Stuart Muirhead
December 2016.

Who says I can't drink red wine with fish?

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Scientists have found that a compound in fish and seafood reacts badly with red wines with high iron content, leaving an unpleasant fishy aftertaste. And what’s more, there are rules about these things. But do red wine lovers have to stick to ‘red wine with meat, white wine with fish’ ?

I think it was James Bond in From Russia With Love who popularised the notion when he sniffed out the enemy by their wine choice: “Red wine with fish. Well, that should have told me something.” But it’s all a bit old hat and clichéd for me. I own a fish and seafood restaurant on a boat and we often pair red wine with fish. Of course, if it’s a light fish dish, it could be overpowered by a red wine. I wouldn’t recommend anything over 15.5 %, like a heavy Barossa Shiraz that’s very rich and full bodied, that would overwhelm the delicate flavour of many seafood dishes.

But there’s a fashion for producing lighter bodied reds, and sommeliers love pairing them with fish. Meatier fish like monkfish, swordfish and tuna are incredibly good with red wine. Any fish in a sauce we’d pair with Spanish red Garnacha Grenache – it’s high alcohol but medium bodied, with a little bit of spice to it. And aromatic reds like Cabernet Franc from the Loire Valley and New World Argentina work well with fish as they’re delicious without being overwhelming.

  • Licensed to grill: “Meatier fish like tuna are incredibly good with red wine.”

The French can be quite particular about pairing appropriate wines with dishes, but they make plenty of exceptions to the ‘no red wine with fish’ rule. In Southern France people drink young red wines with fish – like the light, carbonically-macerated Malbec you can find in Cahors near Bordeaux. Carbonic maceration is a red wine-making process which transforms a small amount of sugar in grapes which are uncrushed into ethanol, without the intervention of yeasts. This process produces light-bodied wines that are meant to be drunk young and are delicious with fish.

“As far as I’m concerned, the ‘no red wine with fish’ rule is just guidance.”

Food and wine pairings go together geographically. Sicily is a great example.  They have fish-dominated diets in these places yet make fabulous red wines.  Depending on how you cook the dish, the two were almost made for each other. 

So as far as I’m concerned this particular rule is just guidance. White wines do tend to go better with fish, but it depends on the fish – and on the wine. And it also depends on who you are. I like to pick the wine before I choose the dish I’m having it with…

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