecting, storing and serving wine in its venues, and builds on the launch last year of a series of ETM-branded cuvées in conjunction with French wine- makers from the Languedoc.

The Martins have launched the wine academy to focus their managers' understanding and enthusiasm around wine, and believe the scheme will help them communicate their knowledge more effectively to colleagues and customers alike.

An initial 10 managers from across the portfolio have been carefully selected to participate in the course, based on WSET (Wines & Spirit Education Trust) curriculum at intermediate and advanced level.

Classes will focus on specific subjects such as regions of origin, grape types and wine styles, understanding terroir, different appellations and food-matching. Each class will involve tasting five or six different wines and the course will examine wine management, including selection and storage, tailored to each of the Martins' eight sites, in order to organise and maximise staff knowledge and sales.

The budding wine ambassadors will be tutored by Masters of Wines and experts from international wine-growing countries and vineyards.

ETM Group beverage operations manager Paulo Brammer will analyse each candidate's performance during each session and they will be expected to pass each exam at no less than 70%. Two consecutive fails could lose them their place.

Ed Martin says: "This will hammer home the fact that wine in our pubs isn't an afterthought."

Booker shares success

Food and drink wholesaler Booker has won 45 awards at the International Wine Challenge 2010 for its own-label range, which includes one gold, two silver and eleven bronze medals. Winning products include Marques de la Sardana Cava Brut Rosé and Henri la Fontaine (HLF) Chablis, which both won silver medals, while Henri la Fontaine Fleurie picked up a bronze.

To celebrate the awards Booker is offering these three wines at lower prices until 10 August, such as the Marques de la Sardana Cava Brut Rose at £4.50 a bottle.

Booker also received two trophy awards for its Regimental LBV Port 2004. Regimental LBV won the LBV Port Trophy and then the overall Port Trophy. It costs £7.65 plus VAT.

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