06 May, 2010

Red wine with fish.

Most of us have heard the wine pairing rule of thumb: white wine with fish, red wine with meat. This rule will typcially serve you well. However, like a lot of rules, things get a bit more interesting when it's broken.

I'm talking about pairing Pinot Noir with salmon. Salmon is an oily fish that doesn't have a particularly strong flavor, yet you wouldn't call it delicate either. It's hearty enough to offer some fat and balance out the light tannins you'll find in a Pinot Noir. Pinot Noir is a wine that goes with almost any food. In fact, if you're at a dinner where lots of different foods are being ordered, you won't go wrong in ordering Pinot Noir. It has both white and red  wine properties that makes it a very flexible food wine. It's almost mistake proof. Almost.

Last night I opened a 2006 Clos Pegase Mitsuko's Vineyard (in part in honor of yesterday's post about the word clos.) I thought this might be a good pair with our dinner of marinated roasted salmon, green beans and potatoes. (Truth be told, I bought the salmon at Costco; it's comes marinated and frozen and all you have to do is pop it in the oven for 30 or so minutes. It was all I had energy for last night.) Salmon and Pinot Noir are a classic pairing in the Pacific Northwest where both are local ingredients. (Also following the "if it grows together, it goes together" rule.)

While the wine was good, it wasn't the best pairing with this particular salmon dish. First, lets tackle the wine notes. The Clos Pegase was delicious. Ruby and garnet in color, a quick swirl of the glass shows that this Pinot has more body than many. Give it a sniff and you'll note the big cherry and raspberry aromas. While there's a bit of earthiness to this wine, there's also quite a few vanilla notes indicating it's been exposed to new oak. (Indeed, a quick look at tasting notes reveals that it has.) On the palate you'll taste all that cherry and vanilla and even a bit of cola and baking spice. I also found it a bit hot or alcoholic. And at 14.8% I find it a little too high in alcohol for my taste.

It's this high level of alcohol that overpowered that salmon. It wasn't a bad match, but I think I would have liked a more subtle wine for the fish. Rather, this wine might have been better paired with something a bit heavier like lamb or beef. In fact, Oregon Pinot would have been more subtle. Typically, they are a little more delicate than California Pinots. California, on the other hand, typically has a more full bodied, juicier style, which this was.

Well, all in a day's work, I say. I'll still enjoy finishing this bottle.


  1. I find the CA Pinots are almost alway too much for me though that said I never follow the food with wine rules.

  2. That pairing rule is a classic, but I don't always like to play by the rules either...

    My wife an I have been experimenting with
    salmon marinades and I was specifically looking for one that might go very well with red wine. One marinade we really like is made from coarse-grain dijon mustard, soy sauce and olive oil. It adds richness to the fish but is not really a great match for red wine. Most recently I made a BBQ style rub with brown sugar, ground mustard, chili powder, onion powder, salt and pepper. Rubbed on the salmon 1 hour ahead the fish was rich an flavorful and indeed paired well with a homemade Pinot Noir. I would try this again with a commercial Pinot without hesitation. A simple salt & pepper application and a good sear in a hot pan might also work well.


  3. thanks for the ideas, Jason, the BBQ sounds good!